I remember when I got the invitation to Facebook over ten years ago. I didn’t really know what it was. I had a Zanga I didn’t really use and a MySpace I used even less. The invitation came from a friend, so I didn’t think twice about setting up an account. I didn’t expect it to become what it became. Facebook was (and possibly still is) the quintessential form of social media. So, after all this time, I wanted to see exactly how much it actually kept people connected. In the interested of research, I embarked on perhaps the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. My only solace is that it was for science. I decided to reach out to people I hadn’t talked to in years. I would send them all heartfelt messages and a friend request and see how they responded. The results were equal parts what I expected and extremely humbling.

The Facebook Effect

I sent out ten messages to people I had had varying levels of friendship with over ten years ago. One was a super close friend I had relatively recently fallen out with. One was a close friend I had fallen out with years and years ago. The rest were people I had formed loose relationships with in high school but hadn’t remained in contact with. The results were fairly disappointing. Seven of the ten I sent out were never even seen by their intended recipients. Whether this was thanks to Facebook’s messaging system or people willfully ignoring the messages is something I will never know. Either way, for a platform touted for its ability to connect people, 7 misses out of 10 is not a great average.

The Respondents

Of the three that actually did respond, one was more or less a stranger. They responded not only with a response to what I wrote them, but also with questions about my own point of view. I hadn’t actually planned on responding to the messages I sent out, but it felt rude not to share my thoughts with this person who took the time to acknowledge me reaching out after the others hadn’t. To me, this seemed like the intended purpose of the modern iteration of Facebook.

The Other Two

I got two other responses to my experiment. Both of them were from people I had been close with in the past. One of them was just a “Seen at XX: XX.” I can’t blame this person. I can only imagine how blindsided they felt by a random message out of the blue after all this time. All the same, even with no intention of responding, the fact that they were overcome with enough curiosity to see what I had written was telling in and of itself. The other person who responded was someone I would have considered a best friend. It was someone who life had caused me to drift away from. They took me reaching out as a sign that things should pick up as if no time had passed. It was tempting to go down that path. However, time had passed. Things did happen. We had both changed as people. Facebook almost made us both forget that fact. But ultimately, even social media couldn’t mend the rifts of the real world.

What I Learned

The way the settings work, it is not a great way to reach out to people you haven’t had some sort of recent contact with already, because unless you are already friends, they may never see your message. That said, it’s important to stress the fact that this is just the way the people in my life responded. Your experience could be completely different, if you are brave enough to try this for your self. I would also suggest you don’t reach out to people you aren’t actually prepared to reconnect with. But, if you do want to try this experiment, it is as good a way of checking in with yourself as it is with reaching out to others. Moreover, people are largely moving away from Facebook as their primary social media source. This isn’t exactly a bad thing. If you aren’t interested in reconnecting, you can ignore the advancements of relative strangers without looking deliberately insensitive. Because after all, you don’t owe anyone anything.