The Willy Loman Effect

Today, there are less and less people who don’t use social media somewhere in their lives, either as a part of work or relaxation (if not both!)

There are plenty of articles on the best way to use social media, and even more on how to get more “friends” or “likes”. However, is the meaning of the word “friend” the same on Facebook as it is in real life? Obviously not, but just How different is it? Should you accept every friend request you get, in the hopes of being popular and having hundreds of names on your friends list? Or do you turn down all but friend requests from close friends you know in person and speak to often? The first approach is what I like to call “The Willy Loman Effect”.

Willy Loman (from Death of a Salesman) is a perfect allegory for believing in a social false equivalency. In Willy’s case, he believed that the secret to success was being “well liked”. What Willy meant when he said “well liked” was to be everybody’s friend. Unfortunately, being everybody’s friend meant he was really nobody’s friend. He couldn’t depend on the people in his social network, because he hadn’t made a real connection with anybody, he’d simply been polite to everybody.  Willy Loman would be the guy who has 500 friends on Facebook, but when he puts out the call for help moving, nobody shows up.  That is what we call a false equivalency. 500 names on one’s friend list is not equivalent to 500 people you have a real human connection with.

On the other hand, we can have the opposite problem. If I were to turn down a friend request from anyone I don’t see and speak to on a regular basis, what would be the point of having a Facebook account? At that point, I’m just using it as a glorified text messaging service to talk to the people I’d be talking to anyway.  One of the wonderful things about social media is it’s ability to bring disparate people together. I’ve reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen since I was nine years old, gotten to know people better who I went to college with but never really hung out with, and I keep up to date on the day to day life of family members that live halfway around the world from me. I’ve also been introduced to new friends, and connected with them in a wholly digital way, swapping stories, advice, recipes and info, making human connections in a digital world.

I’m still hesitant to accept a friend request from someone I’ve never met/ don’t recognize/have no idea who they are- but sometimes taking a chance on a friend of a friend has had amazing results. (Not the least of which is having plenty of folks that will help me move when I need them, provided I bring the beer and pizza ; )

So the moral of this story is: Don’t be a Willy Loman, but do take advantage of the amazing community-building abilities of social media. The gift of Facebook is- you never know where your next (true) friend is going to come from, provided you can recognize a friend when you see one.

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