Does anyone have any friends any longer?
Everyone thinks they do, but I don’t think they do. I haven’t seen a real friendship between two other people in years. Not that I believe when I see it.
It’s beginning to dawn on me that the information age has killed friendship. Facebook has killed friendship. People who say they’re “friends” now are using an anachronistic term to apply to something else, in place of the thing that no longer exists.
© Aron Hsiao / 2000
First off, everyone knows everything about everyone else now. Or at least, everything anyone is willing to present. There’s nothing left to discover in interaction. There are no more surprises. There are no more heart-to-hearts. There is no more mystery. The feature bullets for the products on the shelf are printed clearly, readily legible.
Second, and more perniciously, everyone has changed. The darker and more interesting dimensions of selves were deleted sometime between ten and twenty years ago. Everyone has bleached the surprising and the mysterious and the dark things away; everyone has worked hard to ensure that they are their best Facebook self, not just on Facebook, but everywhere—because of course everywhere is now Facebook. Third spaces are gone. Hell, first and second spaces are gone. “Cyberspace” (remember that term?) is what’s left. It’s as sterile now as we thought it was then, only it’s been so long since we experienced anything else that we’ve forgotten. We’re fish swimming in the ocean.
Do people have souls any longer? No, not really. They don’t have souls. They don’t have sad days that aren’t ironic or stylish or overwrought in some presentably performative way. They don’t sit and wonder about what is to become of themselves in silence. They don’t save these questions for friends.
Everyone’s been cleansed. There are no friends left, only personas. This leaves us longing for something we can’t even remember well enough any longer to describe. Something that’s been lost, gone out of society. Something ineffable and human.
This is the source of a bunch of problems. I’ve said this before, but I need to double and triple down about all of it. I was wrong, they were right. My research had a significant flaw that I knew about but thought I could bracket away with careful framing—it didn’t have any values attached to it, only choices as self-evident action for immediate preferences, as though immediate preferences mean anything at all in the deeper sense.
Information technology and social media are destroying the things that make life worth living. That make other humans worth knowing.
Our values are all wrong. We’re bleaching the entire world, and smiling superficially while we do it.