google+, minus the friends

The internet is already crawling with praise and criticism of Google’s new social network, Google+. I don’t have much to add one way or the other, honestly. At least, not in the technical vein. Nor in the aesthetic vein.

Yet I would nonetheless like to talk about why I love Google+. And I can sum it up in one word: Circles.

Allow me to redact that just a bit. I love Google+’s circles(1) largely because they’re not something else: Friends.

Facebook’s rampant use of the word friend has been bothering me for years. Only someone inherently and terribly lonely would create something that allows him to have friends without ever having to leave his dorm-room. That part make me sad.

What makes me angry is that Facebook requires a relationship between me and someone else. If I want to know what that person is up to, I have to request that that person be my friend and he or she has to accept my request.

What, are we in second grade?

Friendships are not asked for, nor do they rely upon overt acceptance. You know someone is your friend through actions and statements, not because you passed her a note in class. And more importantly, you know someone is not your friend because you stop talking to them. You cease being interested in that person’s life. For whatever reason. The trickle of their life ceases to affect your own.

Facebook changes that. It allows you only to be friends. If you don’t want to see someone’s updates you can either de-friend them (aggressive) or hide their updates (passive-aggressive). There is zero middle-ground. So real-life friendship-breakups get even more complicated by a social network, which strikes me as about the most ridiculous aspect of modern times.

Facebook also doesn’t let me know what people from high school are up to unless I’m willing to call them my friends. But I’m not willing to do that. I haven’t talked to most of them in nearly two decades; there is no reason to think of them as friends. So when people send me friend-requests I deny them almost purely because of that word.

On Google+ I would simply get a notice that so-and-so added me to a circle. I don’t have to approve it. I don’t have to do anything at all. I don’t have to add him or her to a circle. In fact, nothing about Google+’s circles(2) implies any type of two-way relationship. He or she could have added me to a circle they call ‘Narcissistic Windbags’ for all I know.

But I wouldn’t know. That’s the point.

In other words, Google+ just lets me keep tabs on someone, or vice versa, without forcing any type of relationship.

Furthermore, when I check my Google+ stream(3) I can limit it to any circle I want. So I could conceivably have a circle of former-high-school classmates that I check up on, say, once a month. I don’t have to know that they’re playing some inane game. I don’t have to see pictures of their 2.3 standard-issue. I don’t have to hear what they think of Republicans whilst I’m trying to see what my actual, real-life friends are up to.

Google+ gives me a way to control which pieces of information I’m seeing, and which pieces I’m sending to whom. I’ve added several people from my workplace to a Google+ circle though I will never add them on Facebook. This is simply because Google+ lets me – very simply – control which content of mine that they can see.

So when I post that I saw a fox cub on my bike ride, I don’t mind including my work-circle because most of them live locally and might be interested.

But when I post about having made good friends with a vat o’ mojitos, I exclude the work-circle because none of them need to know I got maybe more than my fair-share of drunk on Saturday.

And I don’t have to think of them as friends. Because they’re not. They’re just in my circle.

What I call that circle is my secret. But I will say that not a single one of my circles is called Friends.(4)


  1. That’s the most awkward apostrophe-s construction I’ve ever made.
  2. See note 1, supra.
  3. Think of your Facebook news-feed.
  4. NB:If you want to add me to your circle you can find me here.
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