I came, I Kondo’d, I conquered.
I couldn’t face all of my “friends” anymore – so I purged more than 160 of them.
Sometime over the past decade, logging onto my Facebook devolved from being a fun place to share photos and inside jokes with friends and family, to a never-ending feed of birthday reminders, political rants and event invites from people that I hardly know anymore.
I accepted too many friend requests.
Think about it – social media is no longer just the place to connect with distant relatives and friends from high school. Now, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become our personal brands. It’s where we network with potential clients and employers, vet romantic partners, and scout out local services. We get sucked into “friending” everyone and everything.
And so I picked up 417 Facebook friends, which is slightly more than the American average of 338 friends apiece, according to the Pew Research Center. I joined two dozen groups and followed more than 400 pages for public figures, products and companies. Why was I following the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Outlandish Holidays vacation home rentals and “Lolita” author Vladimir Nabokov (who died 40 years ago!) anyway?
Yet for being connected with almost 1,000 buds and brands, I always felt out of the loop. I found out one “friend” had switched careers and moved away months after the real-life event happened. I only learned that another friend was a week away from having her second baby after I ran into her husband on the street.
I was suffering from information overload: By trying to follow everyone, I was falling behind with the people who were really important to me.
Plus, it was just stressing me out. It was someone’s birthday literally every day, and the alerts were overrunning my already-full calendar and making me insane. Or Facebook kept showing me events that I wasn’t even invited to – but my friends were attending, perhaps suggesting that I creepily just invite myself? And don’t get me started on the political crap and unsavory comments, one of which managed to insult both my writing and my gender, and in cringeworthy-language. It was high time to declutter my feed.
Turns out, I’m not the only one feeling Facebook fatigue. A recent report from the University of Edinburgh Business School found that the more friends you have on Facebook, the more stressed you feel about having them – particularly if you’ve added your parents or your employer. That’s because we get frazzled about our worlds colliding, and we also feel more pressured to “perform” to our audience by putting up more and more buzzworthy posts.
We also get drained by the “cost of caring,” according to a Pew report, because we see posts from people announcing that they or a loved one is feeling hurt, sick or depressed, which we would otherwise be blissfully ignorant about. It’s one thing to get a heads-up that your BFF is having a bad day; it’s another to see what’s weighing on 400 different people anytime you sign in.
So I poured myself a glass of wine, sat down at the computer, and began The Great Facebook Purge of 2017. It was slow going at first, because I felt so guilty about possibly hurting people’s feelings.
But Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, reminded me that people aren’t notified when you unfriend them. And anyone you unfriend can still see any posts you choose to share publicly, like the articles that I write, so they can still keep tabs on your professional progress if you choose to let them.
“Likely, they will never notice,” she assured me – particularly since I was planning to cull mostly casual acquaintances. “Most people only respond to things in their feed. They don’t go searching for information except about their immediate family and closest friends.”
Of course, by writing about this and sharing it publicly, I realize I’m inviting everyone to click on my profile page and check to see if they’ve been unfriended. If we were “friends,” and you see that you’ve been cut, please know it’s not necessarily you – it’s me. I’m trying to manage my social media by setting personal and professional boundaries, and I would still love to connect on LinkedIn. I’m considering creating a professional Facebook page solely for networking. And we’ll always have Instagram.
So I returned to my social media audit, and I found that the more you click that “unfriend” button, the easier it gets. It took an hour and a half (and 1.5 glasses of pinot) but when I finally backed away from my screen, I had deleted 163 friends (a little more than a third of my list), left a dozen groups and unfollowed 75 brand/public figure pages. What’s left is a more condensed community of family and close friends that I’m not worried about looking unprofessional with when I post a dozen pictures of my cat.
And it feels amazing. I’ve already noticed that my News Feed is filled with more posts that I’m actually interested in seeing. I’m skimming through stories more quickly and still feeling informed, rather than getting sucked in for an hour. And it just feels better. You know what they say – tidy home(page), tidy mind.
Professor Sherry Turkle, director of M.I.T.’s Initiative on Technology and Self, told me that, “more and more, I think we need to do this.”
“Many people find that wiping the slate clean helps them to re-establish boundaries about who they count as friends,” she explained. “They don’t see it as a rejection of online friends, but just a statement about what friendship is … and what they want friendship to be for them moving forward.”
Do I want my friends to be people who bring me joy, a la Marie Kondo, or people that I no longer have anything in common with, but I stay connected to out of obligation?
So here’s the unscientific method I used to pare down my friend’s list, in case you’re considering filtering your own Facebook feed. There’s exceptions to every rule, but:
- Have we hung out or spoken offline (intentionally) in the last year? If not, and we’re not separated by an ocean, then how deep is our relationship, really?
- When I click on “See Friendship,” do we have any posts or pictures in common? If we don’t, or the only time we’ve interacted on Facebook has been the requisite “Happy Birthday!” post every year, we’re not even really connecting online, anyway.
- Have we chatted over Messenger or “liked” each other’s posts recently? If we chat online or often comment or react to each other’s posts, we are maintaining a relationship, even if we’re not sharing many posts in common or seeing each other in person. If not, then again – why are we online friends in the first place?
- Do I actually enjoy your posts? Maybe I haven’t seen or spoken to you in ages – but you post beautiful photos, share interesting news articles, or your hilarious status updates make my day. Following the Kondo philosophy, if your posts bring me joy, I want to hold onto them. But if they often make me feel bad, annoyed or offended, I need to cut them out of my life.
It’s still a work in progress. After all, the Dunbar’s Number theory suggests that we can only truly maintain social relationships with about 150 people on and offline. I’m still a little more than 100 away from that goal – but I haven’t started pruning my family yet.
I’m only human. And trying to unfriend family is gonna take a lot more wine.
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