Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Friending and Unfriending

 One of my favorite techniques as a writer - and a human - is dropping into the middle of conversations that are ongoing; the simple act of doing so leaves the new arrival (me) -- or the reader (you in the case where I have been writing and that's the mechanism by which we begin our narrative) almost entirely at the mercy of the conversation -- because that's real life.

Relations among humans are often messy, but are usually worth the effort -- especially transactions that take place under the umbrella of words that - whether in our real or in our digital lives - include willing sacrifices and commitment of emotions.

Of course these gestures are never as cut-and-dried or as seemingly bloodless as the reasonable facsimile thereof that we use to represent the often emotional set of attachments we seek to transplant (or at the least mimic) in the online worlds of social media. Yeah.

To be clear here, and in spite of what is implied above, I am not speaking of any type of the use of the word “Love” as it is bandied about all willy-nilly whenever the R-Word (Relationship) is raised - even as I use the words Friendship or Mateship - which as any human can quickly explain is the seed of the root of the plant that must eventually become Love, if it is properly nurtured and allowed to expre4ss itself as the guiding emotional principles around which all relationships form.

One does not spring fully formed as a lover without first starting out as a mare or friend, as from the collective friend or mate the dynamics of partner is formed. That potential is there - always - whether one is prepared to accept it or not. But I do not speak of those words or relations with the same breath as the other.

Neither am I referring to any of the four basic words in Ancient Greek that can be translated into the English word “Love” and through which most writers rely (even when they are not aware that they in fact are relying upon them) -- those being the érōs (directly translated for and from "love" or "desire") or, for that matter, storge, philia, and especially agape, all of which lend their own special (and often times obscene in the end) shades to the words.

I do understand and acknowledge that among the formative influences that combined and conspire to form my own understanding and projection of those twin concepts subconsciously include Heinlein, Lawrence, Bacon, Chaucer, and even O'Brian.

I am therefore specifically NOT speaking of the sort of positioning or the use of that word or any of its many and varied associated cousins that, upon examination, either lend to the projection the twin concepts of emotional and physical connections. Love. Not!

What I am referencing here is the much more pure and universal relationship that in Canada and the United States goes by the word “Friendship” and in places like Australia and New Zealand over-utilize the phrase mateship.

Where Love of the Eros sort generally refers to "passionate love" or “romantic love” that we all of us are quick to understand -- as after all how could the entire genre of Love Story and its plethora of sub-genres that I like to refer to as the bodice-ripping rape-me-to-show-you-love-me sort of stories of Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts and the likes of Judith McNaught that I strongly suspect are responsible in no small way for the confusion that many men (and women for that matter) feel towards the non-committal use of the word “No” -- but that's an entirely different story and verbal proposition! For the record I believe that “No!” means “No!”

So all of that qualified, let it be known that I strongly believe that the beginning of THIS story - this article - and this question - is best summarized as the proposition of the Friend. Friends? Friended? Friend Me? Like? Unlike?

It is a long and complicated path we have embarked upon when that measure of complication is our topic. In fact we are better served by declaring what we DO NOT mean when we use the words Friend or Mate than we are in trying to complete the impossible task of finding a way to define what we DO mean by those words and especially when the objective is their definition in a single neat paragraph.


Eros love is the physical, sensual intimacy hoped to exist between the husband and the wife - the set of noteworthy and powerful forces conjured into being through the largely speculative spiritual transformation of two physically opposite human forms that, despite the usual physical compatibility are nevertheless largely a combination of desires and necessity.

That's one end of the palpable spectrum that is part of Friendship IRL. The other end can be found in a space that begins with casual friendships and progresses from there. So let's close that first chapter with an understanding, and open a new chapter in which we contrast and compare two very basic realities whose nature comes full-circle and back to the original thoughts, which are marked by two very different highs and lows: that being the loss of friendship / mateship that occurs in both real-world and real-life compared to that which occurs online.

The fascinating part though is that while it may seem like it naturally would amount to mostly the same thing, as it turns out how deep or damaging unfriending someone online can be has almost everything to do with the site and its ranking in the hierarchy of social networks, with a spectrum that starts at the far left with trivial and meaningless, and concludes, at the far right, with the unfriended feeling a measure of hurt and betrayal many are shocked and surprised to feel when it happens to them!

MATEship / FRIENDship
Recently - and with something of an “in-your-face” and unapologetic attitude - I sat with one of my real-world friends in the dining room at the Wareham Red Robin (which is as close as you are going to get to a gourmet burger on Cape Cod - though technically Wareham is NOT on the Cape) and we talked about the feelings that were provoked when you logged into your regular social networks only to discover that you had been unfriended by someone.

