With 500 of My Closest Friends

Naira Gasparyan really wants to connect with me on LinkedIn. My email inbox has a second reminder about Naira’s urgent plea of last week, reminding me that Naira, from the Central Bank of Armenia, could help me grow my network. Meanwhile, three Facebook posts this week start with “I am tired of seeing all these posts that…” Also, my bank has started a blog with tips to help people save for retirement, but they have somehow inadvertently mapped my blog’s personal bio into their author set, so that when you google my name, it shows up under the bank. They no longer accept customer support emails, though, so I had to add them to Facebook and then Messenger their support team to get this fixed. Coincidence? Hardly.

Welcome to our messy new society of app-based relationships. We have waded into the sea of people available through these icon buttons, and now the surf of voices is tumbling us merrily about. All the foibles and follies humanity has to offer are right at our fingertips, and, like everything else at our fingertips, it’s making us more divided and confused instead of tightly connected.

Who are all these People? Oh wait—that’s funny–

Take Facebook, for example.

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I was late to the Facebook party but have jumped in with both feet, partly to stay connected with former work colleagues and partly to create new connections. At one time, I proudly boasted that I only had FB friends who were actual friends who I had met more than once, which means the list was very short. This year, I have expanded my group with deliberate care. I even attended events in person which I knew would add dozens to the list. I do use it as a way to attract readers, so I can hardly critique others for doing so.

What happened was predictable. FB now suggests a long list of people every day. When you add dozens, that list geometrically expands. That is how the algorithm works; I can’t fault the programming. Since every 500th person turns out to be a long-lost cousin or an actual friend that is happy to reconnect with me, then the if-then statements have done their job. Yet, the more I add – even in small handfuls – the more it wants to add. I teach the power of exponential functions. I get it. I just wasn’t prepared for it to apply to me.

I am allowed to Unfollow; you are allowed to Unfriend me. If you handed me your card after a casual conversation in the grocery store, I wouldn’t feel any pains if I tossed it at home. Why does Facebook make it feel like such a personal decision?

There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.

Increasingly, posts contain lengthy diatribes on how irritated people are that Facebook reminds of them of the birthdays or memories of these acquaintances they have added. Here is one sentence in a huge, brightly colored background on how they don’t want to connect with other people…which all of us have to read. Hide Post. There is a five paragraph rant about how they have too many friends and don’t want to know what is happening with all these people they don’t really know, who connect to them because they clicked on a button saying “Add Friend.” Unfollow. There are six billion people in the world, and two billion are active Facebook users. How long before we all connect to each other and spend all our time complaining to each other that we don’t want to connect to each other?

It is a ridiculous problem to have to spend time flipping through these complaints looking for a picture of my friend with her parents – oh, they’re looking healthy, thank goodness. Or past so many advertisements and stupid jokes – but not the one about the Corgies, that one made my day! I have to share that one…

The one thing I have told myself not to do is to write three or four one line posts, every other day, complaining to everyone reading my feed about how annoying it is to read what everyone else is writing. I can at least limit it to a single blog.

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Is Naira Really at the Central Bank of Armenia? Is Naira Real?

The torturous world of social relationships on LinkedIn has gotten even stranger. LinkedIn really did start as an online business networking site — entirely functional and transactional between work colleagues or potential colleagues. For a long time, I had more connections on Linked In – from work – than I did on Facebook. (I still do).

But somewhere around three years ago, LinkedIn got the Facebook bug and went hog wild, convincing users to share career-themed articles like “The Importance of Humility in Leadership” and “How Arts benefit the Economy.” One article a week might be interesting or worth some time, but hundreds a day? Looking at LinkedIn now is like walking by the book section in an airport – seeing the giant shmear of articles and books about Jack Welch’s management style or how to be a success on Shark Tank — and having the magazines start chasing you down the corridor.

Yet, the relationship connections don’t stop, and I continue to get curious requests, mostly from head hunters. At least with Facebook, the connections might be from someone I did once know. The LinkedIn requests can be bizarre.

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So Naira in Armenia, Naira who is at the Central Bank of Armenia and who studied Economics at the Armenian State University of Economics, wants to connect with me. The button on LinkedIn says that she knows twelve of my connections (sorry, since I started this post last week, the number is up to nineteen). She would be happy to help me connect better with them, somehow.

