Last week in “The Loneliness of Facebook,” I suggested that the Facebook experience might be more satisfying if we took the time to cull our friends down to only those we actually care about.
A number of you liked the idea. A reader in New York City informed me that he had just unfriended 200 faux-Facebook-friends in a single sitting and “feels great about it.” Another in London wrote that he’s “culling away,” adding “it’s a bloodbath over here.”
Inspired by them, I began pruning the tree yesterday afternoon.
And yes, it feels good. My newsfeed is now free of messages from people I don’t know. I’m paying more attention to the posts of people I do know. Things feel cleaner, and overall I feel more in control.
But unfriending was not without its complications.
The first step, as I wrote about last week, was unfriending myself, deactivating the second of my two Facebook profiles where I had spent most of my Facebook life under the pseudonym of Carlos Mandelbaum.
Carlos was an oddball character I created in early 2009 who commented on business, culture and politics. He appeared on YouTube in about 20 episodes of the Carnival of Ideas and in the very early days enjoyed some attention from the blogosphere. By August 2011, however, the project had pretty much played itself out.
But the online identity remained. It was as Carlos that I acquired close to 900 Facebook friends. Many of these were fans of The Carnival of Ideas along with people I had met during my involvement with Occupy Wall Street.
By deactivating the account, I was distancing myself from an identity I had both enjoyed and into which I had invested a lot emotionally. And although I can always reactivate the Carlos profile, I was declaring (to myself at least) that it was time to move on.
Returning to yourself
What I found when I returned to the David Intrator profile, the one which I had created in 2007 and which I’d pretty much ignored for years, was about 450 friends. This was a lot more than I expected and, to my surprise, quite a few of them were people I care about.
But there was still a large group of strangers, colleagues and people from my distant past that were just muddying the social media waters.
In some cases unfriending was easy. If I had no idea who someone was, away they went without a thought. How these people ever ended up on my friends list however, still remains a mystery.
Unfriending colleagues was more problematic. Times remain tough and conventional wisdom says you just never know who might be able to help you or throw some business your way. But many of these colleagues were just marginal work acquaintances, or people I had maybe just met once or twice years ago. And as I mentioned in my last article, there were also a number of them I never really cared for, or they for me.
By unfriending them I was admitting to myself that nothing would ever come of these relationships. There was no business to be had. They were a lost cause.
Or to look at it more positively, perhaps Facebook was just not the right venue to be hanging with these folks. Maybe LinkedIn was the scene. Or better yet, the old-fashioned world of telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings.
In any event, after some minor trepidation, away they went.
I faced a similar problem with old classmates. A number of friends from high school, jr. high and even elementary school had friended me. Sure, I had some sentimental attachment to them, or to the idea of them, but we had never made it past the phase of simply being on one another’s friend’s list. We never messaged one another, or called, or met up.
As we had gone our separate ways after 6th grade or 12th, we’d have to go our separate ways again.
There’s was a finality in this, and a little sadness. Sure, in theory we could re-friend one another at some point in the future. But if we hadn’t re-connected by now, it just wasn’t going to happen. It was nice having you as part of my life. Bon voyage and good luck.
Unfriending the dead
Speaking of finality, there’s also the problem of the deceased. A dear friend of mine passed away last September. Having him on my friends list feels a little creepy, but also a way of honoring him. So he remains on the list of my active Facebook friends.
It’s about moving forward
This entire process of unfriending forces you to confront your past and make judgements about what you wish to carry forward.
It’s not unlike moving to a new home. Before you make the move, you go through all the stuff you’ve accumulated, a lot of which you might have been lugging around for years.
You rummage through boxes in the basement, explore what’s been hiding in the back of closets and the bottom of drawers. You examine old letters, receipts, pairs of old sunglasses.
There’s a memory or a hope tied to every object you touch. And then you make your decision whether or not these objects will join you on the next phase of your adventure.
See, each of our facebook friends is a symbol of something bigger. Of memories, hopes, the chance for success or love. And giving them up comes with a price.
But when you’re through you feel lighter and freer and somehow more clear about yourself.
Unfriending as Jubilee
In ancient times every 50 years certain cultures held a Jubilee in which all debts were cleared and the society was able to start afresh. (This concept, by the way, has been adopted recently in the Rolling Jubilee.)
In our new social media world, perhaps we too should engage in periodic Jubilees.
In its most extreme form we would unfriend and unfollow everyone on our Facebook Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Vine feeds. We would then rebuild our social world, friend by friend, follower by follower.
Or on a certain day each year we could simply engage in the less radical unfriending process I’ve just described. It could be a national holiday, a joyous occasion filled with parades and fireworks, in which collectively we reset our relationships and in so doing, rejuvenate our hopes, our dreams and a sense of who we really are.