In a recent blog for Gadgetwise of the New York Times, Jenna Wortham suggests social networking tools like Facebook help us better manage our friendships. Online interactions with those we care about make us long for and enjoy more the face-to-face conversations we have with them. So how did we manage to cultivate longstanding friendships that have stood the test of time in the pre-cyberfriend era?

On the other hand, I especially appreciate the line from a 2010 Jimmy Kimmel show, “Remember five years ago when no one was on Facebook and you didn’t know what the guy you took high school biology with was having for lunch? Remember how that was…fine?”

Two recent articles in the New York Times have raised the question of whether or not the daily interactions on Twitter and Facebook are trivializing our real world friendships by making it easier to do things like wish our friends a happy birthday online and send a tweet instead of picking up the phone, effectively diminishing our desire to have actual, face-to-face conversations.

For me, the exact opposite has happened. The stream of good-natured remarks, links and comments that I exchange online have only served to heighten my craving for in-person interactions at the end of the day. Laughing instead of typing LOL inside a Google Chat box (even if things we’ve read that day online often fuel a large part of the conversation) feels like a necessary antidote after a long day of silently staring at a computer screen and monitoring news alerts on my phone.

Aristotle claims that there are three types of friendship:

  1. Friendship based on utility.
  2. Friendship based on pleasure.
  3. Friendship based on virtue.

Friendship based on utility is friendship that is useful for each of the parties. There is nothing wrong with this kind of friendship, necessarily, as long as there is respect and mutuality, but it does not endure because the usefulness does not endure.

Friendship based on pleasure occurs when I enjoy the company of another person. Perhaps she is funny, or he is enjoyable to be around for some other reason. In such a relationship, when the pleasure ends, the friendship ends as well.

Friendship based on virtue is the highest form of friendship, according to Aristotle. Here, the two people are both good, that is, they are morally virtuous individuals. Each loves what is good in himself, and what is good in his friend. In loving a friend one loves what is good for oneself, because these types of friends assist each other in living a virtuous life. They have a shared vision of a good and fulfilling human life, and help each other in their pursuit of such a life. Such a relationship requires time, familiarity, trust, mutual goodwill, and, of course, virtue. This kind of friendship is also pleasant and useful, but in the right way. So friendship based on virtue, “perfect friendship”, as Aristotle calls it, encompasses the other two species, but in the right way. This kind of friendship endures, because goodness endures.

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of experiencing a friendship based on virtue. A childhood friend, Madeleine Castillo, and I were able to connect due to Facebook, have the ability to have that face-to-face connection, enjoy seeing our children play together as once we did many, many years ago. If anything, Facebook has helped me sift through the friends I’m happy with keeping at arm’s length by offering the perfect vehicle to do it. Instead of making obligatory phone calls or dinner dates to check in with old college classmates and former colleagues, I can happily send a message through Facebook instead, before powering down my laptop and dash off to drinks with the treasured few I’d rather see in person.

 

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