Having online friends is no longer considered the resort of the lonely introvert with no social life who looks up people to chat with on a cold, Saturday night. Virtual friendship is a very real and somewhat interesting paradigm that has crept into our social fabric today. Yet, it’s also one of the most fragile things in existence today and I’ll tell you why.
In November last year, I noticed that I had over 1000 friends on Facebook and that over 180 of those were bloggers. More than 300 were people I had met on Facebook. 200 more were acquaintances I had known briefly either through my work or my life.
Yet, how many of them really were my ‘friends’? Therein lies one of life’s greatest mysteries. In October, I set about culling my Twitter following list down to 700+ people from the 1800 that it was. I removed people I did not find interesting, people whose tweets were not relevant and those who posted snarky stuff over and over again.
And it was easy. I did it without blinking an eye.
When it came to Facebook, though, I paused. I wondered what a person would feel if I un-friended them. Which is weird, if you think about it. Why should it matter? I mean, I’ve not met at least half of these people in reality. Most of my interactions have been via my blog or my Facebook updates. Some of them haven’t even checked their Facebook accounts for the last 6 months. So, it should be easy to hit the button that will remove those people from my list. But my finger hovers, draws back, goes back, withdraws again, much like a cat looking at a ball of yarn for the very first time in its life.
Let’s be practical here for one second. Even assuming that I am wildly popular (I’m not; we’re just assuming, remember?), 1085 is a large number of friends for one person to have. I cannot honestly say that I know what’s going on in each person’s life and the Facebook algorithm doesn’t make it any simpler to keep track of updates on people you know.
As a blogger, it stands to reason that I would share my blog updates on my personal profile but for some inexplicable reason, that annoys non-bloggers (who knew!?) So I get gently-worded messages written with ‘goodwill’, asking me to tone down the blog updates on Facebook and I do the decent thing and comply (most of the time).
Then, I get direct messages saying ‘I’ve blocked your updates on Facebook because, frankly, you post way too much.’ A part of me wants to curl my fists into battle mode but the saner part prevails and I nod, saying, ‘I know what you mean. I’d do it too.’
Why do we do it? Are we conditioned to agree with what people say/do? Is it the acceptance principle at work? Are we afraid to cut people out of our lives (gently speaking) for fear that we will lose some invisible thread that binds us together, however loose it may seem?
I think it’s a bit of everything, to be honest. I haven’t removed many people from my Facebook list for the simple reason that I am not sure how they will react. Is it cowardly? Not really. It’s more because I don’t want to get into a heated argument about why I chose to remove them from my list or worse, have to explain that I couldn’t keep track of what they were doing and that guilt was eating away at me.
This isn’t to say that Facebook friendships are shallow, far from it. My closest friends today are the ones I have made online, through my blogs and my words. I am grateful for them in more ways than I can count. They know it too.
The question here is are we aware of the fragility of online friends? It’s imperative, because acknowledging that fragility actually enables you to do two things simultaneously: strengthen the ties with those that matter and letting go of expectations with regard to every relationship that you make in the online world.
If we can do that, we’re on the path to a healthy, yet delicate bond of friendship that can endure for a long time to come.