Yesterday I read Laurent Haug‘s post Defriendization is the future of social networks. (Laurent organizes the Lift conference, next month in Geneva — are you going? Here’s why you should.) I’m not sure I’m with Laurent about defriending. I guess I’m more of an advocate of being lazy about friending. That’s why I have 200+ people waiting in friend request purgatory on Facebook.
It is true, however, that with an online social network, you keep on dragging your past connections with you unless you defriend. In offline life, connections loosen with time, you stop seeing people, stop calling, stop writing, lose track of where they live… and connect again on Facebook. We have two movements here:
- the fact that people tend to drift out of each other’s lives, and online social networks do not really have a way to reflect that
- the fact that in a way, we like “collecting” our contacts, even if they’re not active anymore, as a way of making present or tangible some part of our past lives.
Sometimes, reconnecting with people who have drifted out of your life can be a great thing. I think that’s because in many cases, there is no real reason (like conflict, for example) for having drifted apart. It’s more a combination of circumstances and the absence of a strong incentive to not let the relationship dissolve.
I think that one of the obsessions with defriending has to do with having excessively high expectations about what one owes one’s connections. One of my keys to social media survival is “you can’t read everything”, which as far as relationships go translates to “you can’t have an active relationship with all your connections”.
It sucks, I know. I do believe that there is a psychological limit to the number of people we can handle in our lives (cf. Dunbar’s number). I also believe that social media, in a way, allows us to cheat with this — but it’s only cheating. It makes it easier to keep loose ties alive, and reactivate old relationships, but it doesn’t fundamentally change how many people in our lives we can really care about on a regular basis.
If you try to keep your online social network connections as meaningful as “regular friendships”, you can only fail.
I think this is part of the explanation of what I’d like to call “social media burnout” and that we’re seeing popping up all over the place. The links I’ve collected in relation to this theme are of high-profile social media people, but this happens to “normal” people too. They go wild about Facebook for a few months or a year, and then drop it all because they got sucked into it too much. Now, the people I’ve linked to above are not doing the “all-or-nothing” thing, and they might very well not be properly burned out, but they have in common that at some point, they have realised that their social media “life” was not sustainable as is. This happens outside social media too — but I think there is something specific to social media here, in the way that it dramatically lowers the energy necessary to establish and maintain connections.
Though one must never forget that the people at the end of our social media connections are real people, we must also acknowledge that it does not automatically entitle them to a deep, meaningful relationship with us. It’s OK to keep things superficial. It’s necessary, or your brain will fry.
Coming back to Laurent’s article, he points to three links that I would like to comment upon, in my typical rambly and disjointed blogging style ;-). I initially wrote a huge long post, and then decided to chop it up. Keep reading (after the lunch break):