Back in the old days, like 1996, you had to guess if people liked you or not. If you had a party and a lot of people came, maybe it meant they liked you, or maybe they just came because they heard you had a big trampoline in your yard for them to jump on, or because there was nothing else to do that night. The point is that many of us spent a significant amount of time during our adolescence wondering if people liked us, and if not, how to make them like us.
Nowadays, we adults have moved beyond high school and life is no longer a popularity contest. Sure we’ve got friends, but no one’s keeping track of how many. That is to say, no one was keeping track of how many friends we had until one day Facebook came along and suddenly the number is as plain as day – 139. Oddly, I don’t remember that many people coming to my house for any parties recently.
The lingo of Facebook poses a range of interesting questions for its members. Can you really call someone a friend if you haven’t seen them in 15 years and you had to dig your yearbook out of the basement and rifle through its pages to remind yourself of who they were? Are family members also friends? “Why won’t you be friends with Grandma?” demands Stan’s father in a South Park episode. I’m just hoping I don’t get stuck sending Christmas cards to everyone on my list of friends.
The upside of Facebook is that it makes it so much easier for us to share little bits of our lives with far-flung friends and family. We can upload recent vacation photos or links to projects we care about. Non-profit organizations and community groups can also create Facebook pages as a way to keep their members and “friends” up-to-date about upcoming events and activities. Although you can’t become friends with an organization, you can “like it,” if you do, that is.
You can’t necessarily judge an organization by how many people like it. After all, some groups have only a local focus, while others work around the world. Furthermore, many organizations aren’t quite sure how to use social media or have only just entered this new virtual world. As of today, twenty-two people like the Washington Conservation District. If you do too, you can learn about the plant of the week or get tips on keeping water clean. Want to know more about gardening with native plants or how to build a raingarden? Find Blue Thumb on Facebook and join 252 people other people who like planting for clean water. What if you live in the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed? Like it on Facebook and find out if they’ve got workshops or grants for you.
In the world of Facebook, it turns out that even inanimate objects can have popularity contests. Only 343 people like the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, which includes a vast stretch of the Mississippi River running through the Twin Cities area. Non-profit Friends of the Mississippi, however, is liked by 1048 people, indicating that maybe the Mighty Mississippi is a little bit cooler that we first thought. Until today, only 6516 people liked the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Then I liked it too, so now there are 6517 of us. My best guess for prom queen this year is the St. Croix River, liked by 16,850 people. Hopefully all those people are ready to roll up their sleeves and pitch in on projects to keep the river clean, now that its been declared impaired for excess phosphorus.
No body of water, though, can compete with two age-old Minnesota traditions. Weighing in with an impressive fan club of 154,997 is the now defunct page I Survive Minnesota Winters, which goes to show that we love our cold and snowy winters just as much as we love complaining about them. Even more than we love the winters, though, we love the Minnesota State Fair – 173,985 of us to be exact.
If you aren’t on Facebook yet, don’t worry. Someone’s bound to invite you soon. If you’re already on, don’t stress out about the number of friends on your wall. We all know that Facebook isn’t the only measure of friendship and besides, some of us value quality over quantity. Until you join, though, and until you really show you care, your friends at Blue Thumb, Washington Conservation District, Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed and the St. Croix River are left wondering, “Do you like us?” Really? You aren’t just saying that, are you?