Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Unfriend is Word of the Year

The New Oxford American Dictionary word of the year for 2009 is “Unfriend,” defined as “To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.”

In context, “He was spamming me with ‘Mafia Wars‘ notifications so I decided to unfriend him.” Or, “She filled her journal with Polish nude photography links so I had to unfriend her at work.” Or, “I posted that Obama bowing video and all the Democrats unfriended me.”

Unfriending is a tricky business, guaranteed to hurt feelings or start a fight unless your subject is oblivious to Internet stuff or just too famous to care. Although I suspect even famous people hurt a little when they see their friend counts go down.

I remember many years ago when a distant friend dropped me from her journal network because my entries “weren’t really relevant to her life.” That was six years ago, but I still haven’t forgiven her. Last week she wrote to ask how I was and I almost lost it. “Well, if you hadn’t dropped me in 2003 you would KNOW, wouldn’t you? My REAL friends already know how I am!”

Childish behavior, I know. Made even worse when you consider the number of nice, innocent people I’ve dropped from social networks over the years. I currently have 212 followers on Twitter. I follow 76 people. Now, of that 76, how many do you think I actually read?

I check Twitter five or six times a day, for two or three minutes at a time. I read the top few entries, then I get bored and wander off. In practice, I only read two people: New Media guru @jayrosen_nyu and social media powerhouse @rachelsklar. Not because I’m particularly fascinated by them, but because they both post so frequently their tweets tend to stick on my front page.

The reality that no social media tool has quite grasped yet is that we all have different categories of friends, and their posts are relevant to us at different times of day. When I’m at work, I want to read tweets from people I work with. Around 5 p.m. I want to plan my evening and read tweets from friends. In the early morning I want to catch up with pundits who work in my industry, and in the late evening I finally have time for celebrity tweets and snarky news links.

Twitter has recently introduced a list feature that should make this easier on me, but setting up lists is so difficult right now I haven’t found time to set it up.

I’m glad to see dictionaries recognizing the legitimacy of “unfriend” but I think we need some new words to describe different categories of friends. I need words to describe these friends:

1. The corporate executive who’s never had a real conversation with you but who’s just too important to drop.

2. The A-list celebrity who was funny for a while but now just posts about dogs and links to his merchandise.

3. The B-list celebrity who was nice to you once.

4. The senior class president who only tweets when he wants you to drop $78 dollars on a reunion ticket.

5. The A-list blogger who only posts links to his own blog.

6. The C-list blogger who incesscently retweets people you’ve read already. (This is me.)

7. The co-worker who tweets 20 times a day, mainly about cats and what she ordered at Starbucks.

8. The editor/boss you added so you can anticipate major projects before he assigns them to you.

9. The enemy you added so you can catch them saying something indiscreet.

10. The co-worker who added you so they can catch you saying something indiscreet.

11. The old girlfriend you added so you can catch her complaining about her new boyfriend.

12. The boyfriend you added so you can catch him complaining about your old girlfriend.

13. Tracy Morgan.

14. That musician you don’t actually listen to but added so your friends would think you’re cool.

15. That guy who was posting great stuff about #balloonboy last month but is now just a normal person.

16. That guy you added because he quoted you six months ago.

17. That girl with the hot photo who turned out to be a spammer.

18. The celebrity impersonator who used up all his good material on the first day.

19. The former cheerleader who doesn’t really like you but will cry if you cut her off.

20. That guy you used to work with who doesn’t care if you live or die now.

21. The guy you start to drop until you realize it’s @davewiner.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 17, 2009 at 18:27

Posted in Columns

One Response

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  1. geez… appears to me that the word of the year should have been UNintelligent…


    November 18, 2009 at 13:42

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