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Transacting friendship

September 25, 2007

In Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism, an article in the latest issue of The New Atlantis, Christine Rosen provides a wide-ranging and well-balanced survey of the social networking phenomenon. What I found most interesting was her perceptive reading of the subtle but disturbing "bureaucratization" of friendship promoted by Facebook, MySpace, and other such sites:

In its traditional sense, friendship is a relationship which, broadly speaking, involves the sharing of mutual interests, reciprocity, trust, and the revelation of intimate details over time and within specific social (and cultural) contexts. Because friendship depends on mutual revelations that are concealed from the rest of the world, it can only flourish within the boundaries of privacy; the idea of public friendship is an oxymoron.

The hypertext link called “friendship” on social networking sites is very different: public, fluid, and promiscuous, yet oddly bureaucratized. Friendship on these sites focuses a great deal on collecting, managing, and ranking the people you know ... The structure of social networking sites also encourages the bureaucratization of friendship. Each site has its own terminology, but among the words that users employ most often is “managing. [A Pew survey] found that “teens say social networking sites help them manage their friendships.” There is something Orwellian about the management-speak on social networking sites: “Change My Top Friends,” “View All of My Friends” and, for those times when our inner Stalins sense the need for a virtual purge, “Edit Friends.” With a few mouse clicks one can elevate or downgrade (or entirely eliminate) a relationship.

This strikes me as another example of how business's automation ethic is moving into the more intimate sphere of our social lives as more of our relations become mediated by software. As Rosen goes on to point out, "it would be foolish to suggest that people are incapable of making distinctions between social networking 'friends' and friends they see in the flesh." Still, when you read the words of one young woman quoted by Rosen - “I consistently trade actual human contact for the more reliable high of smiles on MySpace, winks on Match.com, and pokes on Facebook" - you have to wonder where we're headed. What can't be reduced to a series of transactions, an exercise in process management?


"What can't be reduced to a series of transactions, an exercise in process management?"

Well, if the ad for "The world's hottest avatars" which appears next to your article is anything to go by, the answer is "not a lot". I think I'll be installing adblocker plus.

Posted by: tom s. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 11:48 PM

@tom s -- I occasionally turn my adblockers off to see the "context sensitive" ads appearing on posts like this. It works great on these "meta-/reflective-" posts.

I'm trying to figure out montana business loans on my comment preview page (Im not coming in from MT). I clicked for fun. I hope the advertiser (whoever they were) learns their lesson.

Also "yourerp.org" is a link spam site, so way to help goose google's earnings! Ridiculous.

Shocking how people are willing to flea-market their "brand" like this. And you are basically paying Google to advertise themselves (I don't think adsense allows you to leave off "Google" from the ads by google portion, and if they do, consider doing it for your hapless sponsors, the ones that happen to be legitimate anyway).

Nick *can't* be making money from the ads here, so why do this? Fixed sponsors look less-desperate, and certainly more relevant (and probably more-profitable)!

Ruined a perfectly-good article! Adblock plus back on...

Posted by: dubdub [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2007 03:07 AM

This begs for -


Posted by: yish [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2007 07:03 AM

Process management might certainly be the goal but when focus on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow becomes the overriding destination the journey surely becomes secondary!

Tens of millions of young people who provide course fodder for the plumping up of monster ventures, but unbeknown sell their souls to an ever widening group of circling sharks.

The ultimate end will likely be the devastation of more forests for personalized junk mail that goes unopened into the landfills and super gig drives crammed with content right clicked to where-ever, never to see the light of a screen!


Posted by: alan [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2007 10:04 AM

It's important to establish order in your circle of friends, from time to time.
See my small cartoon.


Posted by: Oliver Widder [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2007 05:20 PM

On page 44 of Wikinomics (a deeply impressive book IMO) it says "the one thing you cannot commoditize is a relationship". Too true. The logical monetization of a social networking site is an Amway scheme. Yecch!

Posted by: bernard lunn [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2007 09:15 PM

Didn't we trade the warmth of the social visit (with all the subtleties of how to hand the card) and what would make “Madam” unable to see you for the metallic and cold relations through the horrible phone tubes? And all these peasant girls turned phone-person that we had to deal with to now reach a friend! Thank God this is over now. . .

Posted by: Bertil [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2007 12:03 AM

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