by Brendan Beery
They are words whose consequences can be eternal: “I unfriend you.” Thanks to Facebook, divorce is no longer limited to the spousal union. In a bygone time, friendships died slowly and quietly: fingers stopped dialing; phones stopped ringing; familiar voices faded like the shallow wisps of dying lungs.
Not anymore. Now we serve notice. The unfriending of another on Facebook is a bell that cannot be un-rung. It is an act that telegraphs disdain, rejection, and the triumph of “irreconcilable differences.”
In a sense, this is the worst thing about Facebook. Were it not for Facebook, I would still be friends with people I befriended long before “social media” was a thing. Our friendships survived the distance of unknowing – unknowing about the daily thoughts, behaviors, and undertakings of one other.
But those friendships could not survive the knowing. The internet somehow erodes the tendency to self-edit. It seems easier to write what one would hesitate to say aloud. And, of course, social media plays on the narcissist in each of us. The possibility of embrace by all humanity challenges us to earn that embrace as our real selves, fully outside all the closets we ducked into before the judgment of the interpersonal gaze got ripped away.
So it’s all out there – not just our own selves, but our associations as well. We all make our associational choices. We associate ourselves with people, causes, and symbols. It seems fair enough that others will judge us for those choices. One should not pose for a “profile pic” in a sleeveless Confederate-flag t-shirt unless one wishes to be associated with sleeveless t-shirts and the Confederate flag.
Political affiliations have come to bear a similar significance, at least for me. The intellectual degeneration of the Republican Party proceeds apace with the rise of our oceans. To self-identify as Republican today is to self-identify as a person deeply unsusceptible to facts or reason. It is to abide bigotry and banality as virtues. It is to consciously choose inelegance over grace.
More than once, I warned one-time “friends” that their associational choices – laid bare in my view by the miracle of social media – made what might have been lasting friendships in another time unsustainable under presently prevailing protocols. In every such case, those people persisted in associating themselves with the bigotry and banality of a timeworn worldview.
Maybe ‘friend divorce’ is not the worst thing about Facebook, but the best thing. It is harder to keep the confidence of an unwary friend – to bilk another into an intimacy built on blindness – when all the peccadillos prance in the daylight.