People Can’t Be Purged

A couple of months ago, a colleague expired. I called up the family and expressed my condolences. The matter rested there, until last week, when finding myself with some free time at the airport, I started going through the address book on my cell phone and came across the dead colleague’s entry. I paused for a brief moment and then went ahead and pressed the delete button. With one stroke of the keypad, his contact details were gone.
And though this seems like such an act of finality, traces of the person will continue to live on somewhere or the other in this omnipresent, almost omniscient digital world of ours, in some form or the other, whether it be emails, blog posts, photos, calendar entries, saved SMSes or Facebook or similar profiles and pages. Unless the person is a complete digital hermit, it is not possible to purge one’s digital consciousness anymore, alive or dead. In essence then, digital souls just don’t die!
The wired world in that sense is similar to our brain; even after people have crossed over, some trace of their being continues to remain in our minds for decades, resisting any attempt at purging or erasing.
The only thing that one can purge with respect to people, alive or dead, are ours lists and networks that they belong to. Three weeks ago, I sat down over an afternoon to bring some sanity to my Facebook Friends list, using Dunbar’s rule of 150 as a benchmark. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, has a theory about the number of people with whom an individual can possibly maintain a stable inter-personal relationship. He estimates the number at 150, beyond which he believes that it is not possible for an individual to handle and track people. Many people agree with him and I intuitively think that his theory is right as well.
I had more than 350 friends on Facebook and if you seriously believe that a site like this helps keep track of friends and family, then the size of the Friends list should be manageable to allow some decent interaction in the limited time one has. While going through the list, I realized that there were people there who I actually didn’t know, some who had never logged back after their first try, other who had actually blocked me from seeing their Wall and many who were friends because of this column, but were either not active or were not interacting or commenting.
And so I purged and purged and purged…and I am finally down to 210 odd. I am now better able to at least once a day follow what the Friends are upto. A good number of my close friends are actually not on Facebook and if that be the case, I wonder whether the Friends list should actually go down to less than 100, but I don’t really know the answer to that question.
Facebook is not real life. You can’t just over one afternoon go about deleting or unfriending people in real life hoping that they will just disappear. Just like dead people continue to linger in our memories, lost friends and acquaintances also continue to occupy nether recesses in our neural networks, often showing up into our mainstreams of consciousness at the most unexpected moments. As is happening right now, where a memory of Parind Munsif from school has suddenly surfaced; Parind, who was my best friend for a couple of years, but who then completely disappeared, as if from the face of this Earth.
Life is complicated!

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