Mark Trapp

Who needs Friendship? Nobody

That’s right: nobody. Of all the things that are necessary in life, Friendship is not one of them. Not even close.

To get to why this is the case, we need to get a little abstract and talk about two different types of affinities people have towards each other: one doesn’t produce Friendship, the other does.

Two types of affinity

The first one I’ll call neediness. Cheap Trick’s famous single sums neediness up: it’s a need to have someone, or anyone, pay attention to you. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: everyone needs to feel loved or recognized regularly. It gives us motivation and a will to succeed.

One negative for neediness is that it’s awfully one sided: I need something, you are providing that something, and I take that something. Not much in it for you, is there? We can sort of fake reciprocity by me giving you something you need in exchange for you giving me something I need, but it’s not really all that strong of a relationship. If I could find someone to give me what I need better, there goes our relationship.

You might’ve even been in relationships like that: friendships of convenience, or dating someone because there’s nobody better out there (yet). They’re not very deep, and not very satisfying, are they?

The second type of affinity I’m going to create a new word for: let’s call it giftiness. A good mental picture for this type of affinity would be the movie Pay it Forward: for those not familiar with the film, an adorable Haley Joel Osment comes up with a community project where people provide random, and quite generous, acts of charity in exchange for the benefactor of such acts promising to perform an equally generous act of charity for someone else in need, or “paying it forward” (instead of “paying it back”).

Why would anyone want to do that? It’s the right thing to do, and yeah, it’s really hard. As I talked about last week, it’s comparatively easier to do it for for real friends. This type of affinity is the basis for friendship: you care about a friend and help a friend out not because he’s going to give you something in return (or that you even need something in return), but because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s expected he’d do the same thing for his friends.

With these two different types of affinities in mind, let’s talk a little about today’s topic that’s been making its rounds:

Friendship is not the village bicycle

Mark O’Neill talked a little about the reciprocity necessary in social media:

A social network is all about networking and reciprocating. It’s all about talking to one another. But if you subscribe to someone and they don’t return the favour, that isn’t networking, that’s just being downright rude. It’s like standing in the middle of a street and talking to a brick wall. It also defeats the whole point of social networking in the first place.

This is a perfect example of neediness: paying attention to others with the expectation that they need to do the same for you. That isn’t Friendship: you’re not going to find anything satisfying or long-lasting in a relationship of mutual sharing of brands. What value is to be gained for either participant if neither person is really all that interested in the other?

In addition, how far do you go with it? What convoluted rule system do you need to come up with to ensure that a person is really networking with you (and not just fake networking)? You’ll spend more time wondering if your “friends” like you back and less time enjoying life.

A collection of feeds is not your friend

Steven Hodson and Jeremiah Owyang discussed today that Friendship is merely a means to access information. They all have their own takes on the same position, but Hodson puts it succinctly:

Social media and networking isn’t about friendship, friending et al. It is about the sharing of information and sometimes your information sucks and sometimes so does mine. I might not be interested in your information or you might not be interested in mine. That doesn’t change the fact that the sharing of information isn’t a mutual operation. We are placing to much value on the word ‘friend’ as being the connector of information. While I agree that friendship isn’t what gets you great information, it’s not like it has no value. His (and Owyang’s) reduction of social media to merely collections of news feeds is another type of neediness: one is only as good as what one can do for me. If you stop giving me stuff, you’re worthless.

In this reduction, they do social media a great disservice: social media isn’t just about getting the best information, but about getting the best information about those to whom you are connected. Social media doesn’t work without the social part.

Friendship: a disposition

Both sides of this discussion miss the point: Friendship isn’t a tool to be exploited, but a state one finds oneself in. You can, for example, take a liking to someone because they share your interests, but that’s not Friendship. You can let the world know that you’re friends with someone, but that declaration doesn’t create a Friendship.

In fact, it’s very hard to pinpoint when you start “being friends” with someone: it just sort of happens. You start caring for someone, or helping a person out, without any expectation that they’re going to help you out. At the same time, you find that the same person as taken a similar interest in you.

Social media helps you get the information that’s interesting to you: and part of that information involves your friends. Friends are items of interest in and of themselves.


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