Friendship in the modern age

Have we now reached a point where our friendships are deteriorating?


VICTORIA (CUP) – In our over-mediated social landscape our understanding of friendship is growing thinner than a Ralph Lauren model. As our global community diversifies, we diversify and reshape. Our relationships take the brunt of it, whether we realize it or not.

Before status updates on Facebook gleefully informed us what our friends were doing up to the minute, we had different ideas about camaraderie. In a historical context there were several classical ideas of friendship to co-opt. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the paradigm really ruptured.

Industrialization displaced the rabble from their traditional settings of community and family and packed them, like a Brazilian bikini, into urban centres. It was here that friendship emerged to settle and soothe the new uncertainty of modern life.

The radical changes of family life since industrialization – particularly in recent decades – has made friendships far-reaching. With the breakdown of traditional families and extended family dynamics displaced, we now turn to our friends for furtherance.

Former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson once suggested that “friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” While it’s lovely to hear winning platitudes and odes to friendship, does such schmaltzy syrup stick to modern views of fraternization?

Friends can fulfill their function by boosting our ego, supporting our feelings and validating what we think. But the busier our lives get, the more demanding we are to have fast and frictionless friendships.

“No man is a failure who has friends, unless his friends are failures,” snapped satirist Stephen Colbert on his popular program, The Colbert Report. But his comment is almost too candid. Have we now reached a point where our friendships are deteriorating?

With social networking sites all the rage, are we entering a new stage in our relationships? If Facebook gleefully informs you that you have 718 friends, what’s that saying, exactly?

Nowadays a night out at the pub might find you twiddling your thumbs while everyone at your table is busy using theirs to frantically text people who are probably sitting at tables in other pubs doing the exact same thing. Should we applaud the way friendship is being integrated into our futuristic, hyper-connected, electronic lives?

What can we say about the future of friendships that won’t make us fidgety? Appreciating the people in our lives is a great place to start. High-bandwidth correspondence certainly has its place, but is no substitute for the real deal.

We are all social animals that crave a certain degree of companionship. As long as we can remain well affected we needn’t be too tormented in our digital-age digs.

As for the company we keep, real or electronic, consider something St. Francis of Assisi said: “Seek rather to love than to be loved.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2010)

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