Friday, December 21, 2012

Friends, Unfriends, and Radical Allegiance

I was a long-time opponent of Facebook, decrying its trite and inconsequential postings. ("I just sneezed very loudly." "I love a good kumquat."  "Can't find my other sock.")  But, when I joined during the summer of 2011, as my daughter prepared to move to New York City for college, I discovered the silver lining of reconnecting with old high school classmates, far-flung army buddies, family located in other cities/states, and friends that live abroad.  Thus, I became somewhat of a reluctant student of the hackneyed way that trivial status updates were employed to broadcast quotidian minutiae in a constant frenzy -- a veritable new discourse spawned in the age of social media.

However, I also soon learned that Facebook is a place where many persons share every bit of political propaganda they can find, as if the success of their day (nay, their hour!) rests on how many cornpone things and how much partisan spin-doctoring they can "share."  

Many individuals that I like and genuinely care for hold near-vitriolic ideologies that both disappoint and vex me.  And there’s no doubt they would be likewise disappointed and vexed with me if I peppered their FB news-feed with my philosophies in the same aggressive manner they wield their social media accounts. But, they are still my friends or my family, and I still value them.

Alas, we've increasingly slid into the era of the digital echo chamber.  Everyone, it seems, wants only to surround themselves with people that believe exactly as they do on polemic issues or otherwise (i.e., a homogenized environment of groupthink).  Down that road lies more cult than society.

I don't desire an echo chamber of like-minded people who will chime in -- exclamation marks at the ready -- with my political opinions ("YEAH!!!!!" "You go!!!!!") or otherwise click the "like" button to indicate they support the same candidate or special interest group.  I don’t require that rampant validation to have faith in my opinions.

A longtime friend (and, when I say friend, I mean someone who has been my friend since junior high school, regardless of the status of our online social media) recently posted on his FB an invitation to unfriend him if you disagreed with him on a certain issue.  No discussion.  No give-and-take.  Only the spirit of radical allegiance.

(First of all, terminology is askew here, FB.  "Unfriend" implies withholding or withdrawing of friendship, rather than simply electing not to follow someone's social media account.)

I've wrestled with this.  My first thought was to comply with his request.  But, if I unfriended every person with whom I disagreed on one issue or another (or every person that refused to see an issue as nuanced and complex rather than binary), there would be precious little social in my social media.

It is okay to respect someone or have a healthy affection for them without requiring them to line up on your side of the fence on every subject and scenario.

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