When I first joined Facebook, I fully admit I tried to get as many friends as possible. I liberally friended people – even if they were people I didn’t know but somehow, were included on a mass Gmail mailing list once upon a time. In fact, there are a few of my friends on Facebook that I don’t actually remembering meeting in college but because they post so much and we know so many of the same people, I consider them my friends. Then, there are the many people I friended because we went to high school or middle school or even elementary school together. I friended everyone.
However, after the novelty of Facebook wore off and I started having children, I began to regret having so many people as friends. The more I thought of it, the more I realized that just because I recognized their names from school didn’t mean I knew these people. They were mostly strangers and could be crazy serial killers. So I started unfriending people or putting them in “acquaintance” categories.
The problem is that Facebook makes it really hard to unfriend a lot of people at the same time. Any time you unfriend someone, Facebook reloads all your friends but in a different order than before. It becomes really frustrating. (I realize that the mobile app for Facebook makes it easier, but I didn’t know that until recently.)
So, what I decided to do sounds really mean, but is very useful. Every day, Facebook tells me which people have birthdays that day. On their birthday, I take a good look at these people and decide one of several things:
1) Keep as a friend/status quo
3) Move to “Acquaintance” category
It seems mean because I’m making this judgment on their birthday. Whatever. I’m assuming they will be so inundated with happy birthday wishes that if I do happen to unfriend them, they won’t even notice. If I move them to “Acquaintance,” they won’t really notice either (since Facebook thankfully doesn’t inform them of this) and will likely just think I stopped posting as much in general. (Most of my posts are “Friend only except Acquaintances.”)
At first, I was really leery of this policy. After all, doesn’t everyone want MORE friends? But once I started doing that, I realized there was immense freedom in unfriending. Having all these people on my friend list that I either didn’t actually know or interact with was a lot like all the junk I shove in my closets or under my bed. Stuff I kept because I thought, “One day, I may need this/they may become a good friend.” Well, I rarely touch the stuff I think I need – and it is unlikely that I will deepen my friendships with people I knew briefly in high school.
Turns out, I kept a lot of people on as Facebook friends because I liked the idea of knowing what happens to people without the hassle of actually maintaining a real relationship. However, if I didn’t really know these people AND they weren’t posting on a regular basis, what benefit did I derive from having them as a friend in the first place? In addition, I would worry that too many people would know what was going on in my life or see too many pictures of my kids. (Ironic since I totally blog about way more private things but whatever.) The worry was gone if they were no longer my friend!
Furthermore, I realized that in actuality, it was the fear of missing out that was driving me to have so many friends. Missing out on pictures, updates, and gossip. In fact, this was just like my addiction to celebrity gossip except these people were not famous! They did not touch my life in any way, shape, or form! Why did I care what happened to them except on a cursory level? The truth is, I don’t care. So if I don’t care, why am I their “friend”?
It seems like such a silly thing, this “friend/unfriend” business on Facebook. But I see it more and more as becoming my more authentic self. I don’t want a massive number of “friends” online. It’s not a virtual popularity contest. What I really want are real, interactive, and meaningful relationships.
Whether it manifests in the online equivalent of “office cooler talk” about TV shows/current events or deeper conversations about articles and issues, I look forward to my daily “chats” with my Facebook friends. What I want is a community of people who are interesting to me and interested in me. Unfriending people who do not contribute to the life that I want is simply good housekeeping.