Friday, January 29, 2010

Unfriending FaceBook

FaceBook reminds me of the movie, Fatal Attraction. It starts out feeling like something special, all warmth and happiness, until you gradually find yourself wondering how you ever let such a monster into your life.

I broke up with FaceBook this week. But, I'm considering revisiting a remodeled version in the future because it actually put me in touch with a lot of old friends.

I began the first work on the face lift yesterday by pruning my Friends list, an activity that seems to be the current rage. Not the kind of pruning that trims a wild branch here and there, mind you, but the kind that cuts the bush to just above ground level in hopes that it will grow back into something presentable one day, knowing that if it doesn't, you didn't have a lot to lose.

I started by looking at the profile photos in my Friends list and having a brief discussion with each.

"I don't even know you, anymore. I'm not sure I ever did," I said tearfully to the first photo.

Seriously, how did I end up with several "friends" that I don't know and can't even explain why I ever accepted their friend request? Unfriended 'em all.

As I carried on conversations with scores of profile photos, finger-quoting "friends" began to exhaust me, and my cat was looking at me funny, so I decided to call them FBriends, instead. It's difficult to pronounce, but not so much when the entire conversation takes place in your head.

Next, I asked myself if I'd be happy to meet that person in the profile photo in a hallway by chance. No? Unfriended.

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was a FBriend who seemed elated that I would continue to lack access to affordable private health insurance after the Massachusetts senatorial election. Now, I'm fine with someone not sharing my political views, and feel free to express joy that your candidate won, but celebrate the denial of my health care coverage out of earshot. You're outta here.

The next step was trickier. Parents of teens know that you are who you hang out with. So, I wondered what to do with the FBriend of a Friend who, just after the same election, suggested that it was actually God who doesn't want me to have health insurance. As far as I know, there is no way to block a response to a friend's post from one of their friends. I had to weigh whether keeping that friend on FaceBook was also worth the baggage of his friends. Given marginal objections to some of the comments from the friend himself, the excess weight of that baggage nudged me toward dumping the whole bunch overboard.

Now, I realize this probably sounds like I'm only jettisoning the people who don't share my political and religious views, but au contraire! A former coworker shares nearly all my political views, but the rants from his soapbox have become so shrill that not even I want to hear them, anymore. Hit the bricks, my well-intended friend.

On the other hand, I kept a friend who also applauded the dashing of any hopes I might have had of one day escaping the dreaded preexisting conditions, because I'm convinced his heart is in the right place. (Fortunately, he has health insurance, so even if his heart were in the wrong place he could probably get that corrected.)

I found another coworker who was a close friend years ago. I did something to offend him, however, and I've never really been certain what that was. Over the years, I tried desperately to make amends, only to be rebuffed time and again. In the spirit of just giving up, I pulled the plug. Nobody's friendship, online or off, is worth that much effort. Don't let the screen door hitcha'.

The next part was easy. I looked at the profile of some FBriends I hadn't heard from in a while. If they hadn't posted anything since say, 2007, I pronounced "Time of Death".

Dumb gets you booted, too. A friend recently posted, "O CHAIR!!!!!!!!!!!". When I replied that it might be the most nebulous post I had ever read, she thought I was paying her a compliment.

Lastly, I headed for privacy settings and limited everything to Friends.

So, is it safe to go back in the water? I made a prescient resolution a few weeks back (on FaceBook, of course), to have a year of less anger and more HIDE button. I'll try to remember that instead of exploding next time someone suggests that God supports their political party, or I hear a multimillionaire arguing that our health care system works just fine, and I'll simply unfriend that person when it happens. But for now, I believe I have reduced my Friends list to just those people I truly want to be around.

Thing is, about the only person left on that list now is my wife, and we don't really need FaceBook to communicate.

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Dirk Cotton is a retired executive of a Fortune 500 technology company. Since retiring in 2005, he has researched and published papers on retirement finance, spoken at retirement industry conferences and events, and regularly posted on retirement finance issues at his blog, The Retirement Cafe. He is currently a Thought Leader at APViewpoint, Advisor Perspectives' online community of  investment advisors and financial planners. He provides retirement planning advice as a fee-only financial planner.

Mr. Cotton holds an undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of Kentucky, an MBA from Marymount University, and a certificate in financial planning from Boston University.

He and his family currently reside in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He loves to spend time with his family, fly fish, shoot sporting clays, attend college baseball games, sail, follow the Wildcats, and write.

Dirk holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Kentucky, an MBA from Marymount University, and a certificate in financial planning from Boston University.  He attended high school in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

email: JDCPlanning@gmail.com