I have a question. Does being a "friend" online really require any social obligations or even just courtesies? I was recently feeling overwhelmed with spending too much time online, to the point that it interfered with my productivity in "real" life. Several of my "friends" are on several mutual sites, so I get multiple notices from quite a few individuals to "look at this picture of my cat," change of status, "buy this" -- usually irrelevant and redundant information. My real friends contact me by personal e-mail if they have something important to share.
Anyway, I decided to defriend almost half of my online friends and even posted a notice that no one should take it personally. Well, I got NO (zero) responses, which makes me think that maybe they all got offended but didn't bother to give me some real feedback. Are we all victims of this artificial social network scheme whose real objective is to gather all of our likes, dislikes, and personal information to sell us something?
Is this really what interpersonal relationships have come to? My real friends include people who I have personally met or share some of my DNA, who I trust with my e-mail and who take a serious investment in our relationship. Am I wrong to close off all these other people? Maybe they don't have a "real" life and I should show them compassion.
~Confused Old Woman
The two universal truths I've taken away from modern life are: When something is invented, someone somewhere will try to devise a way to have sex with it, and underlying those great inventions or ideas is the notion that it can be used to sell us something. But just because marketing is a driving force doesn't mean we are victims of anything. Think of how many Facebook ads you've actually clicked on. Probably few to none, right? What about Google ads? And sure, maybe we should worry a little about all the information we are putting online and how businesses are using this information to learn about our self-indulgent interest in hydroponic tomatoes or whatever, but I don't have the space here to go all 1984 on your ass. Nor would I, because I haven't read that book since high school, and frankly it scared me.Social media is one of the ways we nourish relationships, but it works only when those relationships matter to us, whether that's for practical, professional, or prurient reasons. Is it the only way? Of course not. It's not the medium that matters, so much as the intention. I know that a far more effective way of getting my dad to respond to my pressing question about Ally McBeal is to simply pick up the phone and call him. If I tried to reach him another way, it could be weeks before I learned which episode Portia di Rossi wore that really hot red tie to the office.
Should you feel bad for pulling a dot-kamikaze on your digital friends? Hardly. It's your party and you can bye if you want to. I'm certainly not going to shake my stick at you, because online harassment lines are blurry, and my court order is pending. However, make sure you're not closing yourself off entirely. Studies have shown that social media plays a key role in lowering depression in older folks.
Let's talk about friends for a minute, though. Definitions have clearly changed. Not every person in your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ networks will know you intimately. Or even at all. Maybe they know only where you went to college or that you listen to Mariah Carey like it's a contest and you win EVERY DAY. But this doesn't mean you can't learn something from them, or that they won't contribute to your life in a meaningful way. What I'm saying is, don't be too rash in closing doors online. You never know when you might meet someone who'll blow your mind.
As a freelancer who no longer has the benefit of an office and co-workers to shoot the shit with, I've found that social media is one of the few ways I can actually interact with people, bounce ideas around, and to stay in a state of perma-arousal by the latest Ryan Gosling meme.
It's always good to take a step back from time to time and prioritize your social media habits. A majority of us are wasting our time (seriously though, click on the Gosling link -- you won't be sorry) so it's never a bad idea to clean out some clutter and re-evaluate. Think about how you are connecting with people you care about. Are you making sure to keep those "real" friendships going, or are you just adding to the noise machine?
Btw, have you seen this inbred cat? UHmazing.