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Followers, Friends, & Phantoms

One compensation of being disabled by an illness is more time to think about stuff about which one normally ignores. For this illness, the thoughts have been drifting toward the changing definitions of important words brought about by advances in technology. As the definitions change, so do the concepts the definitions attempt to represent.

For example, the word "Friend." Dictionary definitions for this word have always been lame. I like the "Someone who knows the worst about you and loves you anyway; someone upon whom, for that love, you can depend on and trust; someone who wishes only the best for you." By this definition, twenty years ago I had perhaps three friends. Then came Facebook and GovSpinSpeak.

According to Facebook, I now have 375 "friends." My, how fortunate. But that only scratches the surface. The current administration in Washington (and the previous one, as well) tells me that Pakistan is our "friend." For the former, "friendship" is defined as clicking on the blue "confirm" box. This is called "friending." For the latter, "friendship" is defined as paying the government of Pakistan wads of money to keep secret that they harbor our enemies and support our enemies. In other words, it would be "unfriendly" for Islamabad to go public with these facts.

Lets consider my 375 Facebook friends. I don't know who among them knows the worst about me. They would have to read a number of my books (namely Sea of Glass, Saint Mary Blue, Enemy Mine, The Hangman's Son, and Yesterday's Tomorrow) and do some challenging deduction. If they did that, however, they would know the worst about me. Would they, then, love me in spite of my worst?

To be honest, there are only a handful of my Facebook "friends" who I can say I know have read the aforementioned works. The subject of love--well, now we're back close to my original number.

Well, "friending" has nothing to do with friendship, therefore "unfriending" has nothing to do with ending a friendship. Social networking appears to be a way of exponentially multiplying the numbers of humans with which one can be shallow.

If only because of the reduced number of characters per tweet, Twitter seems to extend the shallow end of the social networking pool. I have at present around 900 "followers," of whom perhaps 70-100 actually follow to the point of reading my tweets. The rest? They are part of this enormous population who devotes its time and energies to increasing it's following numbers by hook, crook, promises of refollowing, retweeting, and though exchanges of porn, corn-dog recipes, and so on.

Every once in awhile I manage to respond to an honest feeling, or send one and have it strike a receptive heart, but mostly social networking is illusion on the grand scale. Do you think I have 375 friends or 900 followers? In a time when the human race is in dire need of reality, don't let the siren call of numbers based on words detached from their definitions eat up your time and feelings.

Friends know you. You can depend on them and they can depend on you. Followers actually follow you and what you do. If you write, they read your stuff, as well as your tweets. If you act, they go and see your plays and motion pictures. If you are a political activist, they understand what you seek and why you seek it and will raise your banner.

Should you come at me and smugly say, "I have over 3,000 friends," what I will hear is "Pity me. I am so berift of genuine human companionship, I actually depend on the existence of my Facebook "friends" to prop up my fantasy that I really am a part of the human race."

Facebook and Twitter are entertainment and marketing tools of ever-growing importance. They are not friends nor family. Look to friends for friendship, and for followers? Well, if you really do have thousands of true followers, beware: The Predator Drones are looking for you.
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What About This Blog?

For writers & readers. For writers, this is stuff I've learned, am in the process of discovering, and stuff that is imparted to me by other writers. For readers, I believe the more one knows about what goes into the writing of a story, and into the life of being a writer, the more one appreciates an author's writings.

This is a two-way blog. Your comments on the blogs are welcome, as are your questions. Comments on blogs can be made directly on each blog entry. For questions and comments not related to specific blogs, use the eMail link below.

Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the Circus World and Infinity Hold series, Sea of Glass, other SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.