For many, Facebook “friends” (whether they exist or not) are replacing real friends. However bad an idea one may think living largely online is, a breakup can cause real pain.

Now Facebook is trying to soften the blow. From Mashable:

Facebook is piloting a set of features on mobile that will allow you to limit the amount of content that is shown to your exes and vice versa, it announced in a blog post Thursday. The feature would allow you to see less of your former partners, without the need to block or unfriend them.

With the new tools, when you change your relationship status, you’ll have the option to limit the number of status updates, pictures and videos of the person in question. That person’s name will also no longer appear in suggested people to message or tag. Additionally, Facebook will give you the option of automatically untagging or limiting the visibility of posts and photos with an ex. You can either go through each post one by one to decide whether to untag yourself or get rid of all tags in one clean sweep.

It works the other way too. One can hide one’s chosen information from that person. If it all works, that will mainly be because so much of the relationship was mediated by the internet anyway—for good or ill.

Before this nifty new app was developed, there was glitch in which the Year in Review went bad on Facebook, resulting in an apology from the behemoth: “Facebook apologizes after ‘Year in Review’ stirs up bad memories for some users.” The algorithm focused on events that had attracted the most attention, in one case, the death of the user’s young daughter. He wrote,

And I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault. This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, reminding people of the awesomeness of their years, showing them selfies at a party or whale spouts from sailing boats or the marina outside their vacation house.

But for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or losing a job or any one of a hundred crises, we might not want another look at this past year.

Here is what strikes a person who grew up in the pre-internet age as most strange: The tales we were told sometimes featured an ancient dream: An artifact would come to life.

Gepetto created the animated wooden puppet Pinocchio because he wanted a real son. He was not truly happy until the puppet became a boy. The sculptor Pygmalion was proud of his beautiful statue Galatea, which he dressed in fine gowns and jewels. But his life blossomed when a kind-hearted goddess pitied him, and turned the statue into a real woman, whom the sculptor lifted down from the pedestal and married.

Yet so many people today prefer a world of digital “wood and stone.” Granted, their world is sophisticated, because it is full of information. But it can never be real, in part because it is a creature merely of their choices.

Put another way, real sons and spouses are beings in their own right. Their relationships with us are physical and personal to them, not merely matters of our choice.

Perhaps Gepetto wished that Pinocchio worked harder at school. Pygmalion may have come to regret his wife’s loose tongue. But that is what happens in an obligate relationship. And the other party must put up with our failings too.

We lose much when we lose that awareness. 

Note: These apps aren’t the first time that Facebook has played games with its users (see Facebook experiments, Part I and Part II)

See also: A young teen—or even a baby—needs to be on Facebook? For what? The FBI eventually found the kidnapped girl. (Incidentally, there’s a good chance that her nearest and dearest didn’t want to be reminded, months later, of thousands of strangers’ opinions of the matter)

The following news vid attempt to make light of the “Year in Review” debacle, but it does make a good point: We should resist the temptation to get personal on Facebook in the first place. The algorithm does not know, and the world does not care. Let’s save it for the few who do.

 

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

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Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...