Facebook: A Forbidding ‘Friend’

Nov 16, 2011 at 6:00 am

“Most of your Facebook ‘friends’ aren’t friends; they’re time-sucking vampires,” ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel said last week while promoting his second annual National Unfriend Day on Thursday, Nov. 17. “Most anyone on Facebook has too many ‘friends’ and this is the time to clean house.”

He added: “If you have 10 friends in your life, you’re doing very well” — and most of the 130 “friends” of the average Facebook user are, in fact, acquaintances.

The late-night talk show host readily ridiculed fabricated fears of jettisoning “LOLers and OMGers”: “How will I know that the batteries in their bathroom scales are dead? How will I know when their pumpkin-spiced latte is too hot? … Well, you won’t — and that’s the beauty of this.”

Kimmel joins a chorus of critics who, for years, have inveighed against the cheapening of friendship via social media.

It first seized my attention in March 2008, when The Week magazine paraphrased writer Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard: “Facebook is a straitjacket for people of all ages — a time waster that changes even the most likable people into ‘teenage girls’ … I despise Facebook for its ‘steady, Chinese-water-torture drip of status updates,’ as tedious people inundate their virtual ‘friends’ with tedious details from tedious lives … It’s like the worst high-school reunion — a reunion you can never leave.”

I know better than to urge you to unfriend Facebook. I have too many real friends who use it wisely.

I don’t trust myself to be so responsible. I’d be more sedentary, which research equates with early death. I might not have the heart to refuse friend-requests. And I’m not sure it’s possible to filter all the dreck that would make me suicidal or homicidal.

Or worse, passive-aggressive. How could I resist the temptation to respond to a mindless message, in kind, by borrowing a thought from Labash: “My cat just coughed up a hairball” or “Glad it’s the weekend!”

For better or worse, my career has lessened my tolerance for mindless, mundane minutiae. Likewise, for the reader — as access to news, info and entertainment proliferates exponentially — compelling content has become all important. A zillion competing offerings means it’s never been easier to lose interest, abort mission, retrench.

The dilemma Kimmel’s movement poses is whether to hide “friends” or drop them and risk having to chide them for boring us silly. The anti-enabler in me says not to protect them against consequences they need to suffer in order to grow and learn, adapt or be “friend”-less.

I’m not sure even I have the stomach for that, even as I pride myself on delivering difficult messages mercifully. There are other reasons I view Facebook forbiddingly.

Austrian law student Max Schrems, 24, recently requested that Facebook release all personal data accrued on him. European law was on his side, and Facebook sent him “a CD with 1,222 pages of information, including chats and ‘pokes’ dating back to 2008,” according to The Week. “Facebook has murdered privacy,” opined Jessica Guynn in the Los Angeles Times.

Too little privacy for too much information. It’s a data bonanza for Facebook partners Netflix, Yahoo and Spotify and, many suspect, for Big Brother government. Lawsuits alleging Facebook invasions of privacy are popping up across the country.

Tweeting, though less intimidating, is equally annoying. A SuperNews! cartoon describes it as “childish desperation mixed with Hollywood narcissism.”

The same animation outfit’s “Texting your way to love” satirizes the typographical courtship of two dumb-phones who agonize and waste time straining to communicate. After a hilarious tryst, the romance ends with Sarah texting Champ “itz ovr.”

“No one answers their goddamn phone anymore,” the narrator laments.

It’s regrettable.

At the end of a workday stuck to a chair and tethered to a keyboard, the last thing I want to do is type. Thus my friendships with long-distance Facebookers who’ve become telephobic have lapsed.

We’re hyper-wired and yet seemingly lonelier and less intimate — dehumanized by the very devices that are supposed to connect us. The cruel irony was highlighted last Christmas night, when my mother and I found ourselves surrounded by relatives engrossed in their electronics. It’s a memory that haunts them as they’ll never hear the end of it.

As for Kimmel’s holiday, let the unfriend-zy begin!