Saskatoon

Saskatoon man breaking up with 550 Facebook friends via phone

Saskatoon writer James Avramenko calls a Facebook friend every week to personally reconnect, then ends their online relationship. He's breaking up with every single one of them.

James Avramenko records the conversations with Facebook friends for his podcast

James Avramenko, left, poses with his groomsman Matt Coulson, whom he unfriended on Facebook in July. They vow to stay friends offline. (James Avramenko)

James Avramenko is breaking up with his Facebook friends, one by one, with personal phone calls.

He's dumped 30 pals online so far — including a former boss, a groomsman and an elementary schoolmate — and has 527 more to go.

"People kind of have a little bit of a freak out, at first, because they think that means I don't like them or I don't want to be friends," said Avramenko, 32.

The friendships may survive offline, but the Saskatoon writer says that is still to be determined.

"I say, tongue in cheek, that I'm trying to lose all my friends, but I'm actually trying to get them back in a more mindful way."

One expert said Avramenko's experiment fits into a growing trend where people are trying to be more "intentional" in their use of social media.

Autopilot friendships

Avramenko said he recently had a bit of a Facebook identity crisis. He'd been part of the social network for 14 years and realized that aside from eating and sleeping, scrolling Facebook had become his most consistent daily activity.

He concluded that some of his Facebook friendships were superficial, nothing more than filtered snapshots of people's best moments, and required little energy beyond scrolling and "liking."

"We think if we look at someone [on Facebook], and we clock where they are in the world, then we've checked in," Avramenko said. "And it's not. It's a one-way street. That's not a relationship. It's voyeurism."

I'm not telling somebody to drop dead, I'm just getting them off of my Facebook- James Avramenko

Rather than post a long, dramatic farewell and abruptly abandon the network, he decided to phone up each friend for a one-hour conversation in which they reflect on their past, their present, and their future as friends — if they have one.

He turned it into a podcast called Friendless.

Blast from the past

In July, Avramenko sent a message to Juno award winning fiddler Ben Plotnick. The pair, who went to elementary school in Calgary, hadn't spoken in nearly 20 years. Their phone conversation makes up an episode of the podcast.

When they finally spoke, Avramenko said to Plotnick, "We've been friends for 10 years on Facebook and the first time we've messaged was last week." 

They laughed and apologized for not keeping in touch.

"I'm quite embarrassed about how little I know about the trajectory of your life," Plotnick said. 

James Avramenko likes to joke that his podcast 'Friendless' is about losing friends, but says that, in a way, it's actually about finding them. (James Avramenko)

The childhood friends reminisced about how scared they were to get their measles vaccinations and reflected on schoolyard bullying, white privilege, and career milestones.

When Avramenko declared their Facebook friendship over, the two quipped that they still have Instagram.

Tech users rethink their choices

Alec Couros, a University of Regina professor who teaches about information and communication technologies, said people are trying to be more deliberate in how they use social media platforms.

That can include restricting public posts, casting Twitter or Facebook aside, or putting limits on how much time one spends online.

Couros said it's a trend that fights against technology that's designed to be addictive and societal pressure to "be connected" online.

"We need to go back to a point where we are investing in relationships," he said. "Otherwise, we may be well-connected, but we're still going to be very lonely."

Couros points to research by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar that suggested humans can only ever maintain up to 150 meaningful relationships at a time, either online or in real life. 

Dunbar's most recent study zeros in on Facebook relationships and concludes the average Facebook user has just 14 "close" friends amongst all their connections on the social network — and only four they can actually depend on in times of crisis.

Friendships die a natural death

Avramenko isn't sure how vigilant he'll be in connecting with his newly "unfriended friends" in person or by phone going forward.

He said that if some of the relationships flounder and die, that's just the natural conclusion of friendships that have been unnaturally kept alive in the digital age.

"I'm not telling somebody to drop dead, I'm just getting them off of my Facebook," Avramenko joked. 

He says he believes friendship can be "fluid" with an expiry date.

"I think what Facebook has done is, it's erased our ability to edit our lives because now everything feels permanent. And so, when we make a friendship, we feel we have to maintain that friendship by maintaining this [online] connection."

Avramenko purges some people from his Facebook friend list without a personal phone call if he can't remember the person, or can't imagine what they would talk about.

But, at least once a week, he plans to have a one hour conversation with a friend before his digital dump.

At this rate, he should be friendless in 10 years.

On Facebook, anyway.

About the Author

Bonnie Allen

Senior Reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. Before returning to Canada in 2013, Allen spent four years reporting from across Africa, including Libya, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She holds a Master's in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford. @bonnieallenCBC

with files from Samanda Brace

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