Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Divisive connections

Despite being past midnight and fighting the fatigue inherent in the celebrating of July 4th, I have thoughts running around my head that need out. On the way back from fireworks I had a conversation with a friend about the modern nature of friendships and connections. This is a topic I've thought about more frequently as of late.

The last few weeks I've been plagued with these feelings of dissatisfaction regarding the modern face of socialization. Last year I remember someone commenting about how we've be come so distant to those around us in favor of other connections. The example this person used was when class got out. Amongst the rush to get to the next class, many pull out their phones and connect to someone not present rather than interact with those around them. I thought this was an interesting point but didn't mull over it too much.

Last year was also the year I broke down and signed on to facebook. While intrigued by the concept of facebook, I became increasingly more dissatisfied as my number of friends crept higher and higher. Who were these people? People would add me as their friend, and yet somehow we would never communicate over facebook. Who doesn't communicate with their friends? As my "friends" increased, my activity on facebook decreased. I became overwhelmed with the deluge of information in my newsfeed, information about people I was really not emotionally invested in.

While technology has helped us connect as a society, it has also weakened the bonds of friendship. We've spread ourselves too thin as we try to please every one of our 256 friends on facebook. Personal investments such as visits or letters are quickly being replaced with thoughtless wall posts and pokes. With our new greatly expanded social circles, we find it difficult to devote much attention and concern into any one individual. We just do not have enough to go around. Neither do we expect it as much from our friends, for we now have a far greater number of sources from which to draw. It has never been easier to be a "friend" than it is now.

While the number of friends we have has increased, the numerator of personal attention we are capable of has not. We can still only do and care so much. I think of Bilbo's description of feeling as though he is like butter spread too thinly over a slice of bread. Perhaps we've spread ourselves too thin.

In an attempt to strengthen the meaning of friendship, I resolve to invest my self more into fewer venues. I deleted 138 of my 256 friends on facebook. Not because of any personal feelings, but precisely because of a lack of personal feelings lately directed towards them. If I am not putting in the time and effort into a friendship through communication, how can I deserve the title of friend?

While I think technology has done much to connect the world, I worry that in connecting, we've neglected our responsibility as friends. Our portfolios are so diverse that we're suffering in our comprehension of the concepts of taking risks, sacrificing, and displaying loyalty.

To my friends, thank you for our friendship. I hope that by investing myself more, I will be able to see the returns in a fulfilling friendship built on trust, concern, and service. Here's to the prospect of closer-knit friendships.


J. L. A. said...

I very much agree with and like your blog entry.

It is kind of a funny thing you mention. Do you believe that in relationships the marginal returns on investments of time/energy actually increase for most people? Like, if I invest twice as much time and energy into a friendship, will that friendship be more than twice as valuable to me? Or would I get more satisfaction for my time/energy by investing it in a new, additional friendship?

With many things, the marginal returns increase at first and then decrease after a certain point. In the case of the manufacture of a good, for example, one would expect that the cost of producing the first unit of that good would be more than the additional cost required to produce the second. However, after a point one's effect on the prices of that good in the market and his use of resources make it so that if one were to double production (or double the amount one spends on production) he would not double the revenues that he achieves.

Do you believe that people are thus not allocating their emotional energy and time efficiently and could maximize their utility by investing the small amounts of time currently spent in starting new friendships into their existing friendships?

Also, do you believe that there is an advantage to having many, many friends because one can sort-of filter them and make sure that he spends his energy on the people who are most compatible with and useful to him?

I don't. I find that the people with whom I spend a lot of time tend to be the people I like and consider my friends. The extent of our friendship seems to depend much more on proximity and time invested than than it is to how similar or dissimilar I perceive them to be. Although, I think that effect tends to dominate within certain regimes.

Finally, do you believe tools like facebook help us to remember our old friends and network with them? I mean, maybe two people are not friends, but if they ever decide to become friends, won't it be nice of the computer to have kept track of them? I mean, what if you go into a field where you actually need a contact? Wouldn't it be great to look through your facebook friends and find someone in your field who can be your in and then increase the amount of time/energy you spend on that person? I mean, maybe being "facebook friends" is more a way to just remember how you met people.

Also, what do you think of famous people who need lots of friends to get where they are? I mean, people like politicians who remember hundreds of names and who can, because of their status, give otherwise inconsequential people the feeling that they are their friends? I mean any audience at the white house with any sitting U. S. president would be considered a big deal to a regular person and would probably engender strong loyalty toward the executive who had to sacrifice very little to win such "friends," but would enjoy a lot of the sort of treatment that these people would normally reserve for their friends. Are they more capable of having friends? Do they still derive enormous emotional satisfaction from having so many close "friends" many of whom would be willing to give them thousands of dollars? Do such people have to have a special tolerance for vacuous relationships? Does your unwillingness to maintain largely dormant facebook friendships effectively disqualify you from seeking higher office?

arkangel said...

Yes and no...