“Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends” is a dictum widely attributed to the 20th century artist Francis Bacon, although its origins have been traced to the late 1800’s. Whatever its provenance, Bacon is known to have used the phrase frequently in the company of friends and hangers-on in the pubs and clubs of London’s Soho district. It was a sort of rallying cry when he was buying drinks for his companions – some of whom were close friends, others were mere acquaintances, associates, groupies and antagonists.
Bacon died in 1992, but even if he was alive today, I doubt he would have used Facebook. Not because he was out of touch with popular culture (the collection of source material from his studio attests to his artistic interest in photography, sport, film, magazines, advertising etc.). No, his antipathy to Facebook and other social media would be based on the inability to distinguish between “real” and “sham” friends. Facebook may allow users to categorize “friends” as Close Friends, Family, Acquaintances, but this is mostly about levels of sharing and frequency of updates; it does not really allow for more subtle categorisation reflecting the different types and varied nature of relationships we have with our professional and personal contacts; nor does it allow us to distinguish between sub-categories (e.g., “friends I’m willing to have dinner with”, “cinema friends”, “family we visit for the holidays”, “Friday night drinks colleagues”, “clients to invite to the cricket” etc.)
The Internet in general (and social media in particular) is a great leveller, but has the capacity to reduce all our real-world relationships to a homogenous mass of digital contacts.