“Facebook is a social utility that allows you to procrastinate by scrolling through a constantly updating stream of photos of pasta, cryptic updates and endless event invites from people you met once three years ago and haven’t spoken to since.”
I have 816 friends on Facebook. 816 friends? Real friends, defined in the OED as: ‘One joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy’? No Jessica, even you, life and soul of every party, ultra-social being and all round great girl, cannot claim to have 816 friends.
Obviously, people have realised that the word ‘friend’ doesn’t actually mean what it used to.* ‘We’re friends on Facebook’ has an entirely different meaning to ‘we’re actually friends, IRL’, and Google+ circles and Facebook lists have caused us to further dissect how we define each relationship, for better or worse. It was way back in 2008 that Facebook dropped the pretence that the site was simply an aid to offline relationships, and behaviour on the site has continued to create ever-evolving relationship dynamics that can no longer be easily defined or explained in a way that sounds logical, but is somehow entirely natural to frequent Facebook users:
‘I friended him because we have 15 mutual friends and I recognised him from my best friend’s roommate’s photos from last summer, and Facebook suggested it. Not that I ever plan on talking to him, although I will look at every photo he posts and then pretend I haven’t if we do eventually meet in real life.’
Variations of the phrase ‘Facebook-stalking’ haven’t just casually found their way into our daily vocabulary without cause. How much of your time on the site could you count as a mutual interaction with a friend and how much is one-sided voyeurism that wastes your time and you’re glad people aren’t notified about?
Facebook has changed the face of human relationships forever, and it’s mainly wonderful to so easily ‘connect and share with the people in my life’, and it’s lovely to have an online record of pretty much everything I’ve ever done since the 1st of May 2007, and I won’t be deleting** my account any time soon. But when Facebook tells me I have 816 friends and I realise that I could recognise my ex-boyfriend’s cousin’s step-Dad’s sister’s baby’s Godmother on the street, but I don’t even know what my best friend’s job is anymore, and somehow my day’s been cut from 24 hours to just 10 ½, I realise that some changes have to be made.
With a degree to do and some relationships still left to attend to IRL, do I have time, or even room in my brain, to know every detail about the lives of people that, if it wasn’t for Facebook, I’d probably have forgotten existed – a holiday romance, an old friend’s ex-girlfriend, an acquaintance from a festival, even old school friends? Just because we have the online option to immortalise links to strangers we take a shine to when drunk, it shouldn’t be expected of us. Facebook’s greatest asset is the ease at which one can maintain contact with pretty much anyone, but this also implements a lot of contact that just isn’t necessary.
That’s not to say that I don’t care what these people are doing, but if destiny has us cross paths again I’d rather ask with genuine interest what they’ve been up to than pretend I wasn’t watching it all unfold live through status updates that I didn’t so much as ‘like’. I’ve literally crossed the road to avoid talking to an old classmate, whilst noting in my head that I have seen all of their holiday pictures.
Such situations are generally just awkward, but staying ‘friends’ with everyone you’ve ever known on Facebook can be detrimental to your health, too, and I’m sure there’s probably science to back this up. Access to all details about the life of someone who broke your heart or the ex of a new partner will turn you into a paranoid obsessive downing gin, crying and tweeting ALL IN CAPS before you can legitimately claim that staying ‘friends’ is just representative of how far the human race has come in terms of our ability to put online connections above genuine emotion and closure.
People are scared of deleting friends on Facebook because there is no etiquette for it yet, and the technical terminology doesn’t fit with what can be an emotional context. Deleting someone from your Facebook friend list doesn’t mean you want to delete them from your life.***
* Our new, social media definition of ‘friend’ may not have reached the OED just yet, but Oxford Dictionaries Pro (‘Oxford’s innovative online dictionary’) includes ‘a contact on a social networking website’ in its definition of ‘friend’, along with a sizeable paragraph on the use of the word as a verb and the ‘social anxiety’ that this can create, which I recommend reading. I also recommend listening to the below song by Greyson Chance, as it flawlessly demonstrates the use of the new, not-quite-in-the-OED verb ‘unfriend’.
** It’s really, really hard to delete your Facebook profile permanently, it’s generally just a ‘temporary disable’.
*** Deleting someone from your Facebook friend list doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to delete them from your life. You could really, really want to. But it’s about as easy to do that as it is to delete a Facebook profile (see above).
Coincidentally, in what could be perceived as a New Year’s Resolution, I am about to perform my first major Facebook ‘friend’ cull. If people even notice, I hope that they somehow find the above text and console themselves with the fact that I’m probably too interested in their lives and really have to write my dissertation. If they really miss my updates, I probably won’t even make my profile private, and people can subscribe now anyway, and that’s not even necessary because I post even more incessantly on Twitter.
I’ve drawn up some guidelines to help make this mammoth task slightly easier. Feel free to give me feedback or suggestions.
I probably won’t unfriend people if they:
- Are my actual, legitimate IRL friends who I’d definitely attempt to make contact with, even if Facebook didn’t exist.
- Live in various other parts of the world that make maintaining contact in any other way seem completely unreasonable compared to Facebook’s minimal effort.
- Have accepted me on Facebook in lieu of a Business Card or similar, because Linked In isn’t really a thing with many people I’ve ever come into contact with.
- Follow me on Twitter and provide me with such enjoyable interaction on there that I feel our relationship transcends that that can exist within 140 characters.
- Have similar political views to me and thus share interesting articles and will make it seem like we are actually getting somewhere because EVERYONE I KNOW has made it their status that David Cameron is awful.
I probably will unfriend people if they:
- Are my family members. Sorry Daddy but that’s why I haven’t yet accepted today’s random request, and probably never will. You can just stick to reading my Tweets.
- Are what would have been viewed as a simple fling – a brief but ultimately failed attempt at love that didn’t quite make it to the ‘In a relationship’ stage – if we hadn’t become ‘friends’ so that we could flirt on Facebook Chat.
- Were one of the people that I wasn’t even friends with at school, but we just added each other because it was fun and new in Sixth Form and we didn’t anticipate these issues 4 years later.
- Are acquainted with me if you they a friend of an ex, a friend of an ex-friend, an ex-friend of a friend, or a friend of a sibling.
- Actually don’t remember meeting me. Or I don’t remember meeting them. And we awkwardly talked about it in 2009 but neither of us can remember and it turns out they hate Morrissey or something equally dreadful.
Happy New Year! My actual resolution is to learn how to blog. Honestly.
Little Miss Wilde
EDIT: I did it! Okay, so I didn’t quite cull half, but over 300. I have 509 ‘friends’ now. When I posted this to my Facebook wall, 2 people unfriended me, 2 who knew they were going said goodbye and 2 wrongly assumed they would be. 1 demanded that if I’d thought this much about it I had better make IRL contact with him soon, so I texted him.
Maybe some remaining ‘friends’ will see this post and delete me because I fall into one of their ‘unfriend’ categories. Or just because I annoy them. There were a few people I wasn’t sure about so I just went with my heart, which mainly involved keeping them. For now.
Also, Facebook Timeline makes it really hard to delete multiple friends but this handy advice makes it a lot less painful.