You met her at a mutual friend's party -- a one-time acquaintance seeking a digital connection.
He sent you a message through Facebook -- an old middle-school buddy married and living on the West Coast.
A co-worker from the accounting office -- someone you rarely see outside the elevator -- is requesting an online friendship, too.
Do you want to confirm? Uh, OK.
Yet, as time passes (and "friend" tallies grow), certain users start to stand out.
Their posts are written with poor grammar or seem overly political. Their Tweets become dull or self-absorbed. And their photos of a stranger's baby get in the way of other feeds.
Eventually, the resulting frustration for you and others inspires a puzzling realization: Who are all these people?
Increasingly, your response might involve silent retribution: You cut the virtual cord.
One click, and it's over.
As Internet social circles (and their incessant, look-at-me white noise) expand, unfriending is becoming more and more common.
So common, in fact, that the verb unfriend this week was named the New Oxford American Dictionary "word of the year" for 2009.
Its meaning: "to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social-networking site such as Facebook."
(Coincidentally, the dictionary previously listed unfriend -- dating from a 1659 citation loosely defined as the termination of a real-life friendship.)
And, although many prefer to say "de-friend," the New York publisher opted for the "un" prefix, even though it is more commonly associated with adjectives. "It does have a better grammatical soundness to it -- comparable to verbs such as unpack or unsubscribe," said Christine Lindberg, a senior Oxford lexicographer for the U.S. dictionary program. "You're undoing something." Either way, the term doesn't mystify many Web junkies. "It's a non-offensive way to tell someone you're not interested in them anymore," said Krista Holloway, a public-relations manager for SBC Advertising in Columbus, Ohio. Holloway has about 500 Facebook friends and follows 910 people on the micro-blogging Web site Twitter. The 30-year-old has nixed a handful because of foul language and the frequent pushing of political or religious content -- and, although she doesn't feel guilty, the procedure has given her pause. "It's really a sign of the times," she said. "We're evaluating our friendships, . . . who we want to be connected with through these mediums instead of a face-to-face interaction." Of course, most people -- including Holloway -- don't ax close friends or family members. Yet the definition of friend in 2009 isn't quite clear, especially as the word pertains to Internet-based rapport.
Does your tech-savvy real-estate agent count? How about a college classmate from three years ago? "There are definitely people we consider much more of an online acquaintance. We need to come up with a word for that," said Justin Jonas, an East Side retail associate. Digital friends, he noted, might make for strange relationships. "You know what they think about the Buckeyes, but you have no idea where they grew up or even where they live," said the 27-year-old, who unfriended people for political "untruths" posted on their profile pages during the 2008 election. >Unfriending is typically a silent endeavor. Facebook, for example, doesn't notify the subject of his or her severance. From a user with a private profile, the banished find themselves blocked. The same goes for Twitter -- but members who wish to communicate via direct message (similar to e-mail) find that such dialogue is no longer possible, as the messaging happens just between two people who opt to "follow" each other. Still, the ending of friendships -- however peripheral -- sometimes poses consequences, said Irene Levine, the Chappaqua, N.Y., author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend. "In real life, dumping a friend or getting rid of a friend is extremely difficult. Why should it be any different on the Internet?" said Levine, who on Tuesday wrote online about the Oxford designation.
"It calls for more tolerance, maybe -- . . . the idea that it's OK for people to have different kinds of political attitudes and persuasions." As the number of friends swells, though, pruning becomes key. Walker Evans, who runs ColumbusUnderground.com, updated his Facebook status in early October to indicate he would be inflicting a "purge" on his list of friends -- which exceeded 1,000. He has since cut the tally to 746. Topping the hit list: strangers who "friended" the entrepreneur because they knew his name from public events or the Internet. "A few months go by, we still hadn't met, and yet I'm seeing every single bit of their lives -- where they're going to eat, what their dog did that day," said Evans, 29. "You have to cut out the white noise if you want the tools to be somewhat productive."