Mark Trapp

Friendship in the digital world (Part 2)

Yesterday I mentioned three basic intuitions most people have about what Friendship is:

  1. Friends share interests
  2. Friends share interest in each other
  3. Friendship is stable

Today, I want to start off by talking about some basic intuitions about what Friendship isn’t: that is, while keeping our basic understand of Friendship in mind, what circumstances would we consider definitely not a case of Friendship?

What Friendship Isn’t – Example 1: Co-workers

In the real world, take a look at two co-workers in the office. They both share interests: each one is ostensively interested in the company and its workings (motivations for doing so aside). They both share an interest in each other: co-workers help each other out on projects all the time. And, for most people, the relationship is stable: it’s not like they’re both going to lose their jobs a day after meeting (well, in this thought experiment anyway).

But the two co-workers aren’t necessarily friends. They could be, but they don’t need to be: there’s nothing in the business relationship that seems to imply a friendship of any kind. So what’s different? Let’s take a look at one more example before getting into that:

What Friendship Isn’t – Example 2: Co-conspirators

Take two conspirators: maybe they’re plotting to assassinate a public figure, or maybe they’re planning a heist. In many ways, they share the same interests: committing a crime for some sort of gain. They share interest in each other: they need to know what each person’s role in the conspiracy, and how much they can rely on that person to complete their task. And the relationship is relatively stable: conspiracies take a lot of work and planning to execute successfully.

But immediately one thinks: there’s no way that this is the same sort of friendship we think about. Why? They’re in the relationship for personal gain. If one of the conspirators could complete the crime by themselves, they would: because they can’t, and their own personal interests coincide, they work together.

In the same respect, business relationships work the same way. If one could make the same amount of money and have the same business opportunities going it alone, one would.

When we talk about Friendship, however, personal gain isn’t in the cards. If a person is “using” one of his or her friends, we consider that person a “phony” or not really a friend to begin with. To inject a little social media into all these abstract concepts, there’s been a backlash to the idea of “fake following:” people feel cheapened and annoyed when they find out that someone isn’t really following following them. There’s something more to Friendship beyond just mutual satisfaction of personal interests.

Friendship is a Good Thing™

In fact, Friendship is a pretty good thing: I’d argue it’s one of the best things in life to experience. It’s not just a mere business arrangement, and it’s not just a conspiracy. So what’s that one thing that makes Friendship so special? To answer that, I want to go back to the three intuitions on Friendship and focus on the last one, that it’s stable.

In the two examples above, the relationships were stable as long as the interests of both parties were being met. Interests come and go: they’re realized or frustrated or just plain disappear. But friends tend to stick together through thick and thin: through good times and bad. The idea of a “fair weather friend” is oxymoronic: one’s not a “true” friend if they are just going to abandon people when the going gets tough.

So we need to find an interest that two people could share that just doesn’t go away, even in particularly tough times. There’s only one thing that does that: the Good.

What is “the Good?” It’s not some deity or Xenu or anything like that. It’s doing things because it’s the right thing to do. You help out a friend because it’s the right thing to do. You care about your friend because it’s the right thing to do. While you might meet someone and really hit it off due to a few interests, once friends, the relationship transcends those interests. It becomes a greater good.

So Friendship is a great thing not because of some gain in personal interest, but because two friends bring out better things in each other. They work for each other and with each other to be good. That’s the shared interest that makes Friendship truly stable, far and above any other type of mutual relationship.

Wrapping Up

This part had a lot of abstraction, but it’s important to talk about the importance of Friendship and how it relates to other similar ideas before we can really get into it’s application. Part 3 will bring this back down to Earth where we can start to think about how these concepts relate back to friendships in the digital world.


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