When I see the word “Unfollow” I immediately think: LITO! Perhaps you’ll recall the internet slang-style acronym My New Old Self coined for those situations where it’s actually better not to be young: LITO, meaning Lucky I’m Too Old.
I enjoy finding opportunities to use LITO, if only to mutter it under my breath with a chuckle. My most recent target is Unfollow, an unappealing internet-spawned word meaning “to stop tracking (a person, group, or organization) on a social media website or application by unsubscribing from their account”.
Lucky I’m Too Old for yet another annoying preoccupation of the perpetually wired. LITO to be worrying about skirmishes on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. LITO to care about what this might mean: “Unfollower Stats: Track and unfollow your unfollowers!”
My understanding of friendship, at least back when I was making friends in the 20th century, never involved Followers or Unfollowers. In Real Life (IRL and not online) following someone has negative connotations. “Are you following me?” is an accusation. So friends (with a small F) would only secretly follow each other if trust had totally broken down.
Now a Follow (also used as a dodgy noun) is taken as a compliment, while an Unfollow is offensive. What else can I say but LITO?
It’s not only Unfollow that irks me. I say LITO to all those new verbs to describe internet interactions that start with “un” from Unfriend to Unlike.
Lucky I’m Too Old to have such words in my daily vocabulary. I say LITO to the very notion of dismissing the views of others with a quick click. Instead of discussing a point that you don’t agree with, you just make it disappear?
The internet is described as worldly and wide but it can be parochial, making us ever more narrow-minded. The New York Times recently warned that “the web is becoming just another self-perpetuating echo chamber”. They also blame that Un-word I hate. Apparently Unfollow buttons are being clicked like never before since the launch of many 2016 American presidential campaigns.
“With the presidential race heating up, a torrent of politically charged commentary has flooded Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, with some users deploying their ‘unfollow’ buttons like a television remote to silence distasteful political views. Coupled with the algorithm now powering Facebook’s news feed, the unfollowing is creating a more homogenized political experience of like-minded users.”
– Nick Corasaniti, New York Times, 28 April 2015
So much for the democratic tradition of robust debate. Unfollow means that your acquaintance or relative will never know that when they express opinions you disdain, you’re doing the digital equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and making noises with your tongue, throwing in the occasional “Can’t hear you – la-la-la-la!”
Phony diplomacy rules. You no longer listen to each other’s views yet politely remain Friends. Not exactly great training for resolving life’s inevitable conflicts.
Lucky I’m Too Old for the Unfollow approach to friendship. If I say something my friends find offensive I hope to be challenged – and vice versa. If we find that our views diverge too widely we’ll naturally drift apart. Unless a pal actually turns into a stalker, Unfollowing need not be invoked.
If you’re thinking I’m one of those older people who shuns Facebook, you’re wrong. That would be like boycotting the old post office. I admit to wasting many an hour perusing what Facebook laughably calls my News Feed. Which is just a bunch of stuff that people I know are saying, selected via Facebook’s privacy-invading algorithms – based on all our personal info that we happily post for all to see. Plus stuff from other people that is Shared with me.
Share is another verb whose meaning has been adulterated in the digital era. It used to conjure up one of our finest altruistic instincts. Now it’s about clicking. Activism has become Clicktivism – the only action is done with a finger. Even worse is people saying “I’ll reach out to you” when all they mean is they’ll send an email.
Another clarification may be in order. Just because I say LITO to digital jargon does not mean I say LITO to the internet. I also hope I haven’t given the impression that I believe digital life is best left to the youth. Warning: whether we Like or Unlike it, older people are the targets of a new international digital marketing drive.
Apple and IBM are testing a new technology service on the world’s biggest aging population in Japan. With 25% of that country already 65 years or older, that’s a lot of geezer-friendly iPads to sell. Pre-bundled with pensioner-friendly apps to manage health care, household chores and communicate with friends and family, supplied by Japan’s still-thriving post office.
Western Europe and North America have big boomer populations. The developing world still has a lot of youth but its aging population will catch up soon. So you can see why the ICT mega-corporations are not only targeting teens and 20-somethings.
“Today is about reimagining life for what is the largest generation that has been in history and that is the seniors”.
– IBM CEO Ginni Rometty
“We want to change how (older) people work and live. We don’t want to just sell stuff.”
– Apple CEO Timothy Cook
Lucky I’m too old to fall for that kind of sales pitch. If there’s any changing or reimagining to be done in My New Old Life, I won’t be outsourcing it to any big corporations.