mnmlist: unfriending

Although I can’t claim to have mastered this technique yet, it’s something I’ve been considering and I thought I’d throw it out there for discussion.

The technique is “unfriending”, which was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2009 (actually it was “unfriend”).

Why is this important to a minimalist? Because some of us would like to participate in the emerging social web of Twitter, Facebook, blogging and the like, without being overwhelmed by the huge stream of information that’s almost inevitably consumed when you participate.

The trend seems to be to follow or “friend” thousands of people, regardless of whether you know them or not. I’m guilty of this: when I signed up for a Facebook account, I began to automatically add people who made friend requests, and ended up with well over 1,000 friends — most of whom I don’t know. On Twitter, I began to do the same thing, but recently began to unfollow people I don’t know, probably offending a few people in the process.

The trend of following lots of people has its pros and cons — one of the pros is that you get to know more people than you normally would have. You also spread your influence and have your content spread more widely, if that’s something you care about.

But the con is that it’s hard to keep up with so much social information. Another con is that the relationships you do form become necessarily thin and superficial, because you can’t form deep bonds with thousands and thousands of people.

And so, consider unfriending or unfollowing people you don’t know. Or at least know of — it’s fine to follow someone whose content interests you, if you keep that within reasonable limits.

Here’s what happens. When you unfollow or unfriend people, you might offend them. But you’ll also greatly simplify your incoming stream of information, and be able to actually closely follow the updates of the people you are friends with.

And even better, you’ll start to have some real conversations, and form real relationships.

I don’t know what a good number of friends would be, but I’d guess it would be in the dozens — definitely below 100. I’m not there yet, as I said, but it’s something I’ve been considering.

Unfriending might offend people, but it’s greatly liberating.