I’ve read a few things recently on the subject of friendship which also link in with social media and communication, subjects I’m interested in so I thought I’d collate them.
The first few are about aspects of friendship which aren’t much explored; friendship breakups and when friendships change. The second link is a podcast from This American Life and features Ta-Nehisi Coates talking to a friend of his about how things have changed now that he’s well-known.
There’s another article about how friendships change in adulthood. It makes a good point about social media;
If you never see your friends in person, you’re not really sharing experiences so much as just keeping each other updated on your separate lives. It becomes a relationship based on storytelling rather than shared living—not bad, just not the same.
This reminds me of another article about why Facebook is the junk food of socialising.
We need to remind ourselves of our evolutionary history, where we evolved without exposure to realistic representations of people. Back then, if you saw something that looked like a person, by golly it was a person. When you look at a video of a person, most of your brain thinks it’s real—the fusiform face area of your brain area reacts identically whether you’re looking at a real face or a picture of one (in fact, most experiments investigating this part of the brain do not use real faces at all, but photos or videos of them).
The errors we make when we view non-human things as human satisfies our desire to interact with other people without giving us many of the benefits. In the moment, watching TV feels good; it satisfies your desire to be with other people. But it’s the visual equivalent of empty calories—delicious but not nutritious.
There’s also this essay from The Guardian newspaper in the UK on how friendship and the social are being used for good in public health and social policy. It also describes how friendship and the social is being used for money making purposes, labeled ‘neoliberal socialism’ in the essay.
What we encounter in the current business, media and policy euphoria for being social is what might be called “neoliberal socialism”. Sharing is preferable to selling, so long as it does not interfere with the financial interests of dominant corporations. Appealing to people’s moral and altruistic sense becomes the best way of nudging them into line with agendas that they had no say over. Brands and behaviours can be unleashed as social contagions, without money ever changing hands. Empathy and relationships are celebrated, but only as particular habits that happy individuals have learned to practise. Everything that was once external to economic logic, such as friendship, is quietly brought within it.
The essay also succinctly describes the problem I have with Facebook’s commodification of friendship:
What we witness, in the case of a social media addict, is only the more pathological element of a society that cannot conceive of relationships except in terms of the psychological pleasures that they produce. The person whose fingers twitch to check their Facebook page when they are supposed to be listening to their friend over a meal is a victim of a philosophy in which other people are only there to please, satisfy and affirm an individual ego from one moment to the next. This inevitably leads to vicious circles: once a social bond is stripped down to this impoverished psychological level, it becomes harder and harder to find the satisfaction that one wants. Viewing other people as instruments for one’s own pleasure represents a denial of the core ethical and emotional truths of friendship, love and generosity.