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Default to De-friending?

Scott Brown has decried friend congestion on Facebook, and proposes a (sun)setting to do something about it:

[M]aybe [this is] the answer: A Facebook app we’ll call the Fade Utility. Untended Friends would gradually display a sepia cast on the picture, a blurring of the neglected profile—perhaps a coffee stain might appear on it or an unrelated phone number or grocery list. The individual’s status updates might fade and get smaller. The user may then choose to notice and reach out to the person in some meaningful way—no pokes! Or they might pretend not to notice. Without making a choice, they could simply let that person go. Would that really be so awful?

Perhaps James Grimmelmann, social network scholar extraordinaire, will like this idea–as a cyber-application of the slow code? On the other hand, this idea reminds me a bit of the Tamagotchi–the “toy-to-be-tended” imported from Japan in the 1990’s:

Tamagotchi is actually a “virtual pet”; after traveling “millions of light-years through cyberspace” to hatch in its flattened-duck-egg-shaped shell, it immediately starts squeaking and crying for attention from its owner. Tamagotchi owners are then obliged to feed it when it’s hungry, play with it when it needs attention, vaccinate it when it’s ill, scold it when it’s naughty and, indeed, clean it up after it defecates. (All of these tasks are conveniently made possible through the buttons on the Tamagotchi’s casing.) When the owner does not fulfill these obligations, the Tamagotchi will become unhappy, kvetchy, ill and, ultimately, dead.

An owner can register a gravestone, organized by how long the Tamagotchi lived, describe what presents she wants to leave on the grave — such as flowers and candy — and leave a short eulogy. “Bye bye Tamagotchi,” one tombstone reads, “he was very cute.” . . . .”It drowned with my laundry! My fault!”

Gotta love the virtual. Kudos to Brown for illuminating the intersection of technology and the ethics of memory.