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Real friends in virtual world

In defence of defriending


More and more people are pruning their lists of online friends and dropping those who are corny, boring, obnoxious or just plain absent.

When Cathy D'Cruz struck off a "random guy" from her friends list after he made some "unsavoury, uncalled-for remarks" about her photographs, she was unprepared for a backlash. "Normally you don't even notice when someone defriends you, but this one was probably keeping a check, " says the 25-year-old HR executive. "My message box would initially be full of angry one-liners demanding an explanation, which then turned to apologies. Finally, they petered out. " D'Cruz has now learnt a lesson - be very careful of who you befriend in the virtual world.

It's not just strangers who can turn you off with their pesky remarks. Just a few months ago, the American press reported on how a woman, Jennifer Christine Harris, 30, of Des Moines, Iowa, had been charged with first-degree arson and was in jail. The reason? Harris was defriended on Facebook by her friend Nikki and in retaliation had tried to torch her house down. While this may be an extreme case, many people on social networking sites have experienced the dangers of defriending or being defriended.

When these sites first took off, the big boast was to have the largest number of friends. Some youngsters even had thousands. Now, the latest trend is to be exclusive, to prune your long list and de-clutter. The reasons given are varied: "The initial enthusiasm has worn off, " says Shiv Marwaha, architect, who is active on Facebook. "There's too much happening in your own life to worry about what's happening in others' - especially of people who have no meaning in your life. I mean, who cares what the person you met briefly on a holiday is up to, or whether the guy you studied with, is vacationing somewhere in the back of beyond. "

Sujatha Nair, a journalist, got fed up of seeing "obnoxious links" posted by a columnist on her wall. "They were not obscene, just ludicrous, " she says. "I had to accept her friend request after she insisted I see her pictures with all the Bollywood stars she's met and posed with. Not doing so would have appeared rude. " Now that the columnist is no longer contributing to her magazine, Nair has defriended her. "Normally, people ignore such things, but imagine, just a few days later, I received a text from her asking why I'd done so. I, of course, feigned total ignorance about it. "

This pruning is restricted not just to social networking sites, but spills over into the real world as well. Yakoob Khan, 34, a senior bank executive, laughs remembering the time he, as a youngster, scooped up a number of friends - ones who helped raise his own cool quotient after he shifted to Mumbai. "These dudes were fun and always out dancing and pubbing - the kind who I, from small-town Jaipur and trying to make my presence felt in a new city, kinda looked up to. Now, years later, I realise other than some happy memories, I share nothing with them. " So, Khan has "surreptitiously" moved away. "They're not on my radar anymore. Actually barring a couple of them, the rest are caught in a time warp. I have nothing in common with them. " His aloofness was noticed. Recently, when two of these friends dropped in to his house, they told him how he'd been acting rather pricey. "It was difficult explaining that my priorities had changed. But I had to sugar-coat it all and tell them I'd moved on. "

In the book The Art of Friendship, Roger Horchow and Sally Horchow offer practical advice for connectors, including how to strike a rapport with an individual even in a crowd, how to transform an acquaintance into a friend, when to e-mail, phone, send a note, or connect in person, how to maintain longterm friendships, and of course, when it's time to quit. As the father-daughter duo says, "Some friends exit your life almost as quickly as they entered it;others who were once extremely close to you may slowly fade away. "

The idea is to accept fluidity in friendship and let it run its natural course. That is what prompts Bindu Thapar, entrepreneur, to do "jharoo-pocha (sweeping-swabbing ) both on FB and in real life every few months. "As you move on in life, you've to be careful about who you want to carry along with you. As I'm growing older, I'm becoming choosy and keeping only those who matter dearly to me, " she says. On Facebook, Thapar has put each of her friends on a special setting. "So not all of those on my list will necessarily be privy to what's happening in my life, " she says, and adds candidly, "I needed the numbers game when I was younger, not so now, when I have sorted my life out. So, some have had to fall by the wayside. "

Anjana Day, who works with the US government, is grateful for Facebook's sensitive software. "So, when you snip off a 'friend', he or she is not informed about it, and probably won't find out unless they try to get onto your page. " Day says she's never heard back from people she's defriended. "On the other hand, I know that I was snipped off by one person who had confided in me about her relationship troubles. And when she broke off with her boyfriend, who was my friend first, she struck me off from her list. Now, even though she's back with him, I remain snipped off. I guess, she must have felt insecure as I knew the dirt on them and didn't probably want me to share it with her guy. "

Talking about what makes her wield the axe on her friends list, Day says it is based solely on a lack of participation on her FB wall. "No point in keeping people silent spectators there, " she says matter-of factly. But for many, these spectators are preferable to an over-enthusiastic lot. "There are times when people you've just befriended start acting too familiar, " says Piya Das who was forced to add a friend's friend to her list, but after "some idiotic, personal remarks he made", she promptly cut him loose. "Imagine, he had the gall to call me, and I had no option but to tell him how I felt about him. That put him in his place. He must have thought I'm a snob but who cares, " says Das. Ditto, says Vandana Biswas, a teacher, who often finds her students' parents trying to befriend her not just on FB but off it too. "The moms will call up to chat and insist they are friends with me not because their child is my student. Earlier, I got taken in, but now I know (well, almost) whom to trust. "

Shikha Hajela, travel executive, is learning to keep away from such expedient elements too. "When you're young, you love having lots of friends around you. You'll attend their parties even when there's no love lost between you. But, as you grow older, you realise it's better to stay in touch with only those who matter. " For her, the best way is to ignore calls, by saying the phone was on silent or the network was 'unavailable'. A few such instances, and the person gets the message. Hajela goes on to add, "With age, you realise the value of time - and don't want to waste it, even on social networks, with people who don't matter. "

Things have changed considerably from what they were about a decade ago, says clinical psychiatrist Dr Avdesh Sharma. "There were no social networking sites to keep communication going then. So, effort would be put in to maintain contact with friends, be it over dinner or shared vacations with families. " The boundaries that people adhered to then are now diminishing. "I've come across a lot of acrimony after someone made an unsavoury remark about a friend's wife on Facebook. Plus, in these competitive times, jealousies and back-stabbing are common - and often lead to the death of a friendship. " It's easier to get rid of unwanted acquaintances or friends these days, says Sharma. "When you meet someone face to face, it's easier to resolve differences. But now, friendships (dependent more on the phone and the virtual world) are easier to defriend. "

purnima. sharma@timesgroup. com

Reader's opinion (1)

Latha IyerNov 27th, 2012 at 15:11 PM

I don't mind defriending a few from the social network. But I do not want them to know in an obvious manner. At some point of time, people realize that they need only a few close friends rather than have 200 friends. But,It would be a good idea not to accept the friend request in the first place.

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