I’ve been pondering the nature of friendship lately. In these turbulent times, it seems that virtual connection is pretty much all we’re going to get without risking the health and safety of others. It’s unsatisfying, but seeing people’s faces on a computer or phone screen and chatting with them is vastly preferable to attending their funerals via Zoom or Skype.
This lack of direct contact – no hugs, handshakes, or arms around shoulders – is depressing to me. I need human touch. I grew up in a home with very old-fashioned parents. Hugs from my dad were exceptionally rare, and those we did have felt stiff and wooden, without much emotion. Why this is so happens to be another story for another time; suffice to say that I learned to be stiff and formal by that early example, and I think it’s cost me in terms of emotional needs unfulfilled.
I didn’t have a lot of childhood friends. Those I did have were toxic and abusive, and taught me to be extremely wary in offering friendship to others. As a result, I don’t have many close friendships. I am typically suspicious of new people in social settings, and am reluctant to call people friends until I’m certain of their motives in hanging out with me.
All this brings me to Facebook. Since the management of Facebook has decided to be full-on assholes, I’m working towards weaning myself off it completely.
I know, I know; I’ve said and written this before. It’s tough to give it up though when so many of my friends interact there regularly, and sometimes frequently. It’s still a useful tool for reaching people, though that usefulness diminishes with each passing day.
To that end, I was going through my friends list very late last night, weeding out people I never interact with. Most of these are friends of friends, or people who friended me because I’m a game designer/author and they themselves are “collecting” such friends. (People are weird.) Anyway, I was going through my list of 1600+ “friends”, marveling at the number of people whom I had no idea of how they got on my friends list in the first place. I started to unfriend those. Facebook’s mechanism for seeing your friends is totally self-serving; it shows you your friends based on the volume of contact you have with them, so the people I want to cull are at the bottom of my list, which takes FOREVER to scroll through. And god forbid you stop to look at someone’s profile more closely to remind yourself of who they are; once you try to go back to the list, it kicks you back up to the very top of your list again instead of where you were. Intensely frustrating.
One of the saddest things about that exercise last night was coming across friends – dozens of them, actually – who had passed away, some as long as a decade ago. A few still had “active” profiles – birthday wishes from the inobservant or pathetically uninformed – while others had clearly been taken down and were merely names on my friends list now, placeholders for memories, like an empty seat at a formal dinner, name plate declaring whose seat this was to be but only emptiness remains in that chair. Some I deleted without hesitation; some I passed over, not ready to completely give up on ever seeing them again in life.
Other friends, once dear, have grown apart from me. Some I refused to unfriend in the hope we might circle back around again. Others I know are out of my life and not to return, for good or ill. Those I unfriend with a series of quick taps, before I have second thoughts or the memories of a handful of good times overshadow the reasons we grew apart in the first place.
Facebook was once a powerful, unifying force, connecting people across many miles and even different cultures. Now, in the autumn of its existence it’s only a place to farm likes and harvest names for spam mailing lists. It’s usefulness ground under the heel of expediency and driving people into feedback loops. It emphasizes cliques rather than enabling us to break free of them.
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Please have a safe, happy Hallowe’en.