My New Year’s resolutions include the usual suspects. This will be the fifth year in a row that I probably won’t be reading “War and Peace” and about the 20th that I won’t be flossing daily.
But not a month into the new year, I’ve already tackled my vow to get rid of stuff that I no longer need. I’ve finally gotten brutal about my books, taking boxes of them to my local library. (The problem with this is I buy more books at their weekly sales.)
As I was sorting through my old books, I discovered one I didn’t know I had. It’s an old diary-sized, yellow-paged book that my parents owned, so I sat down and read it. “Death Be Not Proud” by John Gunther is a loving memoir about his son’s struggle with brain cancer in the late 1940s. If the treatment then was primitive and even brutal, the teenage boy’s response to his fatal disease was heroic, and humbling. That one’s staying in my bookshelf.
I am also paring down my Facebook account. By most counts, I haven’t collected many “friends,” only 224. By my count, that’s at least 24 too many; my goal is to get down to 200, a nice round figure.
Some questions I cannot figure out: Why would you friend someone you don’t know? Or someone you know, but don’t like? Someone who you once sort of knew, but no longer do? Why do perfect strangers want to friend me, giving the lie to the word “friend”? (Who in the heck are you, Andrew B??)
My friending policy is simple. I have to know you. I have to like you. I have to want to hear from or about you. No bosses allowed.
This also goes for Linked In, which I joined a couple of years ago, never used, deactivated, or so I thought — and yet I still get “invitations” from people to connect via Linked In.
The bottom line: Are people that desperate for companionship that they want to friend someone they don’t know? Do they really want to see my vacation photos or the occasional update that I post?
I don’t post much, because there’s not that much in my life that others would find particularly interesting, or funny — even if I do.
For me, Facebook is about staying in touch with people I care about. I enjoy seeing their kids’ and grandkids’ photos, getting their comments on everything from the Patriots’ recent loss to what movies they’ve seen, learning about their trip or job.
But my kids see it differently, as a more casual connection. Hence, my son, who recently turned 21, has 1,000-plus friends. He has apparently friended everyone on God’s green earth — except his mother. Even his older sister finally broke down and friended me (she only has 724 friends).
“What don’t you want me to see?” I ask my son.
“Mom, it isn’t what I’m doing. It’s what some of my goofy friends are doing.” The boy is obviously headed for a political career.
Recently, I got an e-mail from some firm marketing social media spyware. “Three people have unfriended you,” it said. “Find out who they are.”
No, thanks. Who cares? I wish more would unfriend me. And if I did know who they were, I’d simply thank them. Here’s the deal: If you don’t try to friend me, I won’t try to friend you. OK?
Of course, we all know the downside of social media, like meeting creeps online, or old boyfriends or girlfriends, which can lead to heartache and divorce — or marriage. A friend recently married her high school beau, with whom she reconnected on Facebook.
But pity the poor guy who thought he was involved with Miss Teen USA on Facebook for two years, only to discover that she was neither a teen nor a beauty.
My friend Ellen, who lives in Braintree, is also trying to unload some Facebook friends. “I don’t care about their exercise regimen, what they ate today, when they’re going to the store, every thought that comes into their head,” she says. “During the Inauguration, people were posting about Beyonce’s earrings. Who cares? Shut up and watch the speech.”
There are also those who post the most intimate stuff: Ellen’s friend who hates being a mom; the friend who posts about her various breakups; the friend who is desperate for a man, a job, to get her kid into the right school; desperate to still be considered sexy.
“Most of the stuff I see is negative,” says Ellen. She’s also learned that “people aren’t as funny as they think they are, and they certainly aren’t as interesting as they think they are. I’m trying desperately not to fall into either category.”
Ellen is a funny person, and when she recently was down with the flu for a week, she returned to Facebook to see that her “fan base” was asking her to please post. Which creates pressure, even performance anxiety.
Facebook also reveals things about your friends that you wish you didn’t know (see “sexy,” above). For me, it’s finding out that your friend doesn’t believe in universal health care. I wish I didn’t know that about him.
Ellen has had the same issue. From Facebook, she learned that a friend was much more conservative than she thought, and voted for Mitt Romney. “Now I don’t like her as much,” she says.
What’s also annoying is that whenever I comment on a post, I receive all the other comments on that post. Thus, my e-mail was recently jammed with 21 responses to my friend’s post — all from people I do not know. Lesson learned: Do not comment. Just give a “like.”
Maybe some of my Facebook friends will see this column and decide to unload me before I unload them. It won’t hurt my feelings, I promise. And just because I don’t friend you doesn’t mean I don’t like you.
Even Aristotle is on my side. As he once said: “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.