Monday, November 16, 2009

Facebook: To "Friend" or "Unfriend"?

I am a member of the generation that has hijacked Facebook from our kids. It started out innocently enough. Before the start of her junior year in high school, Emily created a Facebook page to better stay in touch with friends she had made during a trip to China over the summer. I had long held my ground against both MySpace and Facebook, having seen far too many incidents of reckless postings by naive teenagers. However, Emily was then 16 and had consistently demonstrated a level of personal responsibility that would allow her to navigate cyber space safely. My occasional glances over her shoulder reassured me that she was being smart, having fun, and not posting anything too provocative. I found it somewhat intriguing, but never thought of it as a tool that I would use.

The next year, I received a "friend" request from one of my best friends who lives with her family in India. Neither of us are great correspondents and the expanse of time and space created by our mutual globetrotting had made it increasingly difficult to keep up with one another. The appeal of having more regular communication with her was too hard to resist. In 10 minutes, I had created a Facebook profile of my own and sent a friend request to virtually every personal contact in my address book. I was surprised to discover how many of them were already on Facebook. I reconnected with one of my best friends from childhood. Our post college years had taken us in different directions, seemingly relegating our friendship to our distant past. When we met again, we were both thrilled to discover how our disparate pursuits had still given us so many common life experiences. And the deep bond from our childhood was still there, in spite of our protracted separation.

I found myself reconnecting with old friends from school and work as well as friends to whom we had said good-bye in one of our many moves. Each friend with whom I connected was like a Hydra, leading me to at least 2 or 3 new friends. Facebook has become a great way for us to stay in touch with family and friends around the country whom we do not get to see as often as we would like. However, in cyber space, a friend can be almost anyone with whom one has ever crossed paths. I befriended a woman from high school who had created her senior yearbook page in the Runic alphabet. One of my brother's friends, whom I had not seen in more than 25 years, not only friended me but offered us college guidance counseling. I accepted one guy's friend request because he said we were friends in high school. For the life of me, I cannot recall a single memory of him. The only request I flat out ignored was that of a guy who had carved a swastika into his forehead in high school. I was not interested in his story of personal redemption, assuming he had one. Emily is the one friend who has consistently refused me, saying it would just be too weird to be friends with her mom. But, as I said, I trust her.

I now find myself having enough Facebook friends, allowing me to be more selective with new requests, which are easy enough to ignore. To "unfriend", (the newly named 2009 Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary), however, is much dicier. After having received several snarky responses to posting I had made, I decided that girl from high school whom I used to think was just a quirky nonconformist was now just mean and rude. So I blocked her. It felt kind of good. There is another friend whose Facebook life hangs in the balance. I have not yet had the courage to off her but I certainly regret befriending her. I will probably never see or interact with her outside of Facebook but I am still subjected to her polarizing political rants. Yet I find myself surprisingly hesitant to unfriend her. I recently discovered that a former high school classmate had blocked me. I recovered from that rejection quickly enough so perhaps I should just bite the bullet and hope for the best.

1 comment:

  1. I had assumed that if you could tolerate ME as a FB friend just about anyone was welcome. But now that I know you have standards (not necessarily high ones, but standards) I'm a little unsure whether I want to be a member of a club that would have someone like me. But heck, I'll stay.
    I've unfriended 3 people. One is a distant cousin who makes Orly Taitz look rational; a second was someone who thought he knew me yet constantly invited me to play Mafia Wars; and the third's streams were nothing but Mafia Wars updates. As you've discovered, unfriending is silent. They won't know immediately.