Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Ties That Bind

How would you define the friendships in your life? As ties that bind you to others or as superficial bonds that can be easily torn apart? Aristotle, the famous philosopher, defined friendship as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Is such a connection still valid today? In a word - NO. Instant communication has blurred the edges and diluted the contract. Social networking sites have usurped the traditional friendship and turned it into a numbers game. A popularity contest judged solely on the sheer quantity of friends rather than their individual merits. The more friends you claim to have the better – you don't even have to like them. Like the beautiful trophy wife or girlfriend hanging off a distinguished gent's arm, their face is just another score on the board.

I'm no stranger to these sites, but my usage is governed by caution. The initial novelty wore off and was quickly replaced with irritation. Social networking became yet another chore on my list of things to do. A love-hate relationship, I even deactivated my account for a while and felt liberated from its vice-like grip. Now I use this technological tool to my advantage and don't get drawn into broadcasting my every-moment status to an online community. I'm not interested in what others had for breakfast or if they're facing a what-to-wear dilemma for the day ahead. We have become addicted to publicizing our “real” time actions like TV sports commentators. The big question is why? Could the answer lie in our need to know and be known? Not content to know who we are, we want recognition from others in order to prove our own self-worth. It's both a desperate and voyeuristic activity to instantly connect with others. This desire for instantaneous friendship however comes at a price: can the tapping of keys in truth equate to a face-to-face friendship? Can the people you communicate with online really be called friends?

A friendship suggests emotional safety and comfort, but can these qualities be applied to all different types of bonds? I don't believe they can. We come into regular contact with the same people every day of our lives – at work, in the local coffee shop, at the gym etc, and may even consider some of these people friends, but if the activity suddenly ceased tomorrow, would a friendship exist? Would you even care? A deeper connection is established in time and on more than just a shared office environment or interest. I, on the other hand, am quite content with frivolous face-to-face encounters. I don't have friendships, I have acquaintanceships on a need-to-know basis. A social butterfly, I can be relied upon, but I like to flit from one group of people to another. I enjoy knowing people from different backgrounds and perspectives. I gain both socially and vicariously from these interactions. Am I being inconsistent with my views by not developing these acquaintances further? Yes, but I know the difference. Like a crime novel revealing the “who dunnit” at the end, I like to retain that bit of mystery.

I used to think I was an open book and a good friend, but it turns out I'm not. I'll allow you to know aspects of my personality, but you'll never know the whole of me. It's a bind too far in an area marked unreservedly out of bounds. Aristotle's definition of friendship between two individuals may once have been true, but in this technological age perhaps we would do better to attempt to make friends with ourselves.