By Arindam Guptaray
When we were young we clearly knew who our friends were. If I ask my daughter who her good friends are, she would give me a list of at least 5 friends in the descending order of likeness. I think the clear-cut demarcation between friends and acquaintances lasts till you graduate from college. I can clearly list my friends and enemies from college. I was with them at every social and cultural event. We would walk with our arms around each other or a hand on a shoulder, an action that only meant we were Homo Sapiens and nothing else. But as we grew older, the definition of friend and acquaintance become grey. Anyone whom we met became our friend. Colleagues from work, the next door neighbor, the dentist, son’s classmates’ moms and even the cute girl at the corner grocery store were all friends. They might not invite you to their New Year’s Eve party or their own wedding but they were still friends. Friends always remain as friends unless they do something really bad like stealing your boyfriend or puking in your bathroom and using your new Ralph Lauren towel to wipe it.
The dynamics of friendship have remained the same from the days of Adam till the end of the twentieth century. There were minor changes here and there. Here’s an example: In the early times it was your prized fig leaf whose desecration by a fellow friend caused you to declare him as someone who wasn’t a friend as opposed to the towel custom in the twentieth century. When you liked a girl you would ask her for her cave number, pigeon number or phone number based on the century of your existence.
With the arrival of the Internet, people thought about toying with the idea of friendship but none were bold enough to add the F word to their software. During the IRC days, you could follow someone (the same concept now used by Twitter), so that if that person was online, you were notified. Yahoo called it Contacts, a definition which screamed out the words “No emotions please!”. It took a maverick like Google to start calling contacts as friends. Still, the implications were very limited. Based on the census of 2002, only .5% of potential daters exchanged gmail ids, the rest opted for phone numbers.
With the advent of Facebook we went back to the kindergarten days, of clearly defining who our friends are. Thanks to some innovative programs we can also classify them based on their date worthiness, sexiness, wealth and appetite. It was a way to tell the world, “Look how many friends I have, you little anti-socialite!” It only took a few clicks (and sometimes major convincing) to add friends, but along with that came the new word in the English dictionary “Unfriend” (a word that Office 2007 still thinks is spelt incorrectly). You can Unfriend someone with just one click. The list of friends became evidence that can be submitted to the court of law. You are an accomplice to a bank heist? Just prove that you unfriended the mastermind before the robbery happened and go scot free. An overzealous husband has put a gun to your head for sleeping with his wife? Don’t worry just show him that you unfriended her 5 days before the day he saw you coming out of his bedroom. Who will make love to a person who Unfriended you? Even Othello would understand that.
The problem with the digital definition of “Friends” was that people would unfriend you for trivial reasons. The paperwork involved in unfriending someone in the pre-Facebook era was daunting enough for someone not to go through it. But now it is instant and easy. People unfriend their friends for trivial reasons. Don’t like the color of the shirt he is wearing? Unfriend him. Her grammar sucks? Unfriend her. She is a feminist? Unfriend her. He is a MCP? Unfriend him.
I had my fair share of being unfriended by ex-friends. One ex friend did not like my comment “You are looking beautiful in this picture”. She thought it was too demeaning. How can you judge beauty? The strange part is when asked why she unfriended me, she refused to divulge the reason. The first answer was, “It’s not you but it’s me”. Then she said, “Actually I was arranging my friends in alphabetical order and did not know where to put you!” I think she thought I was a rockstar and my name might be just a symbol like the “artist who was formerly called Prince”. (I am sure this is the reason why Prince changed his name back to Prince). I had to pay a private investigator a huge fortune to find out the real reason.
I suffer from OCD as far as accepting or rejecting friends. If I don’t accept or reject someone within five minutes of the request, I start gasping for oxygen, my skin dries up, I get a terrible headache along with other symptoms that are best left undocumented. Once my wife left her Facebook session open with the screen that had the dialog box open regarding a friend request. I accepted it. Someone on my friend list did not like it. It seemed my wife’s new friend had bought the same sari as my ex-friend. I was unaware of the rule that you can only have friends with mutually exclusive choice of saris.
I wanted to write this article to wish all my friends a happy friendship day. As a protest against Hallmark I want to celebrate it on a day not designated by Hallmark. (An act that will result in being unfriended by all the Hallmark employees on my list). So here it is….
“Wishing you a happy fri………….”! Hey! Wait a minute. How come I have one friend less today than I did yesterday?