(I wrote this and posted it on my Facebook page a week or so ago. It was something of a cathartic excercise to make myself feel a bit better about rejecting so many friend requests. I went through long bouts of anguish and internal wranglings before being able to bring myself to click the “Ignore” button … so this is to make me feel better.)
Dear Rejected Facebook Friend
I’m sorry that I have to ignore you. But I do.
You see, since I joined Facebook everyone I ever knew, once met, heard of, smiled at, poured tea for, hated, worked for, with or against has tracked me down. And I’m sick of it.
When I started out I was hugely competitive. I wanted friends, and I wanted them now. The bar was so low that Danny de Vito had to kneel to drink from it. Not for me the passing poke, the occasional message. Oh no, I wanted to go from 0 to 100 in just a couple of mouse clicks. Until soon my friends list became more like a telephone directory of my life.
Let me explain why that’s not ideal. Now that I’m into the whole Facebook thing, I’m very happy to let it be a useful add-on to my existence. It’s a bit like Netstar for life’s tiny detail that is inserted into me and everyone I know. At a glance I can see who is sad, who is happy, who is working and who is loafing. I love the fact that I’ve made contact with Barry, my old roommate from high school. I enjoy reading about Gordon’s mental contortions as he battles with his dissertation in London. And I can relive my old university days with Pete in the “Scrotum Artists” group.
Facebook has collapsed, instantly, the timeline of my life into one neat little pocket that I can observe as I please. And that I control. If I accept you, and all the others, as friends, then that control is gradually eroded.
I don’t want my current colleagues or boss to read about my hangovers. I don’t want my ex-one-night-stands to confirm their view of me as a no-good loser with nothing better to do than sit on the internet all night. My photo albums, which contain pics of me, my real-world friends and my family aren’t for public consumption. So I’ve had to set up some fairly strict criteria for the friends I now have on Facebook. Let me make them explicit:
If you’ve seen me naked, you’re in. If that made you laugh, you’re out. If you slept under the same roof as me at university, boarding school or digs, you’re probably in. If we’ve kissed, well, it’s no guarantee. If you have an exotic piercing and shown it to me, your chances are better (you know who you are …). If you are a former colleague that became a friend, welcome to my online world.
If you’re a current colleague that I only see at the office, sorry, make an appointment if you want to catch up. If you think that because you once heard me on the radio or listen to my podcast that makes us friends, then, um, you’re delusional (but thanks for listening anyway). If we’re related I guess you have to come in … you can’t choose your family and all that.
My list of friends includes the long-term as well as the long-lost. It also includes some people I have had brief acquaintances with in the past, but who are people who I like/respect/would like to know better/have connected with, however briefly. Take this as a test … imagine we walked past each other on the street tomorrow. What would we do? If we fail to recognise each other, keep away from me now. If we just nod politely or avoid eye contact, sorry, I don’t want you in my Facebook world. If I cross the road when I see you coming, ditto. But if we are likely to stop, chat, find the nearest bar and drink together, come on in. Time alone is not a criteria for friendship on Facebook. There are people I knew 20 years ago who want to be friends now, and who stand no chance; and others I met last week who I’m happy to have in my cyber life because I reckon they are quite nice people who I’ll enjoy getting to know.
Let’s stop kidding each other — we both know in our heart of hearts that whatever contact we’ve had in the past was fleeting and inconsequential. Why, then, should you be able (or even want) to read the step-by-step progress of my hangover as I update my status from my cellphone in a darkened room? Is it any of your business? And, by the same token, why should I have access to or care about the similar minutiae of your existence?
I’m sorry if my rejection has hurt you or caused you to think ill of me. But its for the best. In any event, after reading this you probably hate me anyway and so no longer wish to be my friend. Perfect. There’s a time and a place for meeting new people and making new friends. I’m not sure when that time will be, but I know for certain that Facebook isn’t the place.