A Friend Indeed

It’s happened to everyone.

…Well, at least everyone with a Facebook account.

You know what I’m talking about. That moment when you’re looking at your Timeline (still despising Mark Zuckerberg for changing a perfectly reasonable layout) when you suddenly realize: you’ve lost a Facebook friend.

No matter how cynical we get, friendship is still a pretty big deal. We need friends. Without friends there would be no shoulders to cry on after a bad break-up, no one to tell secrets and start rumors about other friends to, and more importantly, no wingmen (or wingwoman) to “jump on the grenade” for you when your head to the bar to get your “f**k on”. Friendship is so important that this TV show not only existed, but made its stars very famous:

Philosophers as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers recognized the importance of friendship. Aristotle wrote,

“Friendship is a virtue, and the most necessary thing…Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things of life.”

The philosopher Epicurus also wrote,

“Of all the means which wisdom gives us to ensure happiness throughout ours lives, by far the most important is friendship.”

Having friends allows us to take adorable pictures like this.

… and groupshots like this.

… and watch this on Saturday mornings

We know that our friends not only comfort and support us, but also teach, guide, and influence what kind of people we are (which explains why our parents never wanted us to play with those kids). Our friends are our mirrors; they reflect the kind of people we are and want to become.

NOTE: If you’re really interested in what professional philosophers have to say about friendship (and I seriously hope you aren’t) you might want to skim over read this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/

But of course, when we read what Aristotle, Epicurus, and philosophers in general have to say about friendship, the kind of friends they’re talking about are the ones we actually interact with — the people we say that we know. This, of course, is the distinction between our real world friends and the friends we have online. Our online friends increasingly are people that we’ve never met. Many of our online friends are people that we will never meet.

You might want to add a “thank god” after that.

So what’s so troubling when we realize that we’re the victims of a Facebook extraneous friend purge? It obviously can’t be that we will feel the sting of our 308th Facebook friend’s absence. We won’t lament the lack of the intimacy that Aristotle argues is necessary for authentic friendships. So what is it? Why does it still hurt to lose a Facebook friend?

Ok, it hurts me. I’ll admit that.

I think that I know the answer.

We don’t really miss the friendship. That was non-existent to begin with. What we miss is the number. We’re a species that tells itself that bigger is better and the number of our Facebook friends is no exception. Most of my Facebook friends have 100 friends or more. A couple of my Facebook friends have maxed out their alloted friend capacity. Until this afternoon, I had 69 friends. (yeah, I know. A painfully pathetic minute number). Right now, I have exactly 68 Facebook friends — because one of my “friends” unfriended me. Now, I didn’t know the person personally, so I know that Aristotle would say that this person and I were never really authentic friends to begin with. And really, I wasn’t too terribly upset by the unfriending (ok, maybe a little miffed), but what was really on my mind was now I only have 68 Facebook friends.

This, of course, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It’s not that I’m losing real friends. I’ve still got those. But the reason why I was so upset about losing the friendship of someone who I’ve never met and most likely will never actually meet is because that number, my Facebook friend number, means something. It doesn’t count your friends, you know. You know what that number does? It tells the world how popular you are. That’s why everyone else can see it. In a world where fame is considered the most addictive drug of all (wait, I think that was a quote from the opening credits of Politically Incorrect. But hey, it works) our Facebook friends list becomes our own Me Appreciation Society; an exact count of our admirers who view and respond our posted pics like we gawk at the pictures of high-profile celebs (and the cast of Jersey Shore) in checkout counter tabloids, and literally “like”what we have to say, whether we’re commenting on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign or announcing what we’re cooking for dinner.

If this our Facebook friends are really about our need for adulation, then we’re in some deep philosophical poop, my friends. George Santayana wrote that the “Love of fame is the highest form of vanity”. And like Narcissus, if we spend too much time admiring our own reflection, we’re likely to drown.

Of course, I realize that although I may have lost a Facebook friend, I did not lose my sense of irony.

After all, what better platform to deride the philosophical dangers of internet friendships and narcissism than a blog?

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