Social networks generally have you ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ an entity (be it a person, group or organisation). To ‘friend’ implies friendship. But with all due respect to some of the people I ‘friend,’ it is usually more to do with a desire to hear more than one side of an argument than anything which would constitute friendship.
While keep my friends close and my enemies closer may create a loophole for ‘friending’ people who are not friends, following someone is, arguably, more problematic.
Being a follower involves a tripartite relationship between the follower, the leader and the situation. This is a complex interrelationship which doesn’t easily lend itself to an ever increasingly fractured social media landscape.
Some might argue I am following the conversation, but again, social media isn’t usually a conversation but a disconnected series of posts, often about unrelated topics.
In another feat of philosophical gymnastics, it could be argued that ‘following’ someone is more akin to ‘watching,’ in the sense that an undercover officer may ‘follow’ a suspect.
But this seems to add a dark connotation to the process which also isn’t entirely accurate. At least not for me, as I don’t subscribe to the trend of watching people on social media, poised to pounce at the slightest sign of nonconformity to the prevailing zeitgeist.
Enter my 3am idea of listenership.
It struck me that a more appropriate term would be ‘listen.’ For there are many voices on the internet to whom I want to listen, even if for no other reason than to build a comprehensive rebuttal to their drivel. People who I would never call a leader, there for I do not follow them, nor would I call a friend. Some rank so low in my esteem I wouldn’t even put them on my enemies list, making ‘friending’ them even less appropriate.
There is also the intriguing other use of the term listener. This is a prisoner in a UK jail specially trained by Samaritans to provide emotional support to other prisoners. In some senses this is very apt, as on social media we are too often prisoners in a system providing emotional support to other prisoners.
Well, that was the hard bit, coming up with the idea.
Now for the easy bit, convincing the multifarious warring tribes of the fediverse and a few billion dollar companies to change their nomenclature.
Good night, and good luck.