The verb “unfriend” is in the Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year. (It is also now officially a word.)
Of all the verbiage to come out of social networking and new online environments, it’s interesting that unfriend – the negative act of rescinding a connection – takes this honor. The inclusion and exclusion of words in dictionaries is more a measure of culture than technology – technology creates new terms every day, but to be included in popular language those terms must have a crossover appeal that removes them from the realm of technical jargon and into the realm of word you might read in a newspaper article.
When most of us “unfriend” someone, it’s not because of an offline relationship that has gone south, but because the online relationship was more than we could handle. Anyone with a Facebook account has had the friend who constantly sends requests or shares too much information. Most people on Twitter have followed a friend who peppered their feeds with such witticisms as, “Making a sandwich and can’t decide – grape or strawberry jelly?!?” Speaking of Twitter, after a spike earlier this year their new user numbers seem to be leveling off,and big companies that were excited to enter the medium have become absentee Tweeters.
In other words, we are settling into these new online environments by shifting from the mindset of signing up every new and shiny community or connecting with every long-lost high school class. Perhaps we are getting better, both in terms of who we connect with and where we connect, at prioritizing what is best and most useful for us individually – and unfriending the rest.