Google+ makes users rethink and re-evaluate online relationships

Credit: Joe Medwid/Art Staff Credit: Joe Medwid/Art Staff
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Google’s recently released Google+ and its circles have put me in a difficult situation.

When Google+ was released over the summer, I was anxious to try it. After registering, my email let out a chorus of dings to alert me that people were waiting for me on Google+. I immediately set to work, organizing my contacts into the little round spaces that would come to define my relationships. These “circles,” or labeled groups that allow for more customized sharing, are pretty simple — at least in theory.

Sister? Obviously she goes in “Family.”

A close friend I spend hours with outside of classes? “Friend.”

The kid who sat behind me in Interpretation and Argument? “Acquaintance.”

I hit a wall with the arrival of the third email announcing that a friend from high school had added me to her circle. “Add to Circles?” the email asked. It should have been a simple question, and it was, until I clicked the link, and my circles appeared onscreen. Is this person my friend, or my acquaintance?

Well, we survived high school Spanish together (primarily thanks to Google Translate), and yes, we’ve Facebook chatted a few times since we went our respective ways for college. We’ve kept in touch to an extent, but I can't think of the last time we exchanged much more than pleasantries. With that, I head towards the “Acquaintances” circle, but pause before releasing the mouse button, feeling a bit sheepish at grouping her into the same category as an Interp and Argument classmate. As my mouse hovers between the two, I feel an overwhelming wave of indecision, and curse Google+ for not revealing in what circle she chose to place me. Friend, acquaintance, or something else altogether?

So I closed the window — and now, over a month later, my circles stand as follows: Friends (1), Family (1), Acquaintance (1), Following (0). And the “People who’ve added you” tab, which represents all the people I've given up on categorizing: 37.

I was optimistic about the Google+ service. I love the idea of choosing whom I share content with; I relish the idea of being able to share a joke about bagpipes with a specifically “Carnegie Mellon” circle, whereas on Facebook such a post would leave everyone from my high school wondering what the instrument did to deserve my hatred. I love circles in theory; I just wish I could pay someone to organize and define my relationships for me, resolving any subsequent guilt.

Not only is the process incredibly tedious, but it also underestimates the amount of thought it takes to accurately categorize all of the relationships in my life. I don’t want to contemplate the status of my relationship with each person I stay in contact with online. To use the feature to its full potential, I would certainly have to create my own individualized circles, which I will have to think of an appropriate name for even before grouping individuals within it. This is a problem for me because, like most people, if I were honest about my online relationships I’d have to make a “people I once called friends, but now don’t call at all” circle and a “people I never speak to but feel guilty about rejecting” circle. With the fluidity of relationships, I’ll most certainly have to move people from circle to circle as time goes by — the “friends” I lose contact with will certainly have to be moved to “acquaintances,” while some of the new “acquaintances” I met at the start of the semester will have to migrate to “friends.”

I think I prefer the Facebook approach, which basically groups everyone from your dear Aunt Sally to the creepy guy down the hall under the title of “friend.” I recognize the gross oversimplification of that statement, and can see the benefits of evaluating the relationships in my life. However I’d rather do that when I’m in a contemplative state, maybe over a cup of tea and some good conversation. And while I still hope one day to take full advantage of Google+ and its social networking capabilities, I may have to hire a therapist to help me think through all my relationships before I can finally share my first post.