“I Ain’t Your ‘Friend,’ Palooka.”

You heard me, Punchy. (For anyone struggling, I’m citing Pulp Fiction…as I am wont to do.)

Gallons – nay, oceans – of virtual ink have been spilled in hand-wringing consternation about how social media has changed the nature of interaction and relationship. A great deal of it I agree with, and it’s pointless simply to repeat it.

So I’m not going to blame social media here. Heck, even though I’m not actively on Facebook and Twitter right now (side note: I have slept better and been more productive, and been writing at a comparatively-furious pace), this blog is still connected to those machines.

We’re all self-marketers, obsessed with image and acceptance. Social media outlets are just tools that make it easier. We’ve all been inculcated with this idea that we have to “market” ourselves. It’s the cornerstone of social media strategies, but it’s been the cornerstone of networking sessions at conferences since time immemorial. Social media just helps us blast our friends with it, instead of just torturing colleagues and convention acquaintances.

The one annoying novelty is that the metric of “likes” and “favorites/retweets” has become a metric for “how correct” someone thinks they are. That’s something I could do without.

The Real Problem

However, I think the real problem with the state of things is the fact that Facebook chose the word “friend” for people to whom you’re connected. It makes it that much harder, and more painful, to sever a connection with someone when you disagree about something or they say something stupid. But they’re my friend, your neurons spark subconsciously. It predisposes you to staying connected to them.

Accordingly, it makes honest discussions more difficult. When you read an opinion from some keyboard jockey at a newspaper site, you approach it differently. There’s an emotional separation there. When a friend writes something with which you disagree, it feels like an insult. How could they think that when they know how I feel, your sensitive synapses scream.

This was apparent during that magical 2016 election season. Plenty of people finally severed connections with “friends” after getting into online hissy matches. For if you use a public forum to express something, “friends” will attack to belittle, humiliate and, if you’re lucky, patronizingly tell you why what you believe is wrong. (The separate issue of critical thought is a topic for another time.)

And so, after witnessing these online gang beatings – at the hands of some of your own “friends” no less! – the message is delivered. If you want to be friends with someone, either agree with them on every issue, or keep your mouth shut.

The Core Question

So let’s ask the core question. “Are my Facebook connections really friends?”

It was a tough question to ask at first. Here’s someone to whom I’m related! I knew this person in high school!

I’ve realized that there is a startling number of people who aren’t friends, nonetheless connected to me. I may have known them at some point, or worked with them, and thought they were grand people. I may still think they’re grand people! But that doesn’t make them my friends.

So why am I still giving them that title?

Friends disagree sometimes. They disagree about deep, philosophical issues sometimes. Sometimes they come to disagree. Sometimes friends tell each other that they’re making mistakes, or they understand a key part of that person that predisposes them to bad choices. Your red lines will fluctuate.

But just because you “run across” someone you knew at one time, or even share a singular interest, you’re not obligated to connect. It might even be a good idea not to, so you don’t poison the moment in time in which they live in your mind.

Each time someone is called your friend, let it be a conscious choice. Understand that not being friends isn’t a big sin; the majority of people on this planet aren’t your friend. It doesn’t mean you wish them ill. It just means that they’re not your friend.

So Disconnect

And don’t just “mute” them. Disconnect. Muting them lets Facebook and Twitter and whatever else continue to mine their data – and yours – to its own benefit. If they want that data, give them something that’s real. At least then, you may benefit from it too.

So if you happen to read this, and realize that I’m just a big jerk to whom you don’t want to be connected – or even that I’m a great guy you like but I’m not your friend – know that it’s OK.

Most likely, I think the same about you.




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