You Are Not Connected

Navistock / Shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Recently, Facebook users have noticed that when you add a new friend, you also get a message that looks like the person wrote to you.

The red notification causes a surge of hope, or at least curiosity, that this new friend had something nice or meaningful to say. But it’s just an automated delivery that’s actually from Facebook, not the Facebook user. And all it says is, “You are now connected ...”

Are you? If anything, the empty message drives home a sense of certainty that you aren’t actually connected in any way that even begins to be meaningful, and you likely never will be. But it would be weird if the message said that.

“You are now connected” really means “You now have the opportunity to become connected.” Facebook would like you to start a conversation using the Facebook Messenger app, a Facebook product. But few people do. Connectedness requires work, and it means opening yourself to rejection and humiliation. And what is there to talk about with someone you don’t know very well? If you did have something truly funny or insightful to say, why not post it where everyone could see it?

If Facebook seriously wanted to get people talking on the Facebook Messenger app, it would send a more provocative message.

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For example, “Stephen accepted your friend request. Tell him what your favorite type of pizza is.”

Now that’s a conversation starter. That would get everyone chatting on Facebook Messenger.

If that still didn’t work for some reason, maybe the conversation prompt could be targeted based on a user’s known interests and preferences. For example, “Stephen accepted your friend request. He orders pizza almost every night from Little Caesar’s. Seems like he’d like to get out more.”

Or, to be more straightforward: “Stephen accepted your friend request. If you send Stephen a message and ask him out for pizza, he will say yes.”

If you still weren’t sure if you should, maybe you could reply to the Facebook message.

“would it be fun?”

“You both spend a lot of time looking at one another’s photos, so you will probably become intimate.”

“lol what?”

“If you send Stephen a message and tell him you’re interested in becoming intimate, it will happen.”

“how about no”

“You will get married and name the babies Matilda and Matilda 2. Send Stephen a message and tell him how you’d like to name the babies.”

“this is freaking me out”

“You need to be forward. Stephen is sick. I won’t be more specific than that, but it’s now or never. There is no one better for you in a 70-mile radius, and you are an unsafe driver. Send Stephen a message using Facebook Messenger, I’m serious.”

So you call Facebook and ask to have your account deleted.

The helpful team at Facebook convinces you to settle for deactivating your account instead of deleting it. That way if you ever change your mind, you can reactivate it at any time. They remind you that your birthday is coming up, and meeting people is tough, and life is unpredictable.

After a few Tinder dates and a minor car accident and news of escalating tension with North Korea, you reactivate your account. You tell yourself that human connection is no less real just because it was originally facilitated by a corporate algorithm. The fear was never actually about what to say, it was about rejection. So what if that fear is gone?

“Steve! I haven’t seen you in, like, forever! I hope you’re still in good health. You are, right? We should get pizza.”