We live in an age when friendship has become both all and nothing at all. Already the characteristically modern relationship, it has in recent decades become the universal one: the form of connection in terms of which all others are understood, against which they are all measured, into which they have all dissolved. Romantic partners refer to each other as boyfriends and girlfriends. Spouses boast they are best friends. Parents urge their young children and beg their teenage ones to think of them as friends. Teachers, clergy, and even bosses seek to mitigate and legitimate their authority by asking those they oversee to regard them as friends. As the anthropologist Robert Brain has put it, we’re friends with everyone now.
Yet what, in our brave new mediated world, is friendship becoming? The Facebook phenomenon, so sudden and forceful a distortion of social space, needs little elaboration. (If we have 768 “friends,” in what sense do we have any?) Yet Facebook and MySpace and Twitter—and whatever we’re stampeding for next—are just the latest stages of a long attenuation. They have accelerated the fragmentation of consciousness, but they didn’t initiate it. They have reified the idea of universal friendship, but they didn’t invent it. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that once we decided to become friends with everyone, we wou… >>>