Disconnecting from social networks

I realised the other day that I hadn’t even thought about FriendsReunited for at least a year.

I clocked this only when mucking out untended folders within my gmail account, where I’d long ago set up a rule to filter newsletters from sites which I barely ever visited. I suddenly discovered that FriendsReunited had been emailing me regularly, with increasing desperation. The emails hinted at the potential to rediscover lost connections; spy on former classmates, announce things to the world; pimp one’s profile; add photos, reunion notes, avatars.

This was enough to spur me into action. Without hesitation I headed over to the site with the intention of removing myself from it altogether – committing social networking suicide. Long overdue and undoubtedly not the only one to have done so in recent time.

Before I went, though, I noticed this alert box, which sort of sums up the problem with FriendsReunited for me:

Why FriendsReunited is crap

Why don’t I add myself to those contexts? Because they’re completely bloody irrelevant, that’s why.

I’ve never attended those institutions or lived or worked in those places, so why would I add myself to them? Just to be more present and “out there” on the Internet? To meet more people? Who I don’t know (yet)? Or in the hope that lurking somewhere in one of those places there may be someone I once knew, waiting to be discovered? Er, no.

FR was a turn-of-the-century novelty: one of the first ways that you could easily, legitimately and contextually hunt down your old schoolmates and peer nosily into their current lives without the need for (or fear of) reciprocation. Socially-acceptable stalking, dressed up as old-friendship-inspired curiosity.

The personal, public, externalising internet made that easier over the years, and experiences with global traction like Facebook soon eclipsed the relevance of FR, even if they came with their own array of pitfalls and social etiquette dilemmas.

Now the internet’s social spaces overlap, with people having multiple accounts across a range of social services, reproducing their social graphs wherever they create an identity. Increasingly, folk are feeding identical information into multiple outlets, to the extent that I’m overdosing on some people’s news, photos, statuses and updates. Twitter updates are fed into Facebook status updates. Notes saved on delicious are fed into Facebook notes. Pics posted on Flickr are rechannelled into Facebook galleries.

This means I sometimes see things twice, three times, from the same person but in different spaces. It has the effect of overwhelming and drowning out the updates of others – the less prolific, less connected, less socialwebbed, less loud.

So in light of that and the increasing noise from all corners, I’ve started a tactical withdrawal from social spaces – or rather, I’ve started to prune the social spaces I occupy to better tune into the signal that is there.

The immediate upshot of this is that I’m unfollowing/unfriending (as if that’s even a word, or at least as if that doesn’t come with all sorts of loaded connotations) a bunch of people on FB, not because I don’t like them but because I already hear them more loudly, frequently and appropriately in other places – like Twitter, or at work, or on mailing lists.

If this happens to you, it’s not about you: it’s about me, and my ability to give you proper attention, in devoted contextual space. I want to keep hearing from you; I just want to hear you – and others – better.