Attenuating friendships

December 26, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More

At the Chronicles of Higher Education, William Deresiewicz writes about our long-evolving idea of friendship, and it’s not a good thing. The more friends we claim to have, the more we are diluting the idea of friendship. Deresiewicz makes many worthy observations along the way, including the suggestion that the classical idea of a

Image by Many83 at Dreamstime (with permission)

Image by Many83 at Dreamstime (with permission)

committed friendship conflicts with the expanding notions of freedom and equality. When I commit in real-life ways to particular friends, I seem to be acting in an exclusionary way toward all of those people who didn’t make the cut. In modern times (says Deresiewicz), deep and committed friendships make some of us uneasy. “At best, intense friendships are something we’re expected to grow out of.”

The comments to the article divided rather evenly into those that found the article poetic and inspiring versus those that found the author to be verbose and “howling at the moon.”

Reading this piece, I repeatedly thought of Robin Dunbar’s research regarding friendship. We are not physiologically capable of having more than 150 good friends at one time. But networking tools certainly seem to expand our contacts (if not our friendships) well beyond 150. How should we really describe those people to whom we are linked up, but not in a deep way or a flesh and blood way? Reading this article, I was also reminded of several friendships that I would absolutely positively claim to be deep meaning friendships, that were started and maintained through the Internet. None of these are mere Facebook “friends”; they each involved substantial amounts of private email and, eventually, some face-to-face discussions. I mention this to fend off any suggestion that “real” friendships should be limited to those relationships maintains primarily through flesh and blood encounters.

Here’s a bit more from Deresiewicz’ thought-provoking article:

If we have 768 “friends,” in what sense do we have any? Facebook isn’t the whole of contemporary friendship, but it sure looks a lot like its future. Yet Facebook—and MySpace, and Twitter, and whatever we’re stampeding for next—are just the latest stages of a long attenuation. They’ve accelerated the fragmentation of consciousness, but they didn’t initiate it. They have reified the idea of universal friendship, but they didn’t invent it. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that once we decided to become friends with everyone, we would forget how to be friends with anyone. We may pride ourselves today on our aptitude for friendship—friends, after all, are the only people we have left—but it’s not clear that we still even know what it means.


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Category: Communication, Friendships/relationships

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Pat Whalen says:

    Its a thought provoking piece and thanks for that. There are a few things that caught my attention.

    "seem to be acting in an exclusionary way toward all of those people who didn’t make the cut"

    The idea of a threshold for friendships seems strange. I see a continuity between stranger and close friend. I have been making an effort to increase my friendships in this broad sense. There are certainly a lot more people now with whom we have a vague awareness of each others existence but also a larger number for which a better relationship has occurred.

    "… we are diluting the idea of friendship"

    The idea of friendship I don't think is important itself but only how it affects the friendships we have. Developing the habit of personal awareness needed to cultivate friendships seems to only help strengthen existing friendships. In any case I can't think of a case where an existing friendship has been diminished by new friendships.

    But then again this is just my first reactions to this article.

  2. Ben says:

    I've never met somebody who didn't like me.

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