Today the word “unfriend” was announced as the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year (WOTY) for 2009. How fitting.
For those of you living in a cave for the greater part of this decade, “unfriend” is what you do on Facebook to remove a connection to someone else; you “unfriend” them.
If you had money invested with Bernie Madoff – you probably “unfriended” him this year.
Sarah Palin probably “unfriended” Levi Johnston this year – you get the drift.
What strikes me is that to “unfriend” someone from your network is probably the rudest thing you can do in social networking. Unfriend on Facebook and “unfollow” on Twitter mean that you originally wanted to be connected to this person and now find that connection so negative that you are dis-inviting them from your life.
So not only is our WOTY (word of the year) a really negative one, it shines a light on the whole social networking/public facing world the internet has created. One in which we scamper like chipmunks to “friend” everyone we ever knew (and a bunch we don’t know but who know someone who knows someone we know or had dinner once with someone who knows someone we knew in college – Jeez!) C’mon people. Is this really the way of the future?
The internet lives we lead today have so completely removed us from relationships that we now do stuff to each other on the internet we’d NEVER do to each other in person. And through this layer of protection, we now have created words that never existed to describe how rude we can be to each other.
Seriously, here’s a glaring example; you are having a Thanksgiving Dinner party and one of your friends asks if they can invite someone they know to dinner at your house. This person shows up and drinks all your good scotch, eats the last dark meat and sucks whipped cream from the can – you are disgusted. But do you ask this person to LEAVE? No, you don’t, you wouldn’t. You’d be gracious, you’d be kind and you’d never see that person again. You’d talk about it and probably laugh about it later.
But today, we are accepting friend invitations, followers and LinkedIn connections from people we don’t know and some who we probably don’t want to know – all in the name of social networking.
“Old networking” used to be about a mutual exchange of value, either professionally or personally. People in your network mattered and there was benefit to having a network and being in one.
Today, with our newest word of the year, I doubt the value of your network is much or that you consider adding value to your network (telling everyone on Facebook that you had a great cup of coffee is NOT adding value – no it’s not.) on a regular basis.
I think the Oxford Dictionary needs to come up with a new word for “networking” in today’s world. One that actually describes what we are doing. Maybe “friendgathering” or “Followstalking” or “Linkifinity”. She with the most connections wins. Wins what?
Consider this. We’ve lost our ability to communicate effectively face to face because we now do everything on the “net”. We apply for jobs, we update our families, we find old friends (but don’t call), we send invitations, we send Christmas letters, we order pizza, we get educations etc, etc.
The Oxford Dictionary defines FRIEND as;
1. A person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
By doing all of our connecting electronically, aren’t we “unfriending” everyone?