Every social construct, if left to its own devices, starts to take on its own rules, its own customs. This can be linguistic, ceremonial, or in the forms of expected interactions. Human beings, like all of the apes, are builders of social convention, and it quite quickly begins to replace all forms of reality.
This exists in all forms of social media. In Twitter it’s the “Follow-you Follow-me” (aha) principle. If you are a real live person who follows an attention-hungry account, they’ll explicitly let you know that they will follow you back, in gratitude for your attentions. Likewise, if they follow you first, they expect you to immediately follow them. If you have the temerity to skip this social hurdle, then you will be unfollowed faster than you can say “Hashtag”. Them’s the rules; live or die, my friend.
On LinkedIn it is all about confirming the skills of other people these days, no matter how tenuously or former your working relationships. Skills are currency. You can also never ever delete someone on LinkedIn; not because they will do anything to you, but because you need connections: it would be – in the words of one of my former bosses – a career limiting move to lose those connections.
I once bought a CD on eBay, and I gave what was actually an honest review. This was taken as an act of warfare, and I was reviewed negatively. This is happening today with Uber. It renders the idea of review a farce; however, this is a perfect example of an expected social interaction. It is equivalent to the concept of “face” as currency and status. The problem is, it is clear to all who can see it that it is worthless; that motions are simply being gone through for the sake of going through the motions.
Some people are very happy with a system like that – it offers them rules (incidentally, these people are the ones who most frequently know the rules – unlike the rest of us – and who penalise the rest of us for not following them), and the rules make them feel safe. Or superior. Superior when other people don’t follow them and so can be castigated, preferably publically. Engaging smug mode.
Some people will help you once, and be nice and generous about it. However, if they find that they have to help you again, they will view you as weak, as needy, as uncultured. These people should be avoided at all costs. These people have established a societal rule, which is hidden in plain sight.
One of these rules is that it is no longer appropriate to unfriend someone on Facebook – unless you are my father or my mother-in-law, apparently – because that would cause offence. We suspend this rule for faceless bureaucracies and bots, but not for people. I am unsure as to why that is the case.
I once unfriended a former colleague: She had been made redundant, and I had moved to a different office. I unfriended her because I was not keen on her as a human being, and I had found some of her modes of behaviour unacceptable, in the preceding year; I tend not to like being seen as friendly with people who I do not actually like as people. Just call me old fashioned and move right along.
This former colleague snuck her way in to my new office building in order to confront my behaviour. I hid in the toilet. I thought I was safe in there, but no one can poo for that long. In the end, I chose to tell her the truth to her face. She seemed to accept my honesty, and went home to prepare for Christmas. I did not, however, follow through on my original intentions of unfriending the rest of the former colleagues who were made redundant with her; who has time for that storm of aggression?
I did not know the societal rules for these forms of interaction, and by breaking them I was open to being castigated by the self-appointed gate-keepers of the rulebook. I genuinely do not know what I am more aggrieved by: the fact that I was caught in an invisible trip-wire; or that the people in the world we live in have such monumentally thin skins. I find them equal parts risible and infuriating.
I hate to come back to this topic of unseen social conventions, but some people seem to take such great glee in robbing the fun out of life for the most minimal transgression. I am a fairly “inner” person; I am not extroverted, I reside largely in my thoughts and in my home. Such assaults by the more assertive groups of people haunt me, and plague my waking nightmares; I imagine that I am barely even a distant memory to the people who dropped me down a peg or two on a mere whim.
It is this punishment by the extroverted that I have a problem with. It is the fact that it sticks with me more than it does with them that I have a problem with. It is the fact that I can tolerate being unfriended easily, and these supposedly more outgoing people will not, that I have a problem with.
Some people run their social media activity like a track meet, doling out pseudo-affection as a form of power currency; only liking the posts of people who are “in”. I don’t actually know what a track meet is, or whether I’m using the metaphor correctly; it just felt like the convenient phrase for an efficient way of running some imagined petty three ring circus. Please let me know if I’m wrong.
The people I have respect for are the ones who actually like the things they like; are unapologetic about it. I don’t see any other way of using social media, without being false. They’re the kinds of people who have long lists of interests, but only like or comment when something really important grabs them by the lapels. People who get fangirl crazy on the pages of random acquaintances, and dole out pseudo-advice to anyone who seems even vaguely normal can largely just fuck off.
I’m not being pro-lurker, but I do feel that less is more. I feel that honesty is the best policy – and that applies to all forms of human interaction. Kicking off because someone doesn’t really like you is not honesty; it’s downright creepy. Then again, I’m not a gate-keeper of the rules, so who knows.