Washington I'm a no-good, lowlife, antisocial, shunned, pathetic excuse for an 18-year-old.
Or so says my Facebook friend count, 161, which recently began to plateau dishearteningly. Apparently, all my acquaintances, my classmates and the people I've "heard of" have already publicly befriended me, leaving me, a social-networking neophyte, foundering in the low three digits.
I've been through my friends' friends, my friends' cousins, random people I met once at parties, students from my old school, students from the college I won't attend until September - but my D.C. total hasn't quite inched up to 100. It's drowning in a sea of friend totals triple its size.
Am I that unlikable? Why won't a few more people click that all-powerful button and friend me? (At the least, a few more of my 20-million-plus fellow Facebook users could write on my wall; with no new messages for three days, it's beginning to look a little bare.)
Facebook has brought to the forefront of my social life a necessity I seldom considered before selling my soul and signing up two months ago: friend quantity. Sure, we knew that the cool girls reigned in high school, but never before has such an unquestionably accurate popularity meter indicated down to the last individual your worth as a human being (or, at least, the precise number of people who thought you were worth the two seconds it takes to "friend" someone).
The quality of those people is, of course, far less important.
Emily Yoffe wrote about this phenomenon in Slate earlier this year, recounting what it was like to try to make friends online at 50-something. A Washington Post reporter, Howard Kurtz, conducted a similar experiment last month. Yet I never thought that as an 18-year-old, a charter member of the Internet generation, I'd be having a comparable online experience, stressing about ways to enumerate my friends so other people will think I'm popular.
There are other stringent quantitative standards to meet, too. You should be "tagged" in at least a few hundred photos loaded onto other users' pages, a number that is displayed prominently below your profile picture. If not, you surely haven't attended enough parties or other social events to have moments worth photographing. Shame on you.
I occasionally scold myself for buying into the superficiality of online social networking. But to delete my profile would be to admit defeat, and what would my friends - real and otherwise - think if I gave in? Still, nothing can belie the masochism of logging in daily. A few mouse clicks reveal photos of parties to which I was not invited and wall-to-wall conversations regarding outings that no one bothered to tell me about.
I may still harbor the hope that Facebook will shut down, allowing my social life to return to the solace of private text-messages and cell phone conversations. But in the meantime, I'm considering inviting a few (in-the-flesh) friends to a movie via e-mail. Hmmm. Given my stagnant social clout, maybe instead I'll write on their walls so all the world can see how great my plans are. Then all 161 of my friends (friends' cousins, one-time acquaintances, people I've never met) will know what I'm doing this weekend. I can't be unpopular if everyone knows I have such spectacular plans, right?
Maybe I'll take my camera and snap some great I'm-socially-content-and-having-a-grand-time photos while we're out.