We’ve been blocking undesired and uninvited people in our lives long before Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp put us in charge of the block killswitch. Sometimes, we can go so far as to eliminate someone from our lives so completely that we’d even escape the dreaded ‘you’re dead to me’. There’s no worse block than that. But life is such that even when that happens, even when we commit to total rejection of another person, there are no guarantees. They could still show up at our doorstep, approach us in public, at a conference, in contexts where unwilling smiles and niceties are piled up to hide the awful truth that we’ve severed all links from each other.
Whatever we do, social disconnection is always approximate, never guaranteed. You can get a restraining order against an abuser, but they can always approach you one more time at the risk of their own freedom. You may apply to have your telephone number unlisted in the ‘telephone book’, but someone can still call you, even after you’ve asked them not to.
What I’ve said here is obvious to everyone who’s ever entered and exited relationships, but this way of being is also under attack by the novel sociology of guaranteed outcomes. This comes mainly from the world of social media, where approximations, both in the mythology of control it generates and in the way advertising is being deployed thereon, are being replaced with certainty and machine-type reliability.
I’ve recently been given the equivalent of ‘you’re dead to me’ on social media by a person I used to be friends with, and the networks have ensured that I wouldn’t be able to contact that person again wherever I turn online. I can still walk up to their house, and call their telephone number, write them a letter, even, but if I keep myself to the online world, the off-switch remains univocally off. It’s guaranteed.
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