Unfriended on Facebook

by Brian on January 30, 2009

in A Parent in Israel,Just For Fun

I’ve been “unfriended” by my 15-year-old daughter. No, I don’t mean she’s stopped talking to me. But Merav and I are no longer friends on Facebook.

The ostensible reason? We grounded her. She accepted her punishment but, in retribution, she blocked me access to her profile. That means no more status updates, no photo albums from the latest school trip tagging her friends, no private messaging.

Oh yes, she unfriended my wife Jody too.

Now, you might say that communicating via Facebook is the ultimate dehumanization of the parent-child relationship. It was bad enough when we started instant messaging each other in the same house. But I’ve come to rely on reading Merav’s status line to know how she’s feeling.

Did she have a good day at school? Is she brogus with a friend? Did she enjoy last night’s movie? It’s all updated in near real time, whether at home or school. Pretty much wherever there’s a WiFi connection. Check out this BBC parody of what happens when the borders between reality and Facebook blur too much.

Jody took a more sanguine approach. “A teenager needs her independence. She shouldn’t have her parents watching her every move online,” she said.

Maybe. But did Merav have to be so glib about it? She practically danced around the room when she informed me of my demotion.

Apparently, I’m not alone in the friend/unfriend conundrum. The New York Times this week ran a piece about the subject. Author Douglas Quenqua delineates the different types of unfriendings, from the impersonal – removing a contact you made a party, for example, but whom you can no longer remember – to the vindictive (like Merav).

It’s probably a good idea to weed out old Facebook connections from time to time. That must have been what was behind a recent Burger King promotion, called “The Whopper Sacrifice,” where the hamburger chain offered a free Whopper to anyone who severed bonds with 10 of their friends.

Burger King says that the viral promotion contributed to the ending of nearly 234,000 friendships before it was shut down after Facebook informed the company that it was violating the site’s Terms of Service by sending notifications letting the unlucky unfriended know that they been dumped for a sandwich. (Facebook doesn’t email you when you’ve been unfriended; you have to find out more serendipitously.)

The entire campaign struck me as terribly cynical but nevertheless deliciously amusing.

I’ve found Facebook invaluable in finding old friends. After I missed my 30th high school reunion, group photos from the event started popping up from old classmates who were similarly Facebook addicted. It was a blast.

Riding on that high, I began plugging in names of people with whom I’d spent time as a child. One search was for a dear friend Jennifer. But when I searched for her, I found two entries. Neither had a picture. So I friended them both.

Only one accepted my offer, which allowed me to see her previously private profile. She was born in 1974. Unfortunately, I was already friends with Jennifer in 1974, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a newborn at the time. Click, a logical unfriending.

Sometimes, though, you put out a friend request and the person doesn’t respond. You start to wonder why. Did the person just not see the email asking him or her to confirm? Or was there some hidden animosity that led the person to refuse. I reached out to several colleagues with whom I’d had nasty fallings out years ago. I hoped that maybe the informal chatty Facebook culture would break the ice. I still haven’t heard from them.

For the uninitiated, all this may sound like a huge time suck. It can certainly be that way if you don’t manage your inclinations with enough tough self-love. But ignoring it means missing out on what has become this century’s biggest social phenomenon.

Just consider the numbers. More than one in five of the entire Internet population has been to Facebook. That’s the number from ComScore, which reported that in December 2008, 222 million people visited the site, or 22 percent of the total Internet audience, clocking up a staggering 80 billion monthly page views. That’s up over 120 percent from the same month in 2007.

Another study – this one in the U.K. – reported that more than half of employers found that new hires expected to use social networking sites like Facebook at work. Accordingly, 46 percent of employers allow their workers to use Facebook at any time, 31 percent limited use to certain times, and only 23 percent blocked it entirely.

Facebook, of course isn’t the only social media site which is changing the landscape of communication. Twitter, which I’ve written about before, has well over 4 million users who spend good chunks of their day “tweeting” 140 character or less micro-blog posts about everything from what to order at Café Aroma to the latest technology news (I find both Twitter and Facebook to be invaluable sources of industry news and I justify my time on them as “doing research”).

One of my favorite new sites is called TweetWasters. It’s singular purpose: To calculate how much time you spend on Twitter and then present you with a cynical comment on how non-existent your social life must be.

The service adds up how many tweets you’ve posted, broadly estimates that you spend 30 seconds composing each, and spits out the total number of hours you’ve “wasted” on Twitter.

I entered a couple of my Twitter friends into TweetWasters. One had spent 15 hours to date on Twitter. Another a whopping 2.38 days, to which TweetWasters proclaimed “Um, you are aware there is a real world out there right?”

I’m not that bad off (TweetWaster cynically commented that “My grandmother uses Twitter more than you do”), but I do value my online friends. Which is why it’s been such a blow to lose my daughter’s Web companionship.

I’ve asked her several times to reconsider. Her response: “You’re not my friend, you’re my father.”

Well, I suppose I can’t argue with that. And I can still see her status updates on her Gmail chat and Skype. At least until I go and blab about it publicly and she blocks me there.


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