Martine Rolls: Virtual friends have feelings too

By Martine Rolls


On Friday afternoon I took four huge bags of shoes and clothing, plus a giant box full of books, toys and all kind of surplus household items to the Waipuna Hospice shop depot near Fraser St.

It feels good to support a charity this way.

It's also a great relief to get rid of all the stuff that my kids and I don't need, want or fit anymore.

I guess it's my way to start the new season.

I even took a day off work to get it all done and I love the newfound space in our garage, closets, living room and bedrooms.

After all that decluttering at home, I figured it was also time to clean up my virtual space with yet another Facebook overhaul.

Time to unlike the pages I decided to like at some stage for reasons I now cannot recall, leave the groups I once joined but have no interest in anymore, and - I'm sorry to say - also time to unfriend a bunch of people.

Online networks have demolished the nuances between the different kinds of relationships.

Anyone can become your friend on Facebook.

All they have to do is find you, and the choice is yours to accept them or not.

Facebook has created lists to sort out different type of friends, similar to the circles used in Google+, and of course there are the ever-changing privacy settings to keep personal stuff personal, but it's still true that people are much more careful when they form friendships in real life.

This leaves me wondering what that 20-year-old girl I met at a party three years ago and never spoke to since is still doing in my friends list.

She's only trying to make me buy things from her tacky web shop anyway, and that's unlikely to happen.

It only takes a quick click or two to have her gone.

Just to ease the potential pain, I posted my intentions in a status update before starting my unliking and unfriending frenzy.

I just feel that Facebook needs to become a little more intimate for me. Otherwise I end up spending too much time scrolling through posts I'm hardly interested in.

The first comment I received on this status update came within minutes, and it said "Ouch". All of a sudden I remembered how it feels to get "unfriended" by someone.

It happened to me once or twice and it actually feels bad.

You are left questioning yourself, as you keep wondering what it was you said or did to upset the person who gave you the boot.

Does this mean that social media contacts carry the same type of emotional baggage that real-world friendships do? Unfriending people on Facebook is social rejection, and even virtual rejections hurts.

A lot of research has been done on the matter.

Just put unfriending on Facebook in the Google search bar and all kinds of interesting research comes up.

A very reputable website, psychologytoday.com has an article that highlights Five Ways to Manage Online Rejection.

On the other hand, the no less trustworthy site livescience.com lists How to Avoid Getting Unfriended on Facebook as a topic.

So the question remains, as I am still keen to wipe my virtual environment clean as much as my real one, what's the best way to declutter my online social circle?

I really don't want to portray myself as heartless and cruel.

Maybe, just maybe, I have to give this some more thought. Facebook is more to me than maintaining "real" friendships online.

When I think about it, there are plenty of ways that I can indirectly connect with people I am about to unfriend.

Some of them occasionally post interesting or helpful links that I can use for story ideas.

There are times I spot things in their updates that are actually relevant.

I'm clearly having second thoughts, so I will carefully consider people's knowledge and connections before I go nuts and start sifting through my 429 Facebook friends.

What I could do, to end it all, is completely pull the plug on Facebook.

People do it all the time, for a range of different reasons. Then again, I'm not quite ready to do that yet.

I definitely see the need to keep things real and organised, but I'm just not ready to miss out on all the fun and gossip yet.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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