I’m in the process of substantially shifting how I use social media.
I want to focus on using social media solely to connect with actual people—not to consume so-called breaking news or procrastinate over memes or fight social battles or dunk on the political villain of the moment. It’s become clear that none of those things is helping me, or seems to be helping society, either. At least when it happens solely on social media.
I’ve mostly boycotted Facebook for a few years now—it’s among the most destructive companies I can think of—but I’m trying a new experiment to see if I can reclaim enough value before I dump the whole thing.
That process involves unfollowing every brand page, leaving most groups while muting the rest, and tightening up my list of friends. I’ll write more on all this in the coming months.
But that’s not what this post is about.
Friends for memories sake
I’m also keenly aware these days of preserving memories. And I noticed something yesterday. I’m Facebook friends with some people not because I consider them an actual friend—at least not now—but because I like the idea of maintaining a connection to a time when we were friends. Put another way, I'm only pretending to be friends with someone because we shared some good memories at one point in my life. (This is basically the only reason Classmates.com exists, right?)
So when I ran across a post from the random dude we befriended in a dive bar not far from the California-Mexico border, and noticed who he seems to have turned into these days, I decided he wouldn’t make the cut. His social media posts won't benefit my life, so there's no reason to consume them in the future.
To be fair, I’ve enjoyed all of the times we’ve interacted with each other. And I fondly regard our first meeting as an excellent example of why I enjoy travel and patronizing obscure dive bars. And he has an interesting story, one that I’ve referenced to other friends numerous times.
In short, he sold all of his possessions (including his business), then started walking from Phoenix to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail, with the notion that he'd thru-hike it to Canada, in a bid to change his life. How would it do that? He wasn’t sure. From gear to knowledge to physical fitness, he was totally unprepared, but went anyway. Pretty wild, right?
And, true to his life-changing stroll, his life has indeed...changed. I like the person I met in that bar; I like the person he seems to be now far less. It’s a bummer, but these things happen.
But, I want to keep my memories of meeting him, his story, and how that all came to be. I want to remember how I felt about what he did, what parts of it were inspiring to me, and what parts were not. I want to keep the insights I gained from it, and I want to preserve the story of it all for myself. It's a story I cherish.
And hence, the conflict. Either abandon the Facebook friendship, or maintain the connection to those memories. That was my unspoken default thinking in how I approached many social media friendships. We were once friends—or just work colleagues, or simply sat next to each other in chemistry class, or were both regulars at the local bar, or just randomly met while traveling and friended each other. And because we shared those moments, and had agreed to be "friends" on social media, we should always be friends. If we weren't Facebook friends, they'd vanish from my life—and so would the memories.
But, of course, very few life choices are truly binary.
Preserving the memory
So I employed a new strategy: I journaled about everything I wanted to remember.
I wrote about how we met, what we talked about, and how I felt about the encounter. I relived getting together with him for a beer several months later, while he was still on his journey (sorta). I added the photos we had taken together, as well as the blog post someone wrote about what he was doing on that long walk. I added a photo of him on the trail, and the contact info I still have in my phone. I wrote about how he had changed and what his life seemed to be like now. It was a brain dump which took me a solid hour, perhaps even more.
I essentially wrote a mini biography, from my own perspective and filled with all the little tidbits and details I was privy to. I told all the stories I might want to remember to my “Future Self.”
And then I clicked the unfriend button, satisfied to keep only what I wanted while discarding the rest.