I should've understood from the start that a social network was a bad thing for someone with anti-social tendencies.
Don't get me wrong. I love virtual communities, and the potential they offer for information and insight. I enjoy sharing opinions and ideas and expanding the scope of my knowledge by commenting on a blog or participating in an online debate.
But I have one caveat: The discussion has to be real -- or, rather, focused on reality. And it has to have greater significance than someone's elation over a video that explains how to save a cellphone inadvertently dropped in a toilet.
Did it change my life to discover 19 percent of cellphones are contaminated with feces?
Do I care that someone I barely know made gluten-free pasta for dinner?
Do I care that everyone is living that old Sheryl Crow dream of having fun... except, apparently, me?
No. It just stresses me out, which explains why I was hardly surprised by yesterday's Pop Data News Headline. You probably heard it: the startling discovery that too many Facebook friends leads to stress.
They can lead to a lot of other things, too, like inappropriate relationships. But that's another story.
Back to the Gee I Never Would Have Guessed study about Facebook stress.... A report by the University of Edinburgh Business School has found that increasing friends -- specifically, different groups of friends -- increases the potential for stress. Including parents or employers as Facebook friends resulted in the greatest increase in anxiety, according to the report.
Huh. Who would have guessed?
In "The Pool Guy," a classic episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld, George laments the dangers of "worlds colliding." George is worried that his friend Elaine wants to get to know his girlfriend, Susan, and intuitively understands the risks of mixing people from one part of your life with those from another.
When worlds collide, anything can happen. It's not a good idea -- in life, or on Facebook.
So why do we do it?
Forget the fact that those high-school classmates who called you peabrain now have access to the C-suite executives at that company where you work so hard to cultivate an image of intellect and sophistication, not to mention competence.
Forget the fact that the relatives you rue seeing each holiday are stalking your location, your photos, and your "friends" -- and, weirdly, sometimes "friending" friends you hardly know yourself.
Forget the fact that you would feel so much better if you read something meaningful, engaged in a dialogue around a real issue or focused on something -- anything -- that would help you innovate, create, improve, or change.
My theory is that it all comes down to ego. Having more friends than your real friends is a narcissistic exercise that ostensibly confirms your alleged popularity. Friend everyone from every place you have ever lived, worked, played, or traveled, and wow -- it looks like you have hundreds and hundreds of friends.
You don't. How many of them would come if you called in the middle of the night? How many of them would not only stay mute about whatever it is you did -- but help you bury the evidence?
What's the message behind Facebook data? What can we learn from the number of friends an individual has on the social network? If you ask me, only two things: The more friends, the more likely the person is a liar. And the more likely he's stressed, rather than popular.