Making Virtual Friends on Facebook

Commentator Peter Sagal has recently joined Facebook, but he still has a lot of misgivings about it.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator Peter Sagal recently joined Facebook. But he still has a lot of misgivings about it. And while he's been mulling over online friendship and what it means, he's also been thinking of a TV show that he thinks got friendship right.

PETER SAGAL: Ten years after it went off the air, "Seinfeld" remains one of the most popular comedies on TV. I think I can explain this but I got to work my way around to it.

Recently, a friend of mine told me in great sadness that Western civilization is coming to an end. The final sign of the apocalypse? The social networking site, Facebook.

I found his view slightly extreme, although I think I can sympathize. There's something vaguely creepy about all these people friending each other online. There is something vaguely creepy about using the word friend as a verb. Will this trend spread? Will we be saying things like, Bob in accounting stole my Cheez Whiz from the break room fridge so I enemied him. Plus, why would anybody need or want hundreds or thousands of friends? Groucho Marx said he wouldn't want to be part of any club that would have him as a member.

But in my life I've taken that one step further. I don't even ever ask to join a club because why give them the chance to show their corruption by accepting me? No. Better to be a loner. A rock. A different drummer. I mean, to march to a different drummer, except I have no interest in hanging out with drummers. That's right. I'm such a loner, people. I am my own different drummer. Usually, I just tap my foot quietly, though, to avoid attracting unwanted attention from people I don't want to associate with. But nonetheless, recently, I went ahead and signed up for Facebook.

The gimmick of the site, of course, is that it provides you with constantly updated links telling you what your friends are up to. You'll notice a flaw, though, built into the system. You have to have friends to begin with. But it turns out it's actually a pretty good place to make friends. I found that a number of people I knew were already on it and I, yes, friended them. Pretty soon, I had a whole bunch of homies to hang with, virtually.

Okay, back to "Seinfeld." The show had a tremendous amount going for it -terrific writing, some great performances, a refreshing lack of sentiment. But I think the heart of its appeal was its depiction of friendship. Four people, none of them particularly admirable or charming or even very likeable, and yet they were absolutely inseparable. Everyday, it seemed, they found themselves in that restaurant, talking. No matter what they did to themselves or each other, they'd always be back at the restaurant the next week. They never expressed any affection. They didn't have to. It was to use the Web 2.0 term, a social network. Seinfeld, for all its posturing, was not a show about nothing. It was a show about everybody's secret dream, to have a group of friends who know exactly how rotten you are, but still would never leave you.

A week after I joined Facebook, I had 100 friends. Now, I have close to 900. I check on them everyday. I will confess, I don't actually know most of these people. They seem nice, though. And it's a comforting thought that when I post things or mention what I'm doing, they find out. It's all virtual. They're not really there, of course. But it's still very comforting to think that no matter what I do, they still won't really be there tomorrow.

(Soundbite of theme from "Seinfeld")

SIEGEL: Peter Sagal is the host of "Wait, Wait… Don't Tell Me," and the author of "The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things and How to Do Them."

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