I should point out that a trip to RR is a rather special event. You see, heaven in a Red Robin begins with a “bottomless” Very Berry Raspberry Limeade (if you're from New England then you can think of this as a Raspberry/Lime Ricky but yeah), and some shared Baja Dip 'N' Chips -- crispy sea salt tortilla chips served with Red's zesty Baja Ranch dressing for to dip them in.

Spreading out from there is a Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger -- built with Red's pickle relish, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles, mayo and extra cheese, accompanied by a heaping dish of `golden brown O-Rings dipped into more of Red's zesty Baja Ranch dressing.

See the thing is, if you have lived on Cape Cod for very long you already know that with the exception of Surf N' Turf, the options for good restaurant food in the armpit of the Cape is down to either ethnic or fast.

We consider RR to be what you'd call medium-fast with an emphasis upon gourmet burgers and, well, they aren't kidding about the fact that their offerings fall neatly into the category of gourmet burgers! The point being that in this case it actually is worth going slightly off-Cape to get 'em because Red Robin falls well above Johnny Rockets or Wahlburgers.

The real point to this though is that it is not the usual meal, but one enjoyed among friends. And as that's the theme for this, Red Robin is a great place to start - because we had gathered there to chat about the whole online and social networking friendships and the subject as it contrasts with IRL friendships.

That’s a fair point. Especially when you consider that, no matter what happens, once the topic of this piece turns towards the online and digital realm, somebody's going to get hurt.

Offline vs. Online
Generally speaking the initial (almost instant) conclusion to the question of valuation was that the biggest difference between befriending someone and unfriending someone both IRL and OL is the lingering point that the event, when it happens Online, is simply not the same thing at all.

When it happens IRL it is often accompanied by those awkward silences and ugly confrontations that hurt - and the fact that usually there are good reasons for the event happening, on the face of it you might think that the two do not compare at all.

IRL the usual causes range from betrayals (both real and imagined), cheating, and often issues that are created either by other mates or relatives that lead to the decision by one party to undertake an action that ultimately causes emotional (and often times physical) pain to the other.

For most blokes this sort of event is relatively rare. Friends work through their issues, they don't burn bridges without really good reasons to do it.

But that makes sense when you consider that IRL Friends are rare animals indeed in the relationships spectrum. That they often require and are made yup of the same sorts of effort that relationships of a more personal and intimate nature occupy - because created a friendship is generally viewed as worthy of that level of effort.

That outlook may be related to the fact that, according to recent research conducted at both Harvard and Yale has revealed that the typical human actually has fewer mates/friends than they think they do! Which is to say that many of the people that they believe are their friends don't recipricate that level of either familiarity or bond.

Online “Friends”
“In the world OL becoming Friends is just a button click,” one of my mates pointed out. “That being the case, it really doesn't have any meaning. You Friend someone maybe to add them to your feed so you can see what they are doing or what they are interested in because they belong to a group YOU belong to, or are interested in some narrow hobby or subject YOU are interested in, but that is as far as it goes. For you.

Oddly though, it seems that for a lot of people -- and this is especially true on venues like Facebook -- your action of “Friending” a person can and often does have more meaning for the person you friended than it does for you!

So experiencing a person who befriended you suddenly and without comment or explanation unfriending you can be a jarring and, some even claim, hurtful event.

One aspect that is very clear and that lends focus to the phenomenon is where the action takes place. both different and similar depending on WHERE the breakup is going to happen. 

A case can be made that a Facebook breakup and a LinkedIn Breakup are pretty much at opposite ends of the spectrum. Or so it might appear to you. It may be fair to consider the middle zone to be pretty much everything from SnapChat to Xbox LIVE and PSN or Steam Mates, but are you aware that the social network side of platforms like YouTube have now reached the point where creators on that platform feel like you befriending them there and viewing their content is a declaration of friendship beyond simply being a consumer of the product that they are creating?

Social Network Sites that have somehow generated feelings by their users that they are in fact communities and, by befriending a creator/user thereon you are in effect being perceived as offering a sincere overture of real friendship to the extent that withdrawing that button click - to them - would be construed as anything starting with rejection and ranging up to a hostile even attacking act?

