Rohit's Realm

// / archive / 2008 / 12 / 25 / in-defense-of-unfriending

December 25, 2008

In Defense of “Unfriending”: Asset Liquidation on Social Networks

Yesterday's Journal had an interesting page one article (subscription required) on a subject that, I suspect, will hit a little too close to home for far too many otherwise self-assured twenty-somethings: getting unfriended on social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn (or, I suppose, MySpace, if it was frequented by anyone but degenerates and pedophiles). The article, as its title suggests, takes the position that an unfriending1 is (or ought to be) perceived as some sort of personal affront or rejection, perhaps even rising to the level of getting dumped by a significant other. I, however, am not convinced. Though I too have experienced unfriending in the past, certainly not each instance invoked the same level of emotion—nor should it have. Considering the wide variety of individuals, ranging from value-added to deadweight, that compose one's relationship portfolio these days, a reasonably well-connected individual cannot be expected to react equally to her vague acquaintance and her boyfriend of five years dumping her on Facebook on the same day. How, then, might we go about understanding this very real phenomenon and the emotion, great or little, that it evokes? Recent events in the financial world, I believe, provide a nice parallel from which we may derive some lessons.

Though it is hard to imagine the days before Facebook stalking was a national pass time (and poking an erotic gesture), social networking in its current manifestation entered the mainstream only a little over five years ago. Its ascendancy, first marked by the Friendster craze in the 2002–2003 time frame, and followed by Facebook some time thereafter, corresponds to the advent of the housing bubble during the same time rather well. And much as that bubble burst, wreaking havoc near and far, so too, it seems, is this one poised to deflate.

Rather than destroying trillions of dollars in wealth and hundreds of thousands of livelihoods, however, this bubble's collapse comes not as a bang, but a whimper. Social networking, unlike the complex and inherently un-valuable securities and derivatives of the housing bubble, may be here to stay, but gone is the irrational exuberance of friending, i.e., asset accumulation, that marked its heyday. Ever so quietly, an important realization seems to have permeated the collective unconscious of all but the most oblivious: perhaps, just maybe, more is not better when it comes to friends.2

Certainly the same could not be said of the heady days of 2004 and 2005. Back then, more was not just better—it was an end in and of itself. Social networking, it seemed, was nothing more than a popularity contest, replete with online equivalent of the awful head nod problem (which I complained of some five years ago). I distinctly remember being shocked when I came across an individual with over 1,000 Facebook friends the first time. These days, such people are a dime a dozen.

By 2006, however, the craze seemed to have started to abate, at least amongst my social circle. As early as December 2005, I made a fuss of having only seen/talked to about 4 percent of my [roughly 300] ‘friends’ in the last month. Since then, my friend count has increased dramatically, currently hovering around 500.

To think that this bloated relationship portfolio is optimally sized, let alone weighted, is preposterous. Considering how few individuals add value in this miserable charade we like to think of as life, at best, the portfolio is too heavily invested in commodity friends, and at worst, inundated by deadweight. And what is the appropriate response to this bloat? Asset liquidation, or in less douchey (but certainly more inarticulate) parlance, unfriending. While such liquidation is not an endeavor that I have undertaken myself, it is one that has been on my list of things to do for a long time. There is no reason to carry assets on one's books that have no value, especially when one considers the potential liabilities associated with letting people view one's profile.

Which brings me back to my original contention: not all unfriending is a personal rejection, nor should it be considered so. True, if one of my value-added assets dropped me, I would be miffed, and with good reason. But, to be frank, it would probably take me a couple weeks, if not months, to realize I had been dropped given the size of my portfolio. And if that is indeed the case, was that asset really all that valuable in the first place? Perhaps not.

Ironically, the effect of ever-growing relationship portfolio bloat is probably to eliminate the value-add category of relationships at the expense of commodities and deadweight. With access to a greater number of individuals, the value any one can provide over all others diminishes accordingly. Having long ago accepted my commodity status in this world, the availability of more commodity friends is a Good Thing™ (an increase in supply will naturally drive down costs). Those of you who naïvely continue to cling to notions of being value-added (much as I, ascending from a small town, cling to my guns and religion), however, might not feel the same way. So much the worse for you. It is the truth regardless.

So, dear readers, embrace the commoditization, and go forth and unfriend with impunity. In the immortal words of Michael Corleone, It's not personal, [dear readers]. It's strictly business.3

^ 1 God, I should kill myself just for typing out that ghastly abomination of the English language.
^ 2 Delusional people who continue to believe in the power of personal relationships might think that having fewer close friends is superior to having many acquaintances. I neither subscribe to this viewpoint as a general matter, nor take it above: having more friends is bad for the simple reason that it is harder to vet out deadweight.
^ 3 Well, except when you dump your girlfriend on Facebook; that may be personal.


Ah Rohit, yet another wonderful article. When do we get to see a book?

Add Comment





* required field

E-mail addresses will never be displayed. The following HTML tags are allowed:
a abbr acronym address big blockquote br cite del em li ol p pre q small strong sub sup ul