Some of these names are not the small fry I was – she has the ones with Executive in their job title, who are linked with me because I actually did know them at one time, had personal conversations with every single one. Which is more than I can say for Naira.  How does she know these bank executives, I wonder? Did they interact with her in Armenia? Was it a bank conference that I just didn’t happen to attend? Or is some bot out there randomly selecting everyone in Linkedin who has the word bank in their bio – as my bio does – and sometimes getting a hit.

I find this fascinating. I understand the property of networking. You should strike up random conversations with people at a conference. Not randomly via an app. I know in my heart that I am just a stepping stone across an online river to somebody. Well, I do refuse to be that kind of stepping stone.

The thing is, there’s Naira’s picture. It looks a professionally taken family shot. It’s not a corporate head-shot — those have a certain look; it’s not a model’s shot. It’s just so friendly. Is that a real person? Dare I accept the link to find out?

And yet Armenia… one step away from Cyprus and Macedonia and all these places which we know from the news have server farms and serfs toiling away as internet trolls. Naira has 395 followers and has recently shared “7 websites that will pay you to do absolutely nothing” AND “Seven mistakes we make when choosing clothes that don’t make us look our best.”

Oh, Naira, really? Only seven. Do you need more? I make at least a dozen mistakes every single day!

My Real Friends at the Dark Rose Guild

Strangely enough, some of the warmest true connections I’ve made in the past year have come through a game.  I found Forge of Empires looking for a tablet version of Sid Meier’s Civilization, a miracle of 8-bit technology, still sadly not yet translated to an Android app. FOE has the quasi-addictive qualities I was looking for. You set up your city, conduct battles, trade goods, and complete quests. Most of the time, you just poke your tablet while watching TV. It’s also come with a kind of extended family – my guild mates at Dark Rose*.

Guilds are only available after you level up a few times, which took me several weeks, and having tried more than one world, I can attest that the guilds vary in attitude. Some guilds are full of testosterone, replete with players who see the game as military-driven and require constant battling and campaigns as a given for the guild. Other guilds are functional or passive, with members exchanging comments solely to trade goods or points— transactional, not personal. But I stumbled in my longest running world on a guild where people would tell jokes, ask each other about their day, sometimes complain about other players, and treat each other like colleagues.

One week, BostonStrongMom mentioned that she couldn’t be on as much because her mother was in the hospital. Then, it became clear her mother was dying, and that the player was reaching out because sitting vigil in the hospital bed hour after hour was hard to bear, and she just wanted a human connection. Another time, Hodor47 went on a long rant against another player who had cheated him in a trade of forge points, and eventually mentioned how he was recovering from recent surgery and serious financial problems, and the paragraph got longer and longer, filling the tiny “Message Board” screen for scroll after scroll. There was an intervention by the Guild leaders through side messages, and he came back and apologized. It was weird, but it was clear his pain was real.

There are semi-formal rules in the Guilds about playing every week so that if you are going to be dormant, you need to tell the Guildmaster. Guild members who don’t contribute count against the points, so everyone is supposed to do a minimum; we all benefit from the contributions as a whole. When the hurricanes struck, we all learned who lived in Texas and Florida because a half dozen people messaged that they wouldn’t be able to play, had lost internet service, or were evacuating.

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We have two warm-hearted, encouraging leaders, Tiercel1840 and Clarissa. Tiercel normally posts a lot, and when he disappeared for a few days, it was odd. Picard popped up and said he discovered Tiercel had been in a car accident. We’ve all pitched in since then and done double duty in the guild, especially Picard, hoping to make him proud. I don’t know how real this is compared with the real colleagues I used to have at LinkedIn mixed in with the Armenian ones or the maybe real people I never met now on Facebook sending me vegan recipes. It seems real to me.

I’m just hoping Tiercel comes back soon because I finally got my Alcatraz built, and I know he’ll want to see it.





Today’s Daily Post word is coincidence.

*DarkRose is a real Guild, but I have changed the other names because it just feels like I should protect people’s privacy, you know? Even if they’re avatars.




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