In my last post, I began thinking about how instantaneous communication platforms (ICPs) such as phones, Skype, social media might affect our understanding of the nature of friendship. Now, I’d like to consider how these things – social media in particular, but not exclusively – might affect our practice of friendship in ways that we would do well to understand and maybe guard against.
The first and most obvious one, as anyone anywhere will say, is that we spend a lot more time on screens even among our friends. It’s common to see a group of people apparently sitting together, all glancing or staring at their phones while still [maybe] talking. I don’t want to gripe about this; but I do want to think about what this means for our interactions.
In short, our friendships are almost always “joined” by the nth party of our technology. If we actively text and Tweet while chatting, by definition we cannot give our full attention to our friends. Part of us lies elsewhere. Whether we actively think it or not, we assume that it’s okay not to commit our entire personal resources to a friendship interaction; my distracted presence, my incomplete presence, is sufficient.
At the very least, this would seem to hinder a rich sharing of mind and soul that ought to be part of deep friendship. I can imagine Martin Buber (“I/Thou) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“Life Together”) each lurching in their graves at the thought.
A second, related consequence is that ICPs risk making all personal interactions shallower and more entertainment-based. If we train ourselves to think in Tweet-sized dollops of thought and to expect titillation at every third link, we risk losing conversational depth and the willingness to discuss topics at length. I know people who speak largely in memes and whose friendship sounds like an acted-out Facebook wall:
“Check out this video!” (pulls out phone)
“Hilarious! Look what I saw on Instagram yesterday!” (scrolls down Instagram wall)
And so on.
I’m all for laughter and I’m all for fun in friendship – but ICP-patterned thought precludes the deep, serious conversation and the patience of talking a subject through.
With these potential dangers in mind, here are some thoughts on cultivating friendship above the ICP level:
1) Have “tech-less time” with your friends.
Hokey, I know, but I bet this would work. Carve out a certain amount of time where phones and computers are off and hidden and exist together.
2) Challenge yourself to have a sustained conversation on one “serious” subject.
Again, hokey, and this may not appeal to other people; but it would probably benefit us (me) to challenge ourselves to this with our friends. Let’s talk about our family backgrounds for half an hour; let’s spend an hour discussing God, or the meaning of life, or something else foundational. My gut feeling is that this would do much to enrich a friendship.