The Startup
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The Startup

Delete Your Friends to Start 2020 Off Right

Clear out the excess baggage of your online world

Many people like to purge their homes and bedrooms of unnecessary belongings to start off the new year — as the saying goes: “a cluttered room is a cluttered mind”. But the same goes for our online lives as well. We should be putting as much time into decluttering our online baggage as we do into our physical belongings. If an unnecessary piece of furniture means clutter in real life, whats the equivalent in the online world? Something that takes up space, something that might hinder our ability to move (on), something that may divert our attention at its unseemly presence, something which, overall, poses a burden — however small — on our emotional lives. What online asset do we have which fulfills that criteria? The answer is, our “friends”.

A friend in the online world is different than a friend in real-life. With real-life friends, it’s a two way street. We meet them once in a while, catch up about each others lives, create a meaningful checkpoint in the relationship which should provide mutual emotional support on our respective journeys. That’s what friends are there for; the type of comfort you can’t get from things. The knowledge that we have companionship on this journey through life, to share our ups and downs, joys and struggles.

But what does an online friend mean? An online friend can take a role much different from that of a friend in real-life.

The breakdown of online friends looks like this:

The circles of friendship on social media. All but the innermost circle are draining, rather than supporting us.

Let’s break them down:

  • People who don’t see what you post. These people either rarely log on to social media, or have unfollowed you and will never see your posts. Assuming they are not your real-life friends, being connected with them on social media serves no purpose.
  • People who see what you post and ignore it. These people who are the excess baggage of your online life. A one way street — they consume but give back nothing in return.
  • People who see what you post and like it. One could argue that liking is a form of support, but in reality, it’s an insult. For those people who like, but never comment or send messages, it says: “I’m too lazy to make any effort aside from a tap or click to show my appreciation of you as my friend.”
  • People who see what you post and “interact”. This includes those friends who leave comments, or send direct messages in response to something you posted.

The place where real friendships are found is the centermost circle. Here, it’s no longer a one-way street; it’s not just action, but interaction. Such forms of interaction replicate the support we obtain from our offline friendships. Taking the effort to reach out, type a message, and expect a response, shows that person cares, and wants to maintain a relationship with you. That’s why we should cherish these online friends, nearly as much as our offline friends. It follows that we should try to minimize the other circles as much as possible.

The first step is to admit that not everyone on our friends and followers lists are out “real” friends. They are just that: names on a list. Because an app happens use the name “friends” to label them, doesn’t mean we have to accept that as the literal definition of a friend.

We also have to accept that the goal of a healthy social life is not to have as many friends as possible, but to have as many supportive friends as possible; those who actively contribute something to our lives; not passively slide us through a feed for their own entertainment.

It’s true, it’s impossible for all your friends to interact with you every time you post something. But its easy to tell if someone never interacts. So the blue circle should include people who don’t never interact; in other words, they are people who interact once in a while, say, once a month or so. If a person hasn’t interacted in months or years, chances are they aren’t going to turn up out of the blue and start being a close, supportive friend (again).

Research has shown that the human brain can only actively sustain a maximum of 150 relationships. Humans are naturally social creatures, and it takes effort to maintain the relationships we have with the people around us. Before social media, people only interacted with the people in their schools, offices, churches, or locals shops on a daily/weekly basis. Now we have the ability to interact with everybody we’ve ever met, every single day. The brain was not designed for this, so it can’t keep up. Everybody on our friends list is constantly competing for a spot in that 150. And the result, is that we dilute those relationships that are actually meaningful to us, to make space for those that don’t.

Unless we actively prioritize our friends, in terms of “those who I want to make effort in maintaining a relationship with, and those I don’t,” the brain will normalize them all, and we will end up with a thousand acquaintances, none of whom are our close friends.

By minimizing the online friends who drain, and maximizing those who support, we can expect to find our relationships with the people around us improve. We’ll have more energy and mental space for the people in our physical world; those whose friendship we truly value. With fewer online friends, our relationships with our real-life friends with strengthen. And in the end, the two will converge, where the people who support you online, also support you offline; no excess baggage. No lazy likes, nobody using your life like a TV show for their own entertainment. And with a strong social life, every other aspect of our lives will thrive: our health (physical and mental), our productivity at work, our ability to achieve our goals, and more.

Here’s how to do it on Facebook, and here’s how to do it on Instagram.

Here’s to a 2020 full of meaningful, supportive relationships, online and off. 🥂

I put all my writing out without paywalls because it’s more meaningful to me to share my experiences and inspire others to do the same. If you’d like to support my mission, please consider buying me a coffee.

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