Acquaintance

February 21, 2022 ☞ Word of the day

Remember when Facebook invented the “acquaintance”? I was ecstatic.

Finally, a way to cull the herd. I knew I didn’t have 800 friends. Do I even have 100? There are probably 36 people I consider True Friends and only God knows if the feeling is mutual.

But Acquaintance was more than a label. It was a wall. “You’ll see fewer of their posts” implies, of course, that you want to see fewer of their posts. Because acquaintances don’t matter as much. Acquaintances are Other People and they belong over there.

Vulgar Latin, indeed. The word is sticky and unsettling like a movie theater floor. It pries your mouth wide, like a rubber band, forcing it into a quickly-deflated Pan Am smile. Ack. Quaint. Ants.

Years ago, I banished scores of humans to an acquaintance list. Today, I am thinking of these wretched souls and their acquaintanced fate. They never knew that Facebook let me plunk them onto my own personal grey-list.

Who’s on my Acquaintance list? Nobody important, but I suppose that’s a given. It’s a can of mixed nuts, where everyone’s a filbert. Without looking I’d guess folks from high school. And people I added back in 2006 because there was no one else to add back then. Also those folks you meet at a house party and mid-conversation they ask “Are you on Facebook?” And you answer “yes” (because to answer “no” is a whole other conversation altogether), and they immediately pull out their phone and file a friend request that very instant. There are people from old jobs. People I met on student exchange. I can’t delete them because my brain says, “hey, it’s good to know someone in Greece,” but dude, Daphne isn’t going to show you around. You’re probably on her Acquaintance list too.

When I look at my acquaintance list today I feel genuine awe. All the walk-on characters from my life are embroiled in their own story arcs. The ex-exes of friends are now married with kids, and in their lives I’m an invisible exoplanet. Folks on my acquaintance list are winning prizes and running their own companies. They are also struggling with depression, and cancer, and worse. Some have already disappeared from the Earth before I could even tell them how I judged them so casually.

We have a caste system in the first world and it is Meta. The Metaverse will not be social. It will be taut human skin pulled over a sleek metal robot that talks. There was no such thing as a “friend request” before Facebook. Friendships emerge. An Acquaintance is not a category of human. It’s a phase of a relationship. Before Facebook, describing someone with a label did not alter the social reality you two share. In real life, you can’t control how many times you see an Acquaintance on the bus or at the mall. On Facebook, being labelled an Acquaintance means you’re probably going to stay one forever.

Dear acquaintances, I am sorry for putting you on a list. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. I know now that putting people on lists has only ever led to problems in the world. Hitler put people on lists. So did my seventh grade music teacher. Us and them. Meta makes you the despot of your own social reality.

Unless you are family (and even so), we all start as strangers, until we are acquaintanced, and that’s an OK place to be. In the realm of “we’ve howdied, but we ain’t shook.” From there, there’s no telling where things shall go.