My Facebook feed is a mess.
My occasional visits are now a sea of demands, challenges and judgement. What used to be an arena of friendship, where I learnt about the people who I cared about, where I sat down around a fire and listened to their stories and shared my own, has become a noisy bazaar.
If I were to call you up and ask you to meet, would you pick a cosy cafe, where we could share a slice of cake and a casual cup of coffee, or would you ask to meet in the middle of a thoroughfare, where we were constantly interrupted by hawkers? Would you think less of me if I did nothing but told you about the accomplishments or opinions of total strangers, and left you after half an hour, none the wiser about my life?
What if throughout our conversation - one barely heard over the noise of adverts, irrelevant and blinding videos, the constant barrage of racist chants and misogynist bellowing - we were interrupted by people who came to our table and beseeched us to buy this little trinket or another, or harangued us to sign up to their poorly assembled pamphlet packed with conspiracy theories and hastily repeated half truths, barely understood by their authors?
Is this what our friendship has come to?
I love you all. I want to hear about your lives. Those who use this social networking tool in the way it was originally intended - to share their successes, feelings and challenges with the people they respect - have become buried under a tremendous mass of garbage and self interested promotion, shared over and over again to the point where the original message has become diluted or lost entirely (if it existed at all, in any meaningful form).
If I want to watch a man abuse another in the street or join a gang of callous strangers casually dismiss someone I have never known, then I have countless other avenues in which I can pursue those pastimes. Should I ever become that sort of person, then I am less of a man myself.
If I want to win a competition, do my chances improve by shoving it down the throats of the people I love? How do I enrich other peoples’ lives by simply passing around a pile of notices that, if posted through a letterbox, would be dismissed as junk mail and binned unopened?
I am not blameless. I do not speak from the moral high ground. I am as guilty of self promotion as the next man. I, too, have shared ‘stuff’ I thought was funny without a care for the time of the people who would read it.
But I am sick of being instructed to take a stand by people I don’t know. If you value my ability to make my own judgements, then present me with the facts and invite my feedback. Please don’t expect me to parrot your entreaty, because by doing so you cheapen the value I place on my friends.
You want to win competitions. I understand that. You have been invited to share a picture of a pile of goods, with the vague promise that someone who does will win said stash. Sadly, you haven’t considered the fact that the person asking you to share on the off chance of winning seeks no more than your connections. If I advertise, then I know my reach will be more greatly extended if I suggest that you will be better off by pushing this on your friends. Have you proof that this person intends to stand by their promise? Have they shown any evidence that they have created winners before? Or is our so called friendship so cheap to you that you will gladly sacrifice it for the sake of an meaningless and vanishingly small chance of winning an insignificant prize?
You feel strongly about a charity. You feel that I don’t understand how little we as a population care about an illness untreated, or a minority shunned. You want to tell me about that. I invite you to do so. All I want is for you to tell me in your own words. Please, tell me, face to face, what this means to you and how I can help you. Does your cause need money? Can I volunteer some time to directly assist them, perhaps to sit with those who are sidelined, or left uncared for?
If all you want from me is to slap up a cheaply printed poster on the global billboard already overwhelmed with similar messages (all equally misspelled and poorly written) in the hope that this time someone in power will listen, then you are wasting my time and yours. I don’t believe that you will make me feel more strongly about it by challenging me, either. Can you really tell me that I don’t care about the cause because the message is antagonistic? If you think that of me, then we are not the friends I thought we were. Why is my attention so cheap to you that you will happily waste it?
I declare bankruptcy.
If I can’t create a heartfelt story or tell my friends about something that I genuinely believe will warm their hearts, then I won’t do it. I won’t step into that loud, brash, cheap marketplace if I can’t bring something considerably more valuable and place it right in front of those who I love.
Starting from now, I will not participate any more. I will, instead, do something I should have started doing years ago.
I don’t want to try and decipher your story from a pile of junk mail. I value you too much to cheapen your life with an endless stream of rubbish. I pledge never to share a video, message, competition or opinion unless it is written in my own words, and comes from my heart.
You are my friend. Can we talk, face to face? Let’s share a cup of coffee, and you can tell me about your life, and share pictures of your family. Tell me about mutual acquaintances I have yet to catch up with. If you are thousands of miles away, then please, take my email address, and email me. Here’s my skype contact details. Let’s chat over video. Give me your address, and I will write you a letter, and enclose some photos of my family. I’ll tell you a story, and you can tell me one. Are you going to be nearby? Please let me know where you’ll be and when, and if I possibly can, I will come to see you.
It’s time to rekindle the friendships I value so much.