November 30, 2008

Third, and most grave, we’ve lost our right to lose touch. “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature,” Emerson wrote, not bothering to add, “and like most things natural, friendship is biodegradable.” We scrawl “Friends Forever” in yearbooks, but we quietly realize, with relief, that some bonds are meant to be shed, like snakeskin or a Showtime subscription. It’s nature’s way of allowing you to change, adapt, evolve, or devolve as you wish – and freeing you from the exhaustion of multifront friend maintenance. Fine, you can “Remove Friend,” but what kind of asshole actually does that? Deletion is scary – and, we’re told, unnecessary in the Petabyte Age. That’s what made good old-fashioned losing touch so wonderful – friendship, like long-forgotten photos and mix-tapes, would distort and slowly whistle into oblivion, quite naturally, nothing personal. It was sweet and sad and, though you’d rarely admit it, necessary.

And maybe that’s the answer: A Facebook app we’ll call the Fade Utility. Untended Friends would gradually display a sepia cast on the picture, a blurring of the neglected profile – perhaps a coffee stain might appear on it or an unrelated phone number or grocery list. The individual’s status updates might fade and get smaller. The user may then choose to notice and reach out to the person in some meaningful way – no pokes! Or they might pretend not to notice. Without making a choice, they could simply let that person go. Would that really be so awful?

– from I’ll Be There 4U by Scott Brown, Wired 16.11

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