“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” – Niccolo’ Machiavelli, “The Prince.”

The choice of topic for one of my classmate’s Qualitative Research paper startled me.

She was writing about the growing “unfriending” trend among the more than 500 million Facebook subscribers. For example, if someone unfriended me, I would  have 161 friends instead of  my modest list of 162 friends.

Do you really think someone would want to unfriend little ole me? Alas, it is true…and sorry to say, maybe for you too. unfriend

Guess that doesn’t sound like a big deal worth losing sleep over. Considering that it is human nature to burn up more brain cells on negative than positive vibrations, then you have to conclude that people actually put more time and thought into an unfriending action than a friending decision. The fact that what is normally a noun, “Friend,” or an adverb, “friendly” has become a verb, to “friend” or now to “unfriend,” is a subject for another blog post at another time.

In a way all of this makes sense as companies for the longest time spent more time firing someone than they actually did hiring the person in the first place. They are starting to get smarter in this regard because it costs upwards to $60,000 in recruiting and training costs to replace someone and even more when you take into account lost productivity and the impact on the morale other employees in terms of picking up the slack.

Is “unfriending” a direct outgrowth of our almost automatic decisions to respond positively to a “friend” request?

Do we really not want to insult someone by merely ignoring their friend request, even though that is perfectly appropriate for someone we don’t know or don’t want to know?

And if you accept, do you want them to know what you normally reserve for people who are generally your friends? Will this prompt you to be a little more careful about what you post or do you fire away anyway?

Keep in mind that digital is eternal. Yes there are privacy settings on Facebook, but corporate and governmental “firewalls” are hacked into almost every day. Your precious photos intended for friends only of you in a drunken or stoned stupor or exhibiting normally private parts of your anatomy may someday find its way into the wrong hands, much to your permanent embarrassment.

One has to contemplate how many millions of dollars in endorsements that Michael Phelps’ digital bong pipe photo cost the Olympic swimmer even though he has 16 medals in a personal display case?

In theory, if we are smarter about friending then we should not have to do as much unfriending. Right? But doesn’t it just make sense to periodically purge your friends list? Is someone who is an acquaintance today really going to be a friend tomorrow? And if you want to take this step, Facebook is making it so easy to do, even wirelessly from your cell phone or PDA. unfriend1

And if you are a tad paranoid, and just have to find out who had the audacity to actually “unfriend” you, well there is software that works on at least four browsers to tell you who is the culprit.

And if you are personally unfriended, is this a personal insult? Should you call them out for taking this step?

If a member of the opposite gender (or your own gender, if you are so inclined) in which you were having a romantic involvement, says, “Let’s just be friends (kiss of death),” does that mean you should continue to “friend” them on Facebook? Or is it time to “unfriend” them?

And what if he or she follow their suggestion of “just being friends” by “unfriending” you on Facebook? Is this consistent or inconsistent with their wishes?

Considering that I am not an expert on affairs of the heart or a psychologist, I guess I will have fall back on the famous Barack Obama quote:

(This question is) “Above my pay grade.”