According to recent surveys that were conducted online the users and/or creators on the following social network constructs have begun to view the “following” actions of subscribing to their feed or channel in similar terms. In short, withdrawing your “friendship” and/or subscribed status on the following sites may be seen as a hostile act by most of the people who use them - and the higher on the list below that the social network site is, the stronger that feeling of rejection may actually be!

According to the most recent (April 2016) surveys the Top 10 “clingy” SM sites include:
  1. Facebook
  2. LinkedIn
  3. YouTube
  4. Instagram
  5. Pinterest
  6. Twitter
  7. Google+
  8. Tumblr
  9. Reddit
  10. AboutMe
If Vine wasn't shutting down it would have made the list - but lower down than the Top 10. The point being that even losing a sub on a dying site could trigger the same feelings of rejection and pain that is found on other sites - which is rather odd when you pause to consider that technically for most of the SN and SM sites whatever the actual relationship is that exists between the subs and the creators really is simply one of content consumer, not friend.

Despite this trending phenom most netziens consuming content created by others don't consider or imagine that any other relationship exists - when they consider the idea of a relationship at all... So at least in this case, saying It's YOU, not ME would be painfully accurate, but that's unlikely to change the way that these creators actually feel.

It may be cliche, but the originally amusing and meme-worthy contents of the video embedded above as well as its own tongue-in-cheek humor takes on a much more sinister shadow when the emotional over-attachment is suddenly found on the opposite side of the camera so to speak.

When You Are Breaking Up With Them
Whether it is -- as many people prefer to frame it - euphemistically little more than a combination of Spring Cleaning / Removing Noise from the Signal /or just simply Pruning Dead Wood - the point is that the people that are being chucked into the bin are not usually people the chucker actually knows IRL because hey, the words “Friend” and “Mate” have entirely different meanings in the Online Realm. Right? Well yes, except when they don't.

It really does not matter how you phrase it -- Spring Cleaning; Weeding the Friend Space; Unfriending, De-Friending -- I know some netziens who call it De-Cluttering -- at this point the chances that removing a Subscribe or Friend Status on any of the above sites will offend at least some users is a near certainty.

What's the Deal?
I recently experienced this phenomenon first hand and I found it to be very very disturbing.

I was playing the Freemium Game The Simpsons: Tapped Out - and when I realized thanks to the need to interact with the towns of “neighbors” (that is what passes for “Friends” in that game) that a large chunk of the people who were on my Neighborhoods list were not actively playing the game - many of them had not logged in to play in over a year - so I started pruning the ones that were not playing.

The reason that I did that was simple - the players who WERE playing the game were as useful to me as I was to them, but that was not true for the people no longer playing, so I systematically de-friended any player who had not logged into the game for more than 2 months.

Having found myself “servicing” the social side in that game prompted me to look at other sites that I was active on, and doing the same basic tasks there - weeding out the people who eitther were not active or were not participants to the process.

In the past I have had people do the same with me - and I never took it personally. After all these sites - and games - are not popularity contests. In many cases - and this is especially true with free-to-play games - having a more active friend base benefits the players - I completely understood how and why other players opted to defriend ME on certain games. Totally understood it.

Which is why I was flabbergasted when I received email from several people asking me what it was that they had done wrong to cause me to sever our friendships?

So how do you respond to the hurt feelings of a “friend” you have never actually met or even talked with outside of in-game interactions for games they are no longer actively playing?! Facebook’s ripe with that sort of event it seems. But it did not stop there.

I quit several groups I was no longer active in on LinkedIn and received similar mail from their hosts either asking what they did wrong or demanding to know what my problem was with them?!

The biggest mind-blowing event though - and what caused me to start looking into this - was the dogged and persistent manner in which a particular YouTuber pursued me after I unsubscribed from their channel...

Shortly after I unsubscribed they messaged me to ask why I left? I replied that I was thinning out my subs for the channels that I no longer regularly viewed. That was the truth, though I thought it odd that they asked in the first place.

But then the messaged me to point out that I was still subscribed to a similar channel which belonged to a different creator who covered the same subjects and they demanded to know what it was that the other creator was doing that caused me to stay subscribed to them?

Things got stranger and stranger after that, and it soon became evident that they were hurt or maybe miffed at my action, and the only thing I could do that they considered proper and right was to re-sub to their channel. That, they explained, was just fair.

Then they told me that I really didn't have the right to have an opinion on what channel on the subject was better than another because I was not a YouTube Creator, and told me that the only legitimate reply I could make had to be via a YouTube video...  Really?

My reaction was to start looking into this phenomenon because, well, I don't know abotu fair or right but this? This is just freaking bizarre!

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