Allegedly, the internet is speeding up the rate at which Americans are retreating into self-validating communities of the like-minded: if you want, you can get all your news from right-wing or left-wing sources, and never encounter a serious challenge to that perspective.
But Facebook is, in many ways, an exception to that. That's both incredibly annoying and sometimes enlightening.
Most people now have hundreds of "friends" from various stages of their lives. Personally, I rarely reject a friend request if it's from someone I actually know or once knew, but I "hide" people all the time because I'm uninterested in the minutiae of their lives and the stupid Facebook games they play or gifts they receive. I pitch my status updates and my links to an audience that I envision as being much like my blog audience: my academic friends, my college friends, and other people with similar interests and similar senses of humor. As for the rest, if they're baffled, uninterested, or annoyed--well, fuck 'em.
But at the same time that I am, in a sense, restricting my social world, I find it fascinating to have access to so many different communities. A lot of the women I went to high school with are now full-time moms, and though I was close to exactly none of them, even 17 years ago, they've friended me en masse. Some of them turn out to be funny and interesting, and I'm pleased to have made their reacquaintance. Others, though, post nonstop nonsense all day long: So-and-So is happy to have the kids out of the house for two hours! So-and-so is making her special gravy! So-and-so's poor hubby has to work late again! So-and-so is washing a very muddy puppy!
I hide such people, of course, but sometimes I go to their pages anyway just to see what their lives look like and what kind of communities they're participating in. It's interesting to see how the mommies encourage and sympathize and advise one another, just as it's interesting to see how my born-again teen-age cousin communicates with her friends, rhapsodizes about the hottness of a Christian pop star, or talks about God's blessings in her life.
Other people I don't hide, though I tend not to participate in the conversations they start. I was recently friended by a guy I knew in high school but whom I haven't seen or had contact with since we graduated. He's someone I've thought about occasionally, though, because he was the first in a string of argumentative, conservative men with whom I've developed rather warm friendships over the years. He went to the Citadel, joined the Army, got a J.D., and is now a JAG officer. I'm not about to get into a political argument with him on Facebook, in part because that seems like poor manners--hey there! we haven't spoken in almost two decades! thanks for friending me! But dude, you are so wrong about the financial reform bill!--but I'm pleased to be in minimal touch and interested in seeing who his friends are and how he interacts with them.
I guess it's this: there are a lot of people out there whom I have no desire to be friends with (including some people I'm friends with on Facebook). But I'm not uninterested in the lives they lead and the communities they're a part of. And getting bulletins from all these semi-random people in barely-overlapping social worlds has to be broadening.
But I'm sure as shit not going to stop using the "hide" function.