I’m Unfriending You, For Us
Social networks are an interesting reflection of who we are. They are where we extend the relationships we hold dear in the real world. They are the dorm house we never had growing up, giving us access to millions of people we never knew we could meet. They are a way for us to strut and flaunt, showing off the people who inspire us and the ones that we inspire. They’re powerful in many, many ways.
With that power, though, comes new responsibilities. The relationship is bidirectional, for all it gives, it also takes.
Our real-life friends and acquaintances have a much deeper look at who we are — the things we think about, the way we see the world, the people we engage with outside of the meatspace encounters we’re used to.
Our shared town center not only lets us see countless new people, it also makes us available to them in much less nuanced ways. We lay bare to new people, whereas in real life we might have the opportunity to more carefully expose ourselves and our vulnerabilities. Chemistry gives way to transparency, spark to scan.
Our list-driven reputations read like dossiers. In an open, transparent world, those casual relationships look no different than your tried-and-true friendships — everything is flat. All of a sudden, it’s not you, it’s we. The things they say are the things you, must certainly, believe. The hard line that once was you morphs into a stream of marching ants.
It should give us all pause.
The nature of our relationships is something we mostly attempt to ignore. Be it pixel only, arms length, balls deep or thicker than blood, they’re all good until they’re all bad. We don’t understand depth, we just know it.
Imagine if we really wanted to be both emotionally and intellectually honest about the people we hold dear to our breast, welcome into our homes, entrust with our most delicate and precious secrets — could we, would we. When it’s safe, we skim. When it’s strange, we dig. When it’s scandalous, we run. Simple rules for simple humans.
Guess what? Social made it less simple. It forces us to be deep when we’d rather be shallow. It forces us to be open when we’d rather be closed. It forces us to be honest, way way way before honesty is even on the table. Fuck honesty, who needs that shit?
When all you’ve ever known is 2-D, 3-D blows your fucking mind. When you’re used to 3-D, VR blows your fucking mind. When VR blows your mind, you can’t wait to get back to 2-D. We’re funny that way, huh?
The main point, though, is two-fold. First, context matters and the context you know someone in really can be the most critical part of the relationship. 2-D friends work well in 2-D, but not IRL. As we dig deep online, we’re testing the boundaries, context-switching like it’s nobody’s business and not really seeing the vertigo until we puke on our shoes.
Second, transpose or die. Once we encounter someone on a different plane, it’s on us to figure out how to use that information. We have the opportunity to dig in, defer, or ditch — but we have to make the choice. Think about it, that witty writer may be a complete dork IRL. That witty friend over drinks may be a raving mad woman online. We all have multiple personas to protect.
Today, I’ve come to realize this all, almost for the first time. I’ve been that frog sitting in the boiling water — perfectly aware something is different but indifferent to how or why. But no more, I just can’t.
Every “friendship” doesn’t need to work in every plane, why should it? My friends in one place are all well-placed. I don’t think there’s a better context, just the best one. I want to stay friends with you, where we’re best — nothing less.
In the full spectrum of wonderful relationships I’ve formed in 2-D, 3-D and beyond, I value them all too much to put them at risk. Lately, the more I engage with people and these separate lives collide, I can feel them slipping away. Things get internalized, things go deep, things cut hard. Those awesome, casual relationships that were always perfectly sized — just enough, see you next time — they’re all at risk. I know it’s probably me, but it’s also you — knowing you faster than I wanted to, better than I expected to, more honest than you likely knew — that’s also bringing things down around me.
So yeah, I’m unfriending you — before it’s too late for us.