Thursday, June 30, 2011
According to Aristotle there are three kinds of friendships. Friendship based on joy and fun, friendship based on usefulness, and friendship based on a higher purpose like a common virtue. The first two friendships are short-term and geared towards satisfying the ego. The third kind of friendship is considered ‘true friendship’. I believe, however, that all three types of friendship have their value and their place in our lives, but do we realize how much of each we enjoy and need, and in what periods of our lives we need which kind of friendship most? And what’s the influence of facebook friendships? Are they only the first two kinds? I agree with Dutch philosopher Stine Jensen that they certainly seem pretty ego-centered. On facebook, people seem very interested in themselves, even though they check on others all the time. Look at the status updates, in which people often talk about themselves in the third person. Even though there is also a good share of moaning and complaining on facebook, most people post stories and pictures that show an interesting life - personal marketing in the 21st century. But to me, facebook intimacy is often fake intimacy. It’s one dimensional, using limited senses, and real vulnerability is lacking. You can post as many of your mistakes or shortcomings as you want to, but you’re still hiding safely behind your screen with no one looking you in the eyes, providing you with in-person feedback, or patting you on the shoulder. And that’s exactly what so many people like about it, it’s exactly one of the advantages of media like facebook, I know and I’m not condemning it. Research on whether virtual friendships and social networks are advantageous for people that have difficulty relating to others is still young and goes both ways.
What seems a given is what psychologists have long demonstrated: the crucial role that friends play in everything from our development of self identity to self esteem, and the important role they play in mitigating the increasing stress in our lives. Unfortunately, many people are reporting fewer friends in their lives with the increasing demands on them through work, consumerism, child care, a second job, all the time that goes into social networking on-line, and compulsive commitments to television and to physical fitness, just to name a few. Will technology come to the rescue? Will we end up with an equivalent of the Tamagotchis, the “virtual pets”, but then "virtual friends", designed to interact with you in the same way an intimate human friend would, listening to you empathetically, providing encouraging feedback, flattering you, and honestly mirroring your blind spots? Almost sounds too good to be true whether virtual or real friend, right? Or is the new social network Google+, with a new way of sharing information with your friends going to be one of the answers. I hear that with Google+, not yet available to the average mortal, divides you friends into circles, rather than facebooks friend – no friend distinction. These circles could consist of friends, family, colleagues and should guarantee your privacy better than facebook does. But does it increase authentic, intimate relationships? Call me old-fashioned and inflexible, I still feel that I need to see people and spend time with them in order to get to know them, learn to trust them, share with them. I can add on-line friendships to that, if I would want to, but I do not wish to replace them.
Real living, real contact, real friendship, to me, is being connected to the world. Connected as in seeing, smelling, hearing, touching – in the here-and-now. It also means making choices based on the life I want to live. Consciously choosing how much time I spend on-line, which can certainly meet needs and provide satisfaction, and how much time I want to be in personal contact with people. It means really and fully being at a party rather than thinking of how cool it is that I’m here and that I have to take a picture for my facebook page. This is what often seems to be happening. While being in the here-and-now, many people have this third eye watching over them – the eye of their virtual friends, the eye of how impressive it’s going to be if they can post a picture of this party, this concert, this rally. Of course I ask myself whether this is so different from taking pictures on vacation, “in the old days”, lining up friends or family members to get an even better picture to show back home. Maybe it’s just that we want to share (and impress?) more and more about anything and everything.
Maybe I should add another distinction between different friendships. The casual friendships, the intimate friendships, and the intimate romantic relationships. Psychologists distinguish between social loneliness stemming from a lack of friendship ties and emotional loneliness stemming from a lack of intimate relationships, concluding that emotional loneliness is the more severe of the two forms as I’m sure you can imagine. Shouldn’t we all guard real intimate relationships and ensure that we have the skills, time, and focus to establish and maintain these relationships?
The new pressure many people are dealing with these days could well be an “impressionistic existence”: the pressure of having to live an impressive life, often defined by others around us. How much are you leading your life following your purpose and values? How about authenticity in your friendships and your life? How about the amount (and more importantly, the quality) of your intimate relationships? See my next post for more thoughts on authenticity.