Using Social Software to Avoid Socially-Awkward Situations

Subtitle: I’m Just Not That Into You

Much has been written about the new types of social situations that arise when using social software. Breaking up over text-messaging, seeing ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends connecting with other people on Facebook, the “do I or do I not friend this person” question, the soon-to-be-finance seeing the wedding ring purchase ahead of time — these all happen because social software has reconfigured what the term “friend” means today, and because social software has turned upside-down our previous notions of public and private.

In our new age of Web2.0 connectedness, going online unavoidably means getting yourself into awkward social situations.

Yet, in the vast research* which I have conducted to date, I have not found anyone writing about the way social software helps us avoid these situations. (*Research question: Do I remember ever seeing this written about? Answer: No. Research, complete.)

What has been under-appreciated in all the hype about the net today is the power of the Ignore button, and its various various forms across websites: The Unsubscribe; The Block; The Remove. These all help us avoid the kinds of awkward social situations we face both on- and offline, by letting the other person know that we do not want to connect. That we don’t really care about what they are doing online, who their friends are, and what their status might be each day.

By hitting ignore, we tell the other person, “Hey, I’m just not that into you.”

And this is OK. Better than OK, because it gets us out of those sticky situations we get into when we have to deal with people that, truth be told, we really don’t like.

You know how it goes. Let’s say you go home, to visit the folks, and you make the mistake of heading out to your local mall. You see someone you knew from, say, high school. Oh noes!!! The conversation you have always has a voice-over running in your head simultaneously, and it usually goes like this:

Me (in head): omg omg please don’t look at me please don’t look at me

Dude: YO DUDE!!! SHIT! How are you? WTF you been up to man?

Me: Heeeeeeyyyyy…..great to see you! Not too much! Same old same old!

Me (in head): FUCK.

Dude: How long’s it been!?!?!? Since high school, no? Hey, you remember that time…

[…this goes on…]

Me (in head): please don’t ask for my phone number please don’t say we’ll get together when we both know we won’t

Dude: Hey, man — give me your number. We have GOT to get together and HANG!!!

Me: um….yeah….

You see the problem here? The social protocol in these situations is to pretend that we’ve reunited and bonded, that even though it’s been 20+ years, and we have completely different lives, there is still something that connects us.


Now, imagine this same situation, but played out on, say, Facebook:

You have a friend request.

Would you like to confirm [insert person you haven’t seen in years here] as your friend?

Confirm Ignore


See! So easy.

Now your former friend gets the idea — you are just not into him.

This, then, is the power of social media. It’s not to help connect us to others. It’s not developing a “social graph” upon which we can build a “network” of “relationships.” Those phrases might sell investors, and get the news media writing about your product. But it has nothing to do with what social software can do for us, really.

The power of social media is that we can ignore. That we can tell others we’re just not into them, without the messiness of actually telling someone we’re just not into them. We can be an a-hole, but we can be one silently; implicitly…

We can go about our day, secure in the knowledge that not-connecting with someone is only a click away.


One response

  1. Social media does create interactions with known people you normally wouldn’t ever see again in your life.

    It’s true that this online distance reduces awkwardness in rejection. Once you find out you’ve been deleted from a friend’s chat list it’s easier to get over it.

    It’s so easy to spend hours on social media each day therefore it is important to only follow people that interest you enough to take up some of your time.

    The more you delve with these services you find out how boring people you know are and through you find out how many interesting people are out whom you don’t know yet.

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