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Why Real-Life “Friends” Are Useless

April 7, 2011 31 comments

I once used to have, and strove to develop more, real-life friendships. But I gave up that pursuit years ago, and here is why..

In our contemporary world, real-life friendships are both hard to develop and more importantly- useless. It was not always like that, nor is it the case in many other cultures. So what is different about the current situation in affluent countries?

It comes down to many changes- both technological and social. Let us list them..

1. As I have said before, technological options such as cellphones, email, IMing, FaceBook, Twitter etc make connecting with people who are not in your physical vicinity easy. Therefore your real-life friends are often in competition with those who are accessible through technology.

The geographical mobility characteristic of our era also has no historical precedent. Therefore past real-life acquaintances who are online can now compete with those you can meet in real-life.

2. In most cultures, people who you befriended in real-life were mutually useful and somewhat trustworthy. However current cultural trends encourage, sanction and glorify a form of autistic sociopathy.

Throughout human history, people who screwed over their friends faced a very serious risk of social ostracism and other adverse consequences. Today, there are no negative consequences for such behavior and you might frequently be able to make a tidy profit by screwing over those who trust you. Just as woman friendly laws and jobs for women made divorce commonplace, an anonymous legalistic society has changed the cost-benefit analysis of screwing over people who trust you.

In my opinion, a society based on legalism rather than a viable social contract is inherently unstable. Such societies can appear to be rigid and orderly, but often collapse or implode in the face of unexpected stress.

3. One of more disturbing, and ultimately more destabilizing developments, in the face of such changes has been the tendency to blur the line between casual acquaintances and friends. Most real-life socialization is now ‘pretend friendly behavior’ with people we barely know, hate, are potential-adversaries of or just could not care about.

The downstream consequences of such disingenuous socialization is a situation where we are less likely to trust acquaintances than random non-threatening strangers. I cannot help but point out that this state of affairs is unprecedented in human history.

So what are the long-term consequences of such a system?

Other than obvious issues with loss of social cohesion under stress, it will make life miserable and uncertain for everyone involved. Beyond that, it is anyone’s guess..

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