On my radar: Era of the cyber STD

2012-07-28 08:04

The Orwellian presence of social media makes breaking up a little more complicated

A friend put on a brave face when she announced that *Simphiwe had just broken up with her.

It was that sensitive, post-break-up period when the emotional scars are still deep and raw.

My first reaction took me by ­surprise.

“Well, I’m going to immediately unfollow him on Instagram,” I said, partly in jest, but as an ­instinctive show of support.

Turns out my response was quite normal.

“Thanks,” she said, “all my girlfriends did the same. We had an emergency get-together and did a simultaneous ‘unfollowing’ ritual across all our social media platforms.”

My, how things have changed.

Not so long ago most people were outraged when the trend surfaced of breaking up via SMS.

Men (usually the culprits) who broke up via SMS were accused of being ­spineless cowards who didn’t have the common decency to stand face to face with their soon-to-be ex-girlfriend and inform her that the relationship was ending.

There was no longer the need for an emotional confrontation: the shock, horror and pleading that came with these situations, nor the need for any of the usual platitudes and promises – “we can ­always stay friends”.

Like ripping off a plaster, breaking up via SMS was just so much quicker, cleaner and relatively painless – depending on which side of the SMS you stood.

But because technology is the fastest driver of change, this seemingly quick and painless method of breaking up is now no longer as simple as it seems; the new curve ball of modern-day relationships is the tangled web of ­social media networks.

Although an SMS might provide the cleanest cut, our extended ­social media networks now prove to be the digital equivalent of a ­cyberSTD that just won’t go away.

My friend did not receive a curt SMS ending the relationship.

Simphiwe instead, I suppose, made a bit more effort, but nothing you could call gallant.

He sent her a PDF.

So although it was not a cruel, 140-character break-up message, he at least took the time to pen (or type) his thoughts in an approximation of an old-school letter.

But a digital break-up is more complex than an eloquent letter.

My friend’s reaction to the PDF, besides shock, was to note that a PDF cannot be changed or altered; it was just another subtle layer of finality, in no uncertain terms.

Her friends who supported her with a group “unfollowing” ritual were just as merciless.

Her friends gathered around and, with devices at the ready, pressed “unfollow” or “unfriend” simultaneously on one social media platform after ­another.

I guess to be on the receiving end of watching your follower numbers dip significantly in the space of a few seconds is the real-life equivalent of having your clothes and possessions dumped on the pavement.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned via PDF.

But whereas this would be the traditional parting of ways in a ­relationship, social media adds another complex element – there is no such thing as a clean break in a digital era.

While you and your support group may have “unfriended” and “unfollowed” to your heart’s content, there are always other friends and acquaintances outside your trusted inner circle who will retweet or share messages and content, which brings the ex right back on to your radar.

In so doing, it not only prolongs the heartache but encourages an irrepressible urge to cyberstalk.

Social media platforms have easy loopholes that allow for casual voyeurism or cyberstalking.

People are surprisingly lax, or possibly too trusting, to change their security settings, so it’s easy to observe what your ex is up to.

Like an incessant itch, you can’t stop scratching.

You watch for telltale signs that your ex is feeling as miserable as you are about the break-up.

You monitor the relationship status on Facebook to see how quickly it is updated, or check a Twitter feed for any tweets that might smack of remorse or ­depression.

If there aren’t any, it just kickstarts the angst all over again.

A recent report on how the internet has changed the world claimed that our cyberconnections had ­reduced the traditional notion of six degrees of separation (that we are all interconnected by a chain of six mutual friends or acquaintances) down to 3.74.

The world, especially in cyberspace, is getting smaller and social media are acting like black holes, sucking us ever closer together – and if you know anything about black holes, you’ll know they’re impossible to escape from.

So next time you have to break up with someone, just bear in mind the ripple effect on your ­social networks.

Oh, and have the decency to break up using an open-format document.

PDFs are just a tad too malicious.

* Name has been changed to prevent and discourage further ­cyberstalking

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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