In this world of disposable commodities, it should be no surprise we can treat our online friendships the same way we treat leftovers or that, as a result, we can feel more disenfranchised than ever. News feeds on social media often see posts and re-posts thematically suggesting that if our friends don’t tick this, like that, or if we haven’t heard from them in a while, we should get rid of them. Another phenomenon is the systematic culling of friends. Copy and pasted posts that basically blackmail, ‘friends’, into reacting or risk being booted off the friend’s list for good. These posts are often accompanied by pretty pictures of birds and butterflies bolstering this ideology of freedom that comes from doing so.

And how easy is it to do now? With the touch of a button, we can ignore and ostracise someone we once considered a close friend and confidante with little emotional consequence. The attraction to this type of false control is the belief that by doing so we somehow grow spiritually and emotionally. That by discarding this friendship we are powerful because we no longer allow that person space in our psyche. But they should take up space because we are supposed to care about them and we should feel something even if it is hurt, frustration, and/or disappointment.

Friendships are not always easy and it is in those moments of regret and forgiveness that the strong bonds of friendship grow. Why do we think that life is on our terms because it isn’t? We make mistakes, we stuff up, and we hope that we are given the opportunity to say… I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry. But in this one area, online interaction, we believe we have power, the power to create an uncomplicated life, an ideology of control that is an illusion. We often hear platitudes such as… life is too short to waste time and energy on someone who isn’t fulfilling our needs. But if we are not putting time and energy into our relationships what are we doing with this great hole we have created? Well, we get new ones, of course.

New friends are attractive because starting fresh with someone who doesn’t know our faults is exciting, we feel accepted and that makes us feel good about ourselves. But that attraction comes with risks. There is no depth, no shared experiences or knowledge, in your new-found companionship, therefore, the interactions can’t be anything but superficial. The new friend can also decide you are not living up to their expectations and you find yourself delegated to not-interested-friend status and you become the ostracised and unwanted. So not only does the cycle continue, but we can also start to feel disenfranchised, wondering why we bother at all. So in this context does it matter if our social media, ‘friend’, is an acquaintance or someone we know personally and if there is a distinction does rejection affect us the same way?

It is arguable that a Facebook friend is an unknown entity that we interact with but have no emotional connection to and in some cases that is true and they fall into the category of acquaintance. But are acquaintances treated any differently than people we know personally in the online realm? On some level, whether we consider someone an acquaintance or not, we should acknowledge that on the other end of that screen is a living, breathing, complex person that interprets their interactions in the context of their own emotional compass. Friend or acquaintance, that person can be hurt when rejected for no reason other than they didn’t fulfil a friendship criteria they were unaware of or unable to meet. While we feel powerful by disassociating ourselves, we have demeaned someone for no apparent or qualified reason.

Too many people are wondering why they are not good enough, why their ‘friends’ aren’t replying to their messages, and they begin to question their likeability. Well, the answer my friend is this disposable world we live in. If it doesn’t fit, return it. If it doesn’t do what we want it to do, throw it away. If we don’t get the answer we want, discard it. But is social media to blame for this phenomenon or is it a social shift that allows us to have little or no accountability?

The introduction of social media allowed us to be more connected than we once were and that is a good thing. Once upon a time… we left school and stayed in contact with our close friends, if we were lucky, while the others melted away. We started work and sometimes we made new friends but often we didn’t. If we didn’t take friends into adulthood and did not participate in some sort of social activity that put us in contact with people we could interact with socially there was little recourse. Now we can connect with people online that hopefully translate into friendships in real life. So social media is not the bad guy here. The bad guy is every one of us who has adopted this attitude of disposable friends. This throwaway mentality is not just confined to friendships but translates into our work lives as well.

Juxtaposition this throwaway phenomenon with contemporary work situations in Australia and we see a similar pattern of behaviour. In this atmosphere of disposability workers can be discarded with little or no consideration by employers, fortified with the knowledge that employees are replaceable. More Australians than ever are putting in extensive hours of unpaid work believing their position is not secure without it. Is this throwaway mentality threatening employee rights by robbing them of their job security and is it responsible for the unsustainable expectations of employers? With this overbalance of power, employers can demand their employees work longer hours, put in unpaid overtime, and take work home with them. And after all the sacrifices there is the ever looming belief that they could be dismissed for a newer and shinier model? While this demographic may seem attractive and efficient to some employers, it is actually expensive and counterproductive.

Consider the cost of replacing an old employee. Advertising costs, time reading resumes, time interviewing prospective candidates, the cost and time invested in training new staff, and the disruption to the workplace as workers navigate the awkward stage of assimilation.  It would seem that providing extra training and having an open line of communication with an employee who is not living up to expectation would be a far more advantageous path to take. You simply cannot replace the knowledge that has been acquired by that staff member over time with new blood. Our hunger for easier lives and the demand for disposable consumables has become so ingrained that we are, perhaps unwittingly, applying that same expectation to almost everything else, including our relationships – work, family, and friends. So how can cultivating a culture of disconnection be socially and emotionally harmful? Quite simply human’s need substantial bonds with other human beings, a position no computer program or online friendship can replace.

My greatest bonds are with friends I have known since I was a child running wild in the bush close to my home and who I bonded with as we navigated the tumultuous years of puberty. What is the secret to our longevity? Well, we are simply there for each other, in good times and bad. We have fought, argued, cried, and laughed together but we have never given up on each other. We don’t let go, we hold firm while the world around us goes to hell and we lift one another when the world is at its darkest. They know who I am and forgive me my mistakes because of it. We can go months, even years, without seeing each other, but do we discard the relationship because of that? Of course, not and thanks to social media we are more connected than ever.

It is those bonds, the knowing, that can only be acquired over time, good and bad, that will fortify us. If someone hurts or disappoints us, tell them! If someone tells us that we have upset them, listen with an open heart and apologise if it is warranted. If we don’t think it is, don’t be defensive and hurt, forgive. Forgiveness is free and can heal old wounds which allow us to reconnect and heal damaged relationships. Remember it takes great courage to admit our mistakes and even greater courage to apologise. We need to stop being wasteful of our friendships because they are not in endless supply. Yes, we can go online and find a new ‘friend’ but we cannot replace the time and emotional stock that we have already invested in the ones we are about to throw away. If we continue to have this attitude of discarding these bonds, and I am guilty of it myself, then, like the employer we discussed earlier, we are going to be poorer for it. So, stop before you press the ‘defriend’ or ‘block’ button and think before you scroll past a message or post that applies to you from a friend. If we continue to have this disposable attitude of discarding our throw away friends, then we run the risk of losing something precious… a gift we can never replace… The love of a good friend.