Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unfriend Me

By: Jessica Norwood

Sneaking off to the movie theater in the middle of the workday is one of my greatest treats. It is a place where I can close out the rest of the world and for a few hours escape my surroundings and more directly –escape the truth. Love stories and high-speed chases all seem to turn out okay in the movies.

Since The Social Network movie was released October 2010, I have been to see three movies – a love story, a goofy high school comedy about coming of age and a movie about a baby. This is beside the point. The point is that every time I approach the box office, I cannot make myself buy a ticket to see The Social Network and now I know why.

The Social Network is a movie based on the wild success (that is putting it lightly) of Facebook. Explaining Facebook seems moot at this point. As I am typing this I am pleased to see that my MacBook does not know the word “Facebook” because it keeps highlighting it in red but that is not saying much because apparently it doesn’t recognize “MacBook” as a word either. Jeez!

I digressed…

I have over 500 friends, 2 of which I speak to on a regular basis. 12 of them are life long friends and while we don’t talk often we love each other. 6 of them are family members and about 50 of them are related to work and another 70 are from high school and college – people who I haven’t seen in years. Everyone else – who knows where they came from. I seem to be racking up friends like socks with static cling. I see their posts with pictures of vacations and family but I have absolutely know idea who these people really are. Getting friends has become competitive and measure of how well you are liked. I suppose I am now in the business of making friends as fast as I can and I can’t help but wonder if fast is really better?

I live in an apartment building with only 4 units and I don’t know my most immediate neighbor. I see him a lot and we wave and I am certain we have introduced ourselves before. I know he likes Busch beer and he barbecues whether there is a special occasion, visitor or holiday. Other then that, I have no idea who he is either. How is that I have 500 friends on Facebook and I don’t know the person who shares a wall with me? How did Facebook realize that there was billions of dollars to be made on a person's disconnect.

Disconnect from the next-door neighbor seems, under the right circumstances, like something that just happens. But this kind of disconnect signals something larger and fundamentally wrong with the way we are living. We live in a world where we can be concerned about the BP oil spill while driving a SUV and we can go to the grocery store and buy organic but never care question how far the food had to travel to get to our table. We can call people “worker-owners” but never expect them to be at the table when major deals are being discussed and never give them compensation for their true value to a company. If I were to add the annual revenue of oil, food, social networking and multi-national corporations without democratic ownership I would say that being disconnected is a multi-trillion dollar industry.

At first, I thought that dating sites and the export and import of goods directly using the Internet was absolute progress. It had flattened the world and truly moved the local community into a global community. But this progress has come at the exploitation of our community’s sickness, a lack of connection to the people and things around us. Progress can only be truly realized if a balance between what is good and right about Facebook comes into alignment with what is good and right about knowing our most immediate relationships too.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you should not fly on an airplane to visit your family but I do believe we have to use a value system that we all have some shared relationship to and responsibility toward promoting. One of the guiding values of the Emerging ChangeMakers Network ( is honoring the Spirit of Connectedness, which is meant to express the dependence and connection, no matter how insignificant it may feel, to one another and the world around us. This understanding was developed after I read “Why We Live in Community” which was written by Eberhard Arnold and talks about how our humanity is nurtured by our relationship to community. He says “Life in a community is no less than a necessity for us – it is an inescapable “must” that determines everything we do and think.” He then concludes that “We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.”

Unfriend is a now a word.

I remember when being someone’s friend was a big deal. You didn’t give the title of “best friend” to just anyone and when you did, you had better mean it. When people fell out of friendship, the entire school knew and had feelings about it. We were all affected. Friendship was serious and for my money, it still is. Friendship means that you are connected and that you are committed to protecting and honoring that relationship. Now you can unfriend someone and poof, your relationship is over and the connection is severed.

The Social Network had an opening weekend of $15.5 million dollars. That was just one weekend in the U.S. I’d rather have taken that $15.5 million and invested it in local, community based – worker owned businesses and initiatives that had some real chance of truly helping each of us connect to the communities around us and maybe we might make a friend or two along the way.

Jessica Norwood is a social entrepreneur working with low-wealth communities in the Deep South. She is the founder and director of the Emerging ChangeMakers Network, a leadership organization that identifies, connects, and trains emerging leaders who believe in a core set of values that lead them to create actions of compassion, equality, and justice on behalf of disadvantaged communities in the southeastern region. Norwood is a member of the board of directors for the Highlander Research and Education Center. She is a former Emerging Leaders Fellow at a joint program between the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and the College of Business at the Southern University. She is also the former Political Power Fellow with the Hip Hop Archive at the Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. Norwood is currently developing an Impact Investing program for the Emerging ChangeMakers Network with the Ford Foundation in the Alabama Black Belt.