I’m not sure what it is: something in the air, the never-ending malaise of quarantine life, or the gentle passing of time, but I’ve been in a defriending mood lately. I’m not bitter, I just wonder why I’m so digitally connected to people who I haven’t spoken with since that fragile relationship was formed — frequently measured in years.
We’ve written countless guides for pruning your various social media platforms, so I’m not going to walk you through the technical act of defriending, unfollowing, or whatever your service-of-choice calls the digital breakup. Plus, it’s usually pretty obvious: Find the person’s profile and look for the big ol’ icon that indicates you are connected. Click on it, sever the connection, and go about your day.
Instead, I want to talk strategy. I’ve found that advising people to prune their digital lives doesn’t work. It doesn’t work on my friends, and it certainly doesn’t work on me; I’ve written a lot about living a spartan life online, but I never took my own advice. I befriend random Twitter followers if we’ve both briefly engaged with a topic. Heck, I’ve let people become my Facebook friend if we have “mutuals,” even if I can’t remember if we’ve ever spoken directly.
Once you’ve reached the point where you’re fed up with the inconsequentiality of these digital connections — these tiny windows into your personal life that you’ve allowed strangers to have — you might consider pruning those you’re connected with, and I couldn’t be happier for you. It’s a big and scary step if you’ve maintained these fake relationships for years, but it’s an important one.
And if you haven’t, I implore you: You don’t need to stay “connected” to people that you don’t actually want to interact with. You gain nothing by seeing occasional updates from people who might not even recognise you if the two of you passed in a crowd.
I get it: You might feel a brief pang of nostalgia over that college contact you once had that good conversation with in the library. You might even feel slightly guilty, as if you’re somehow being a jerk by initiating the decoupling. But guess what? If you can’t remember the last time they actually interacted with you, they won’t miss the connection, and neither will you.
There have been honest-to-god studies about the positive effects quitting social media can have on your life. Since social media can also be an incredibly useful tool to stay informed — see all the front-line videos from the absolutely disaster that was yesterday — I invest heavily in a “pruning” approach. Fill your social media with only the people that matter; excise the rest.
So, how do you actually do that?
During my bit of a holiday break, I took my copious amounts of free time — nestled between board game nights with my roommates, virtual hangouts, and World of Warcraft raids — to do some Facebook pruning.
Way back in the day, Facebook used to give you a pretty good list of filters you could use to find and create lists of friends. So, for example, you could see all of your connections that graduated in your high school class, everyone from your hometown, or even everyone who took a certain class with you in college. Nowadays, Facebook basically gives you nothing:
While you could go the arduous route of pulling up your friends list and manually seeing which of your connection you want to keep or ditch, I have an alternative solution: Use Facebook’s “mutual friends” feature to more quickly find who to ditch.
In my case, I simply looked up a few people I went to high school with. Before cutting them out of my digital life, I looked at our mutual friends. That gave me a pretty quick list of other people I went to high school with, who received “first-pruned” honours. After a few rounds of these, I must have defriended around 20-30 people who I haven’t spoken with for the better part of 18 years. Trying to find them in a list of 1,000+ friends would have been taxing, to put it mildly.
More importantly, it was a “surgical strike” of sorts that I could accomplish while eating my dinner. I didn’t need to set aside two hours to give everyone on my friends list a Gladiator-like thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I don’t think I’d have the patience for that, and I suspect most people wouldn’t, either. But I have no problem doing a series of quick lookups and even quicker removals when the mood strikes, especially when it takes less time than the YouTube videos I typically watch.
You can go even deeper down this rabbit hole, if you want, by looking to see which of your friends have joined the same groups as you — perhaps an alumni group you no longer care about, or a group dedicated to some small organisation you worked with a decade ago. If you no longer care about anyone from “2003 camperz best trip ever!1!,” removing all of your friends who are also members of that group will take just a few minutes of your time. The same is true for past events and even other entities you like, such as a formerly favourite band.
While other platforms won’t have nearly as many useful ways to remove friends as Facebook, don’t let that discourage you. Even if you have to take on your list of friends in small chunks — writing down where you stop after analysing 30-50 connections at a time — the process is absolutely worth it. Just make sure you have a solid strategy for removing them, whether that’s “people I started following when I first joined this service eight years ago,” “people who don’t follow me back,” or “people who haven’t posted anything in the last two years.” It’ll help your pruning go faster, and it’ll take the emotion out of what can otherwise be a fairly calculated decision.
Reduce social sprawl. Get rid of people you don’t really care about or enjoy engaging with. You’ll be all the better for it.