November 17: A Day of Amnesty to Remove People from the Facebook Friends List

Hello everyone,

I’ve just posted the following on Facebook, and it occurred to me it’s worth putting up on this blog as well.

Last year Jimmy Kimmel declared November 17th to be National Unfriend Day, and I thought that was a great idea: There should be one day a year where we can just clean out our friends list without guilt, angst, or recrimination. In 2010 I believe I removed something like 50 people. Only one of them complained, and since I re-added him we have not exchanged so much as a ‘like’ to any comment or post. This year I’m going to shoot for 100, and I don’t think I’m wrong in guessing it will be a pretty easy process. For the sake of clarity, I thought I’d write a note ahead of time to explain my reasoning and also perhaps campaign for others to adopt this purge for their own purposes.

What do we really use Facebook for?

Facebook is about keeping in touch with friends and family and acquaintances of all distances and distinctions. I’m all for that, and I revel in the fact that we live in a world where I can remain in touch with childhood friends and old co-workers and people who I’ve never met in person but with whom I share common interests. The trouble is that not all Facebook friendships remain relevant or active after their first beginnings, but a window has been created into our lives that will remain permanently open unless we actively seek to close it.

As of the writing of this note, I have 426 Facebook friends. To my understanding that is neither an unusually high number nor a remarkably low number, but it is certainly not representative of how many people I care about, in all the connotations of that term.

I’ve come up with three questions that I am going to ask every name on my list on November 17th:

1) Would I feel comfortable congratulating you on a marriage or the birth of a child?

2) If I sent you a message or asked a question on your wall, would I expect an answer within a week?

3) Can I recall the last time we had a meaningful interaction –either in person or online– and do I hold out realistic expectations that we will do so again in the foreseeable future?

If my answer to more than one of those questions is a no, exactly why do we need access to our daily thoughts and activities? These questions speak to my levels of trust, comfort, interest, and respect. There’s no reason to feel perpetually awkward with people on your friends list.

Through no one’s fault, people add each other to Facebook and then do not maintain any kind of relationship through it. Some seek to correct this by limiting access, but I view that as one-sided and flawed. I have a number of ‘friends’ who do not allow me to write on their wall. How did I discover this? Well, I tried, and I learned that I no longer have the permission. In seeking to reconnect and being spurned at the moment of interaction I experienced something much more jarring than losing someone’s name off a list. Limiting my ability to interact with you without sacrificing in equal coin creates an unbalance in a relationship that clearly was not robust to begin with. No, a clean break brings both parties down to an exchange of messages should the spirit ever move us to communicate. That’s fair, open, equal, and honest.

Most people do small purges throughout the year, or perhaps they clean house in a fit of pique after a particularly unpleasant incident. The problem there, I think, is that it leads to drama. People ask why they were singled out, and they expect an answer. I prefer the idea of an annual blanket amnesty: Let us all take advantage of November 17th to remove the people who we just don’t expect to interact with again. There is no malice in it.

If I drop off your friends list on the 17th, I will not be upset, and neither should you. We don’t mean anything to one another. Years from now, perhaps we will touch base and wish each other well, but we don’t need to spend the time between then and now leaving our private actions on public display. If someone messages me after the 17th and asks why we are no longer friends, I’m going to send them this note. I would prefer people to message me after the 17th asking why we are still friends: I suspect many of us look at our Facebook friends list and mentally close doors; after the 17th, if you’re on my list, my door is always open to you (at least until Nov. 17, 2012).

Those are my thoughts. I welcome yours. Best regards!



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