Facebook often seems like a double-edged sword, and a sharp one at that.
There are some people you wish you hadn’t lost touch with, but — due to laziness or disorganization or the demands of your current life — you did. Friday night Kish and I got together with an old friend we hadn’t seen him in years and had a wonderful time. (Thanks, Action!) It would not have happened without Facebook; that’s where we reconnected and communicated about getting together.
But there are negatives, too. Sometimes Facebook causes you to learn more about people than you really want to know. Perhaps their posted political, religious, or social views deeply offend you, and then you have to decide whether the situation merits “de-friending” the person. People really seem to struggle with that decision — and when you think about it, it’s really a new kind of social decision.
In the past you might never have learned that your co-worker or second cousin harbored beliefs that you find upsetting. Your interactions may never have gotten beyond superficial talk about sports or TV shows. Ignorance was bliss! But now, thanks to their airing of views on Facebook, you know.
To be sure, in days of yore people obviously made decisions not to pursue certain friendships. That process typically involved just avoiding the offending person and letting time and distance work their magic. With Facebook, that approach no longer works, because exposure to those offensive views is unaffected by physical distance.
The “de-friending” process also has a formality and finality to it that old-fashioned avoidance did not. If you were the unlucky object of an avoidance campaign, you could always rationalize that you lost touch with someone purely by happenstance and not because they can’t bear the sight of you. With “de-friending,” however, you know for certain. Once you were a “friend,” now you’re not — and if the list of the de-friender’s remaining friends is long, getting cut from the roster has a special sting.
People who announce de-friending decisions seem to treat the decisions as momentous ones. I don’t blame them. In the old days, you typically had to make public breaks only with unsuccessful boyfriends and girlfriends, and you had to cope with the hurt feelings only from those people. Now, the “de-friended” person may be a co-worker or family member, and you’ve got to deal with the fallout from your decision in a totally different context.
Manners and etiquette developed to help people deal in an appropriate way with standardized social situations. I won’t be surprised if the Facebook generation’s version of Emily Post comes up with the proper etiquette for handling a “de-friending” incident.
There’s a lot of social change rolled up into that one website.