Waves of humanity

The blogosphere and social media have both been around for some time now, and if you’re like me, you’ve seen waves of readers, interlocutors, content creators, friends, acquaintances and so on, come and go via these technologies. A small few friends you’ve made will remain close – not that you hold them there against their will – but there’s a level of social transience that you need to become accustomed to.

On Facebook, I’ve become a big fan of unfriending people I haven’t had meaningful associations with. Not the big, grandiose “I’m unfriending” announcement, with a ticker tape parade complete with brass section. Just the quiet, unceremonious variety. Whatever it is that social butterflies get out of “likes” and “friendings” subjectively – the giddies or a certain kind of buzz – eludes me. And I don’t think I’ve so much as sent a friend request in years. Certainly not an unsolicited one.

There is an exception. Beyond the more meaningful associations, I try not to unfriend genuinely kind people, even if we haven’t had that much to do with each other. Maybe we’ll hit it off eventually. But beyond that I like to keep things minimal.

I’ve recently had a short chinwag over Facebook messenger with a pre-Facebook Internet friend, talking about old times on the blogosphere and the like. Oddly enough, we became Facebook friends on the same day as another mutual and he became friends – only humorously, that mutual friend is one of the very people I’ve since blocked. So it goes.

So yeah, then there’s blocking: Unfriending’s more decisive cousin.

There’s a risk in wondering too much about what the blocked may make of you, and their being blocked. If not leaving you emotionally vulnerable to them via other modes of communication (like the 20+ text messages you wake up to the next morning), it can make leave you open to be played by mutual acquaintances. Not that anyone’s actually tried this with me, it’s a pathetic sight to see people often unwittingly recruited into pestering someone on behalf of another who’s been blocked.

As is often the case these days, I manage to dodge this stuff, and comment on it only after after it’s struck friends. I don’t give the benefit of the doubt nearly as much I used to, and I don’t doubt my character assessments as much for there to be as much benefit either. (It’d be nice to say my suspicions over the years have been proven wrong even a third of the time, but alas.)

Still, you do meet less people this way – unfriending the not-really-friends, blocking the nastier sorts, and overall being a bit wary about accepting friend requests in the first place when you feel no need to have a large number of friends (again, outside marketing cynicism, why would you need this?)

Over the past week or so, though, I’ve been given pause. A smart, sincere lefty woman who socialized among mutual friends died recently. A woman I’d only had the occasional light interaction with – liking the same cat photo, that kind of thing. By all accounts she was loved and is sorely missed. Also, it seems as if we probably would have hit it off well – others have remarked as much.

I literally have very little idea of what exactly I missed out on, in terms of social exchanges, but my policy of withdrawal clearly has a drawbacks.

Reflecting on some of the blockings draws me back to my original position, though. For the most part, while nobody’s been horrid to me, even when I’ve invited them to be, the kinds of people who do get nasty or show all the warning signs, do generate a lot of mental din.

Keep certain types of behaviours at a distance and the fog in the mind clears. You realize it wasn’t all in your head, that you weren’t out of order. Maybe over time you even learn a little more about what was really going on behind the off behaviour, and wish you’d cut ties sooner.

This is the dilemma, though. Sure, when you let the tide of humanity recede you get a bit of space to think, you feel like yourself again, your values re-assert themselves more strongly and you gain a bit of perspective. But the outgoing tide takes with it waves of opportunities to get to know people – people you may have really worked well with – leaving you with whoever’s left in your little rockpool of a social circle.

A valuable little rockpool for sure, but small all the same, and one more or less isolated from oceans of human beings you’ll never know.

Finding a balance isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to be certain about such things. Apparently I’m supposed to be good at it, but I have no measure to judge by and neither do the people who tell me, so I couldn’t say – and therefore am of limited use to you in this respect.

Your space is your space and you can manage it how you see fit, or at least, you should be allowed to. We are in a sense, alone in working our way through this.

~ Bruce

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