I was at a dinner party recently and the conversation turned, as it often does, to Facebook. Specifically, finding you have ‘friends’ that you don’t actually know, and probably don’t want. What to do?
As you may know, I’m no big fan of FB, but the conversation was about social media in general. And neither am I one of those people who measures my self-worth by the number of ‘friends’ I have, so I don’t get into that game. But, this blog apart, I have been persuaded by various gurus that I need a cyber-presence, and this results in constant reminders about things I need to do internet-wise to keep up appearances.
This blog and my other websites are not the problem here, it’s all the spin-offs and subsidiary stuff that bothers me; the on-off love affair I have with the internet means that I sometimes (OK, quite often), spend time on nurturing a relationship I’m not sure I want, for fear of letting some followers down or giving the impression that I don’t care about them.
It reminded me of something I read once about a man who had proposed setting up a system for getting rid of unwanted acquaintances (it was Ambrose Bierce and I’ve found the piece I originally read by O. Burkeman).
Social species that we are, we are uncomfortable at the idea of saying ‘goodbye’ for no other reason than we would like to. So Bierce suggested (in 1902, probably about the time that introduction agencies started), a ‘disacquaintance’ service to get rid of friends who aren’t really friends at all, formally, without giving offence to either party.
This sounds to me like a great idea because it chimes with a thought experiment I’ve been playing with. Much as I enjoy all this online-stuff, and this blog in particular gives me back far more than I put into it, it does generate a lot of what I’ll call ‘cyber-clutter’. There’s stuff out there that that I don’t ever remember writing (though I clearly did because I still stumble across it), and I ‘know’ many people I don’t even know I know.
My thought experiment goes: “What if I unsubscribe from everything and enjoy a moment of cyber-silence?” Not because I have internet ‘friends’ I don’t want (I don’t), and not because I’ve ever written anything I wish I hadn’t (apart maybe from a couple of billets doux in my earlier life). But because I’d like to know what it would feel like to live internet-free for, say a week or a month.
What I’d like to be able to do, at the push of a button, is turn off my cyber identity so that, to anyone who knows me – actually or virtually – I no longer exist on the internet. I’d still be the real me to all who actually bump into me as I go about my life, but all cyber-traces would be temporarily erased. Everything I’ve ever done on the web would still exist, but it would become momentarily dormant, unavailable to search engines and, above all, stop sending me requests and reminders, for a limited period I could decide on, at the end of which, everything would spring back to life as before.
As I said, this is just a thought experiment, but if there is a modern day Ambrose Bierce out there, please sign me up!