on the corner “Friendship and Facebook”

Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief

I just looked at my email.

I’ve had a number of “notifications” from Facebook which I inadvertently subscribed to a year ago in support of my grandchildren’s school. Ten or 11 notifiers want something. One person wants to give me a poke. A couple want to make suggestions, and 97 want to be my friend. I tried to navigate to the “poke” without success. If I’m going to use Facebook I guess I better learn how. Fortunately, I have several teachers here in my own house. But, very frankly, I don’t really have that much spare time to learn it and use it. My family life, my work at THQ, my university teaching and my activities at the corps have priority. Maybe later. Maybe much later.

Two email services are enough.

You know, Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Saverin, creators of this message sending monster and later participants in Zuckerberg vs. Saverin—(oops, maybe they aren’t friends)—have changed the way we communicate with one another, and, maybe, even the way we think. I also know they’ve made a lot of money. I read the other day that Zuckerberg is the fastest personal income generator of any of the billionaires.

Good for him.

I don’t want to sound negative about Facebook. It already has several imitators, but, let me tell you, I resent him co-opting the word “friend.”

This is a wonderful word.

The most quoted definition of a “friend” comes from Aristotle: a friend is “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” You see, it’s a spiritual connection, it’s time spent sitting in the shade with a friend on a warm summer day, neither saying a word, but having the greatest conversation imaginable. Friends enrich life, sweeten it, bring an inner confidence, demonstrate trust—and, as Aristotle also said, friends are a sure refuge in time of trouble.

I think Cole Porter got it right in his musical Anything Goes. We must like it, because it’s had about a half dozen revivals on Broadway since its 1934 debut. In the second act a couple of characters on this ocean liner crossing the Atlantic take pleasure in the bond that puts them together as they sing to each other Porter’s song, Friendship:


If you’re ever in a jam, here I am

            If you’re ever in a mess, S.O.S

            If you’re so happy you land in jail, I’m your bail

            It’s friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship

            When other friendships are soon forgot, ours will still be hot

            Ah, loddle doddle woof woof woof!

Friendship—a perfect blendship—a guaranteed place of refuge—unified openness that allows individuals the intimacy of sillyness, woof, woof, woof. True friendship demands a relationship built on trust and depth over time.

There’s no question that Facebook has had a significant impact on our culture. It facilitates the potential of rapid change. Whether that change is positive or negative is as yet undetermined. While it facilitates written cognitive connection, it also can isolate people when the Facebook addiction consumes them.

Facebook does a wonderful job providing connections. I don’t believe it can strengthen existing friendships. I don’t think it will facilitate making new friends, and I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna help me make bail.

Many people I know enjoy being on Facebook and reading about their friends and responding to messages sent—that’s its basic function. It, also, presents many opportunities for research into the culture: the norms that seem to be accepted; whatever traditional norms are abandoned; how the norms are changing; the language used, sometimes even in a “texting” idiom; the variation and unknown nature of a message sender’s age; and most of all, the speed and reach of the transmission.

The message once sent is irretrievable. It can’t be called back. When you hit the send button, there’s no second chance. It’s gone—on the wind—to the world. There’s no way to “explain” the communication; no way to read the non-verbal messages of either the sender or the receiver; no way to interpret the feelings triggered by the message.

There is a feeling of safety in sending a message. A confrontation can be as strong as the writer wishes. Praise can be as powerful or shallow as desired. The writer creates the message alone. It’s sent by machine. When it’s read is determined by the reader, and its impact on that reader, personally, may never be known.

A Facebook message activates our brain. It’s totally cognitive. We understand the words used. It’s almost impossible, however, to infer accurately the feeling tone experienced by either the message sender or receiver. For me, often the messages I read come across as clipped, short sentences—maybe ending with a question mark or an exclamation point—sometimes even a period, and sometime, nothing at all. The focus seems to be on the content. I don’t sense any affect.

I am blessed with riches beyond measure, immersed in the reality of family and friends. They send unspoken messages to me of safety and trust that bind us together with a cohesion both flexible and firm, tight yet freeing; empathic yet confrontive. I count my family among my most intimate friends. I sense no obligatory interaction, as I look around a crowded, noisy room and realize—they like each other—they’re friends.

I find it hard to think of that power word “friendship” without the following lyric by Porter, just a perfect blendship.


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