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Why Facebook Isn't Helping Your Friendships

ThumbsDownWe often make the most important decisions for the most impractical reasons.

I don't mean “impractical” as in “bad” or “imaginary” reasons, but rather idealistic reasons. A man doesn’t propose marriage to a woman because she smiles this way or talks that way; he proposes because all of heaven and earth have aligned for one brilliant moment to light the way forward, a way that leads to the altar and the wonderful world beyond. Later, when asked why he loves his wife, he may mutter some comment about her being a keen wit or a good cook. But those practicalities didn’t bend his knee, only the cosmic certainty of fate and truth did.

So the reason I left Facebook is entirely different from the reason I continue to stay away. I’ll explain this in a bit, but first let’s turn to the cosmic, to philosophy.

Behind every action is an implied philosophy, and every philosophy worthy of the name expects action. Behind logging onto a social network is the implied belief that the social can graft onto the digital, that relationships can be sustained through cyberspace. When I decided to leave Facebook, I was struck by the revelation that this is impossible.

Among the claimed “virtues” of Facebook are ease of communication, and more manageable friendships. The virtues of friendship, however, spring from its difficult communication and from its unmanageability. No one sharing troubles with a friend wants it to be easier; the difficulty is precisely the point. Friendship is a good because friendship is demanding. A surprise visit might be unmanageable, but it opens the way to the sublime sharing of laughter between friends. The deepest sighs and the loudest laughs are the red meat and wine of friendship, and Facebook throws away these heights and depths for the purpose of ease and comfort.

What Facebook lacks is precisely what Facebook promises: Faces. The human face exerts a spiritual pull, a profile does not. The human face reminds you of your vulnerability, a profile only reminds you of your autonomy. Roger Scruton's account of the face goes far deeper than I can here.You know how difficult it is to extricate yourself from uncomfortable or annoying conversations in person. It is remarkably easy to do so on Facebook chat or in the comments block. Another person’s face touches your humanity and demands an empathetic response. Why give this away? A world of people isolated from real faces is an anxious world indeed, and you can read Infinite Jest for a glimpse. An anxious world is a world open to totalitarian rule, and you can read Brave New World to see the result.

The virtues of Facebook aren’t virtues at all. They promise to make friendship easy and comfortable. But take away the uncomfortable, and you are left with the inhuman.


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