This is the New Oxford American Dictionary word of the year.
William Safire is undoubtedly rolling over in his grave.
Unfriend beat out stiff competition from “funemployed,” “sexting” and “tramp-stamp” this year to take the crown as the ubiquitous, essential and here-to-stay entry into the American lexicon. Christine Lindberg from the Oxford’s US dictionary program actually describes “unfriend” as having real “lex-appeal.”
The positive trendsetting words of the past couple of years, “hypermiling” and “locavore,” have been taken over by the social networking phenomenon. It seems as though we are resigned as a nation to plug into The Matrix and live through our cyber selves.
This is a trend greater than an attention-grabbing publicity stunt from a resource attempting to maintain relevancy in the new media world. This is indicative of a declining species rapidly losing the ability to communicate in a meaningful way, face to face. The further we travel down the rabbit hole of virtual connectivity the more of a Luddite I turn into. There are dire consequences when we lose the ability to communicate on a deep and profound level. The loss of context in our dialogue and human exchange of information has disastrous effects on our interpersonal skills and ability to relate to one another.
My existence on Facebook lasted a mere six months before I rid myself (again) of all the people I spent the last 20 years ridding myself of. Because I have a bully pulpit with this column, I prefer to let my words express my beliefs and choose to connect with friends and loved ones in person. My friend and colleague Michael Martino, who authors the popular column in the Press “Dry Martino,” wrote a column last week about how he was prepared to do the same. His column sparked a good deal of commentary and dialogue and prompted the most unexpected of responses this past weekend at an event our editorial staff attended.
The Long Island Press received an award from the Long Island Council for Alcohol and Drug Dependence (LICADD) for our outstanding and relentless coverage of the heroin epidemic on Long Island. It was one of the more humbling accolades we have received due to the very nature of the subject matter; a subject we all wish didn’t exist. In the middle of the presentation Jeff Reynolds, the executive director of LICADD, broke with the program to single out Michael and implore him not to give up his profile on Facebook.
It was as funny as it was stunning. Social networking has obviously woven its way into our everyday lives and will continue to play an integral role in our society for years to come. But Jeff wasn’t imploring Michael to stay connected on Facebook so he could send him birthday messages or a virtual hug; he wanted to make sure that a valuable voice in our community stayed connected in every way possible to the youth of Long Island.
Jeff was essentially asking Michael not to “unfriend” Long Island. We forget sometimes that as journalists our words have a deep impact on the community. Sometimes we believe it to be greater and more profound than it probably is but for every piece we write there is a person in need who is touched by it. In the daily battle Jeff and his staff fight against alcohol and drug addiction on behalf of members of our community who suffer from the increasing pressures placed upon us by the economy and our society, no one can afford to be “unfriended.”
This is not meant to pressure my friend Michael and in no way heralds my return to social networking; rather it reminds me of the responsibility we all share in “friending” those in need, particularly during trying times.