Facebook aims to promote a more connected and open world, thereby hoping to bring people together. One of the Facebook features is its augmented reality (AR) experiences, where the camera app can overlay digital objects and information over existing physical space. In light of its mission to make the world more connected, it is strange then that the AR feature allows you the ability to add a second digital coffee mug to a table setting so that it looks like you are not having breakfast alone.

This is one of the contradictions inherent in the evolving human relationship with technology. Technology, and social media in particular, has invariably permeated the way we navigate relationships today. For example, how has Facebook redefined the notion of ‘friendship’ and ‘friend’?

Social media has introduced many different degrees of friendship. There has never been a time when people have had so many friends, at least on the ‘friends’ list. Furthermore, we are now able to be friends with brands which can then establish reciprocal relationships with us. While the dynamics of friendship used to require physical proximity or real-time interactions, technology has mediated both time and space and allows us to connect digitally.

Now we have greater options than ever for finding, connecting and maintaining friendships, but how do we nurture the fundamental elements of friendship such as intimacy and vulnerability in an online world which is antithetical to these values?

The ‘Goldilocks Effect’

Furthermore, social media creates a “Goldilocks Effect” in the way that we manage our relationships. This refers to the way that our reliance on technology allows us to maintain a standard amount of distance between ourselves and others, where we keep our friends and family neither too close, nor too far away, but instead within just the right amount of both physical and emotional distance. Given that we can have friendships at the temperature that we want them, we can also choose to end friendships on social media without penalty from the community.

Are we gradually losing the capacity for human interaction? With instant messaging and asynchronous likes/loves/crying-faces, we are moving further away from actual conversation. Our ability to communicate in real life situations becomes diminished and empathy suffers.

The practice of “ghosting” illustrates this problem: it is the behaviour of unilaterally ending a relationship by stopping all communication without any explanation. Since the connection is entirely digital, it is perceived that we can simply stop communicating and the relationship can spontaneously come to an end. We would never do this in real life, but some of us find such behaviour acceptable online.

Friendship Culling

To this end, some users are resorting to a friendship cull on social media. Rather than trying to keep up and maintain a great number of superfluous friendships, the goal is to prioritise a small number of people. We do not need to remain online ‘friends’ with people that we have met from long ago if we would not meet them on a regular basis or even crossed the road to say hello to recently.

Those who have culled their online friendship list report feeling calmer and more in control. After being selective with who they want to share their online world with, there was no longer the anxiety of sharing something spontaneously on social media and worrying about the opinion and judgment of the online ‘friends’.

Online culling of friendships can also lead to more intentional friendships in real life. With the increasing demands on our time and energy, we can choose to spend time only in friendships really worth investing in. There is no pressure to meet those people who cancel meet-ups too frequently or to see those who we only meet out of a sense of obligation and duty rather than genuine desire.

However, there are also some who advocate for us to hold onto old friends and to cultivate old friendships rather than audit them away. The idea is that old friends know us from the time when we were works-in-progress: the messy, scrappy, insecure versions of ourselves. Although these old friends may no longer share the same interests as us or have similar lifestyles, we can still love these friends because of how long they have been in our lives. It is not a matter of absolute necessity to axe out old friendships solely on the basis of utility.

YouTube: How the Internet changes friendship

 

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. Have you taken the time to undertake a friendship culling or audit? If so, what made you do so? If not, what would make you want to do so?
  2. How do you think we can best leverage on technology to strengthen our friendships in real life? Should this be taught to students?

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. augmented reality’: a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view
  2. superfluous’: unnecessary, especially through being more than enough

Here are more related articles for further reading:

  1. The Journal: Different types of friendship and decluttering of friendships

More than two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three different kinds of friendship: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of virtue.

Friendships of utility are friendships of mutual benefit: one way or another, the relationship is useful to both you and the other person. That person could be a colleague, customer or client or, for example, a neighbour with whom you exchange each other’s gardening or household tools, feed the cat and check each other’s houses when you go on holiday.

Friendships of pleasure exist between you and those with whom you enjoy a shared interest: people in the same sports team as you, a book club, choir, dance class etc. It could be the people you met on holiday; you had a great time together (and insisted you’d keep in touch.)

When circumstances change

But both types of friendships usually end when circumstances change; when a friendship of utility is no longer beneficial to one or both of you, one of you leaves the job or the neighbour moves away.

Friendships of pleasure also often end when what you have in common comes to an end: when one or both of you leave the team, the club, the class or the holiday comes to an end.

Friendships of virtue are based on mutual respect and admiration. These friendships may take more time to establish than the other two kinds, but they’re also stronger and more enduring. They often arise when two people recognise that they have similar values and goals; that they have similar visions for how their lives and the world should be. Often, they begin when a person is young – at school, college or holiday jobs – though plenty form after that, too.

 

  1. Huffington Post: Friendship culls lead to positivity on social media?

 

It’s so easy to gather people into our digital circles – social media platforms rely on us wanting to make connections and stay on their sites longer. A follow here, a friend request there; all it takes is one click. But the next thing you know you’re reading strangers’ late-night political ramblings about Brexit and the scallop wars and wondering how on earth you ended up here.

 

Just because it made sense to follow at one point doesn’t mean you’re bound to them for life. Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings says that we should consider our social media feeds as a “revolving door”.

 

“Sometimes people’s views change, perhaps they get a bit politically ranty, begin to humblebrag or you simply find you’re barely engaging with them at all,” she says. “There will be some that you need to continue to follow through loyalty of course – but otherwise, you’ll have the best experience by letting some people exit, while others enter.”

 

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