I thought Gladwell’s article did a really great job of contrasting the level of devotion that individuals feel towards their close friends with the level of antipathy one usually associates with digital friends. Looking at my own facebook page I see that I currently have about 516 friends, of that number I could probably list the names of about twenty-five off the top of my head. Now, as Gladwell points out this oversaturation of one’s social circle is amazing for gathering information. I didn’t learn about Bin Laden’s assassination from CNN, I learned about it through facebook friend number 317. It’s incredibly convenient like having my own miniature army of unpaid reporters to get the latest scoop on everything from the local gossip to groundbreaking national news stories. I can also imagine this list of contacts being somewhat beneficial down the proverbial professional career path, who knows maybe number 248 will become head of a branding company someday, in which case I better get on learning his/her name.
While this network of five hundred faceless friends is useful, its use comes in keeping up with mainstream culture rather than generating any active counter cultural movements. My personal rationalization for this phenomenon is that its easy to go along with the cultural flow, it satisfies that pesky need for acceptance. But going off of the mainstream and attempting to either experience an alternative media form or even to rebel against outdated and immoral socially acceptable practices requires a higher level of social motivation. An individual needs some element of the familiar to be embedded within the strange in order to make the transition from convergent culture into divergent culture and there is nothing more familiar than a person with whom one shares a strong personal bond. I may not be willing to take a bullet for my 500 hundred facebook friends but I’ll take five hundred bullets for my dozen or so actual friends.