Monday, November 18, 2013

Cleaning Up On Facebook

Facebook. It's far more than a way to connect with the world around us.

It's how we start our day.

Share our ups and downs.

Send pictures to family far away.

It's how we waste our spare minutes, promote our businesses, gather news and often gossip.

It can become too much and we can be bombarded with information we don't need as well as oversharing our own lives.

When I first lost my job and went from interacting with lots of people by phone and in person eight to 10 hours a day, to sitting home in the middle of winter, without even a neighbor in my line of sight, Facebook was a lifeline. I had limited options of inexpensive things to do with my time and I was lonely. I actively looked for people I knew. I played a host of games and went to forums where I could "friend" people all over the world playing the same games.

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I think at one time I had over 1,000 friends, most of whom I knew nothing about and had no interaction with beyond Facebook games.

That fascination continued for many months, but gradually my life became more full of real things to do. My business grew and I had dogs to walk and/or groom. My first granddaughter changed from a mostly sleeping little lump of humanity to someone who wanted to explore the world and play. My virtual crops rotted in the fields and my animals went hungry. I quit responding to requests from friends. I missed all my bonuses.

Then I did my first Facebook purge. The number fell dramatically. Everyone was either a friend, someone I had found that I went to high school with, a friend of a friend, someone from church, a former coworker, or someone with whom I had interacted and discovered common interests. They were people I felt like, for the most part, I really knew.

But I still accepted friend requests from people who I didn't really know who thought they knew me, or who had a friend in common, etc. So my list fluctuated.

During the last political campaign I lost a lot of friends. Some I unfriended. Some I think unfriended me. There were a few that were just removed from my news feed, and I suspect a few of my friends did the same. I've tried to restore them since the political furor is past. I and some of my friends felt strongly about the election and wound up sharing a lot of posts that weren't always in agreement. When posted by someone I genuinely liked and cared about, I accepted that it was their point of view. A few postings from someone I only sort of knew, and they were history. Anyone who commented negatively on my posts had to be really close to survive the culling. Civil disagreements were allowed between friends.

So while some people boast at their numbers of friends or actively work to grow their friends list, I've been working to cut mine down. I'm almost down to 150 and kind of envy my friends who are below 100. I've cut down on the number of pages I like that appear in my news feed. I'm trying to make Facebook work for me at this point in my life, instead of allowing it to overwhelm me.

When I announced in a recent status update that I was below 200, I had a number of friends send me messages that they were glad they made the cut. A few were still concerned that I might cut them. Others said that yes, they too made periodic cleanups of their friends list.

In the wake of those responses, I realized this is apparently a common phenomenon and decided some clear guidelines might be in order instead of just aiming for some arbitrary number. They're the ones I used and the ones I'll use going forward as well. I'll try to employ them when adding friends as much as possible. If you're faced with the same issues, feel free to use them yourself or take a few minutes and think up your own. If you find some I haven't thought of, by all means share.

1. Am I related to this person?

2. Do I interact with this person in real life? Thankfully, there are a number of people who aren't just Facebook friends, but are people I see when I go out and it's fun to know what they've been up to. Are they someone I know from my earlier work days that I like to stay in touch with? There are only a handful of these people in my life. Did I meet them through keeping my current work and discover common interests? This list, on the other hand, continues to grow.

3. Do we have mutual friends that have brought us together? I maintain a Facebook friendship with a few friends of my daughters because the three Es interact with their children and I like to know what's going on in their lives as well. I decided I didn't need to be friends with the teenage children of people I know, because it felt a little creepy.

4. Did some no longer recalled quirk of Facebook connect us and I found that I liked the status updates and comments on my news feed? If I've commented on their status, or they've commented on mine, even if we don't really know each other, then I still consider them a friend. I have one of those who lives just a few miles from me and knows people I know. There's another in New Hampshire that I have no idea where or how we connected but who also has dogs, grandchildren and tattoos and who I really enjoy posts and comments from.

5. Are they someone from high school who I was really close to that I was delighted to find on Facebook because it gave us a chance to catch up? Just before what should have been our 30-year class reunion, I actively sought out members of the CCHS Class of '79. A lot of them are on Facebook. Some of them I still recognize. I found a former best friend in Northern Virginia with a brood of children and grandchildren. Another I found just a few miles away. After subsequent purges, however, I think there may only be two or three still hanging on and neither are those besties.

Even if a "friend" meets one of these standards, there are some tests I applied that will get a person cut from my friends list.

1. Have they posted outrageous, negative comments on my status updates or things I share? Really, disagreeing is fine, but if they are a jackass, friends, neighbors and even family can be unfriended. There are people I can hold a friendly conversation with just fine who feel the need to be a totally different person in the world of cyberspace. They are no longer Facebook friends.

2. Do I really care about this person's life? This is a more subjective evaluation of content. I'm sorry to say that this cut catches a lot of people who are real people in my life. I recognize them, but quite truthfully don't want to keep up with their families because we probably never have a conversation anywhere other than reading Facebook status updates. Why should I look through their status updates to find people I really want to know about?

3. Are they just looking to build a friends list? I recently accepted a friend request from a person I had previously unfriended, only to receive a "like my page" request immediately. I then visited his home page and found he had more than 800 friends. I suspect the friend request was just a tool to grow the other page and he will likely disappear from my friend list. Yes, there are people who need to have hundreds of friends who stay on my friend list -- people like my pastor who need to be able to connect with a lot of people because of their position in life. I have a lot of friends with what I consider a top heavy friend list, but as long as they pass other qualifications they'll survive a cut.

4. Do they constantly share other pages, but never anything about themselves? If this is the case, depending on other factors, they may survive as friends but no longer appear in my news feed. I can only handle so many grumpy cats, cute kittens, etc. If we interact outside Facebook, we can still be friends, but I won't keep up with their flow of shared information. No real interaction and they will be cut.

5. Are they creepers? Only immediate family is allowed to stay connected to my page as a Facebook creeper. I do have family scattered about and I know we all use Facebook as a way to keep up. It's a way they can see the babies, know what's going on in my life, etc., without a phone call. But if someone I once knew reconnects with me on Facebook, but never posts anything, I begin to feel like they're peering in the windows of my life while hiding in the shadows. There's a reason they're called creepers, after all. Anyone that never posts or comments will soon stop seeing my status updates.

I'm sure I've missed a lot of good ideas that might help my list be leaner. The most severe option, of course, is to deactivate my page and start over, as a lot of people do, but I won't go there. Despite my attempts to minimize, I still need my morning Facebook fix before starting my "real" day.

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