“Most of us, at some point in our lives, ask ourselves: ‘How many real friends do I have?’ It’s a question that can’t be posed without some trepidation. It requires us to look, unflinchingly, into a long-neglected existential mirror and wonder, honestly, how many souls in this world we can truly call friends – people on whom we can count for genuine support and consolation, who will stand by us in good times and bad, whether our fortunes are up or down, whether we are in the loop or out of favour….

“No more worries. Online social networks have rescued us from this soul-searching, angst-inducing self-interrogation. It’s now possible to have dozens, hundreds, even thousands of ‘friends’ on social sites like MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Orkut and others. With a simple click, we can “add” new friends, connect to friends of friends and list our ‘Top Friends’.

“Collecting friends, indeed, is the main appeal of many social networking sites. No wonder that one of the first sites to gain widespread popularity was called Friendster. In the virtual culture of narcissism, the composition of our “friends” network has become a key identity signature. It’s a social barometer that validates self-esteem, confers status and measures social capital. It allows us – if we have loads of “friends” – to project ourselves into the cyberworld with greater self-confidence.

“For critics of online friendships, social networking sites have become virtual secondary schools that reproduce the maddeningly, and sometimes dangerous, psycho-politics encountered in the real world. On many sites, the socially ambitious boast their extensive network of ‘friends’, thus signalling their superior social skills. The online ritual of collecting, and displaying, “friends” has become a pervasive – some would say perverse – obsession that is consuming the lives of millions of young people worldwide.

“The word friend has even become a verb. People spend countless hours friending on social sites in a frantic, competitive drive to acquire, maintain and build what they believe is social capital. competitive friending has become an online expression of invidious comparison. Millions of people go online and jealously check the profiles of others to see how many ‘friends’ they’ve accumulated. In the old days,men with status envy looked for “trophy girlfriends” . Today, the prize catch on social networking sites is a ‘trophy friend’.”

–Matthew Fraser, Soumitra Dutta, “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World