breaking up

Just as technology has entwined itself with the act of falling in love, it also has an inescapable role in the act of breaking up. Ending a relationship is hard enough, and made even harder by computing technology.

Clearing an ex-lover from your life is one of the first steps in getting over a breakup. This act is cathartic — it gives you something to focus on in a dark time, a thing to do when you want to do nothing. So, you delete their number from your phone. You archive or delete the text thread you’ve had running for however long. You leave groupchats. You remove their photos from your devices — maybe deleting them, maybe storing them somewhere far away and safe. You hide the emails they’ve sent, the playlists they’ve made for you, and that file of recordings of them reading their favorite book to you.

Then you stop following them on social media.

And immediately social media suggests you follow them.

You’ll continue to see reminders of these people — whether through their activity with your shared contacts or the friendly reminders, the helpful notices, from the algorithms at Facebook and Twitter that think you might possibly know this person with whom you are no longer entangled.

Twitter lets you block people. However:

…please note that you may see Tweets or notifications in your timeline for the following:

  1. Tweets from others you follow that mention accounts you have blocked.
  2. Tweets that mention you, along with an account you have blocked.

These little reminders might be more than you want. You might want a feature to just hide them from you — or to replace every mention of their name with a photo of a kitten. You might want to not see their blog in a shared feed, or to mute them in a social IRC channel.

One of the things we do when it comes to using the internet and web is wind our lives in and out of infrastructure we share with others. We put huge amounts of ourselves into these spaces. The strength and resilience that gives our networks power also gives them the opportunity to tear us down.

FLOSS is about choice (among other things). One of the things we get from developer freedom is the ability to specialize or have specialized technology — the development of features and tools, the fixing of bugs and anti-features.

Would I go as far as to say that seeing someone mentioned in a timeline is a bug, or that the recommendation I add someone I don’t want to think about to my social network is an anti-feature? Yes. It’s a stance I am taking because, due to the proprietary nature of many of these technologies, we’re waiting for a company to decide to give us the freedom to break up and break off contact.

Breakups are traumatic. They can be deeply and devastatingly traumatic. We can be in positions where we need our networks that are now inaccessible to us, because they are too tied into those we loved and still love, even when we wish we didn’t.

A few quick notes:

Generous friends who read through this before I posted it made the following points, which are valuable:

  • There are people who stay away from web sites like Facebook because the people who abused them use that site, and the risk of being triggered it too high.
  • People also stay away from these sites because they are hiding from abusers, who would be given access to them, whether they’d like it or not.
  • This is also applicable to basically any person, regardless of the reason(s) you may want to avoid them.

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