Thursday, August 13, 2009

Friendship, Facebook, and Cynicism.

Well, it has happened a few times now: I have connected with someone on facebook that I haven't seen or spoken to in many years, in one case almost 30 years, and it really is something of a let down. But the main reason that it is a disappointment is not, as one might think, simply because the person is not as interesting as I remember but because in almost every case the person seems to just want to say 'Hello' and leave it at that. It is as though people just want to know that their old friends are still out there somewhere and still alive and then they want to go about their business. In some cases they don't even seem to want to know what you have been doing for the past ten or twenty years, as long as they can confirm that you are still there and have a heart beat. I have thought a lot about what this means lately and, having just written a book on friendship, I have come to a tentative conclusion. I think it is indicative of the fact that our friendships are no longer about intellectual, and I mean that in the broadest sense, connections. People in their forties, particularly if they have children, are very busy with their daily lives. If they have friends at all it is usually one or two people with whom they occasionally share a beer or a small diner party, or at most share one common interest, usually sports. I am realizing that most of the people I knew in my youth who used to enjoy sharing an intellectual bond have almost entirely lost interest in such things. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of some people getting older. In youth people tend to look forward, they like to think about how the world was, is now, and might be in the future; and they even like to think about how they might contribute to the possible changes. Peter Sloterdijk, in his great book, Critique of Cynical Reason, builds on a traditional Marxist idea by suggesting that we live in an age of 'enlightened false-consciousness;' that is a time in which people know the system is haywire, they know the elite are working against the general interests, but they are just too cynical to care, or have abandoned the idea that they can do anything about it. Modern friendships seem to reflect this idea and many people seem no longer interested in bonding with others for the intellectual stimulation and personal growth. More bread and circuses I guess. 

Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the decline in meaningful contact between people is reflective of the decline of meaningful relationships in society. To have relationship you have to be able to commit time to it. That commitment of time has to have value- not only for you but also as part of the values we hold dear in society. Spending time with a friend should not be seen as extra to our daily routines - it needs to be considered part of the routine. When I was in west africa I was struck by how much time was dedicated to the "greeting". I have since seldom witnessed that commitment to a greeting- indeed to relationship. Maybe in Africa they have something we have lost when it comes to human contact and relationship.