Happy friendaversary! How Facebook enhances — and limits — your relationships

Happy friendaversary! How Facebook enhances — and limits — your relationships

As Facebook continues its massive online expansion, the social media juggernaut has a relatively new habit of sending users a "happy friendaversary" card — a short reel dedicated to you and a close friend, chronicling the last five, six, or even ten years you've spent taking selfies and growing up together.

Aside from the unfriendly reminder that you'll never get those years back, Facebook's ability to keep tabs on you and your friends can help you have a more meaningful relationship offline, according to technology researcher and columnist Alexandra Samuel.

And it comes at the expense of an effective but often dreaded form of communication: small-talk.

"[Facebook] brings more depth and meaning to those times we do have together offline, because we aren't using them to catch up on the day to day — or even the last decade," she told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's BC Almanac.

Samuel says Facebook knows who your closest friends are, and makes a point of keeping you up to date on all their activities, freeing you of some of the more mundane conversation-starters.

"It creates a kind of continued intimacy that carries into our offline lives," she said.

How close is too close?

Facebook is currently closing in on having 2 billion active users, producing 500,000 likes and 1.3 million pieces of content every minute.

And while much of this activity can keep users engaged with their circle of friends, Samuel says the algorithm can work just as well to push other friends out.

"Those of us who are on Facebook need to remember that [its] algorithm determines what we see. You really can't assume that your friends are seeing everything you share," she said.

Samuel says your newsfeed will be outfitted with posts that Facebook's algorithm determines you're likely to be more engaged with, effectively favouring some friends over others.

The end result? It could be helping you forget about some of your old friends, whittling down your personal relationships down to a select few — whether your like it or not.

"We are already cyborgs. Our consciousness is being shaped by the network."

So if the thought of becoming half-person, half Zuckerberg-algorithm scares you — be sure to spread the likes.

With files from CBC's BC Almanac