Friends and Other Traveling Companions

Friendship, as you may or may not be aware, is on the hotlist for extinction. 

I first encountered the idea in the New York Times where the unthinkable question was posed: Do your friends actually like you?

Research has confirmed that someone who you name as your friend is, likely as not, going to fail to reciprocate. It isn’t that they dislike you, although of course that could be the truth. More likely, they just don’t have the bandwidth to connect with you closely enough to put you into their innermost circle. Pandemics and social unrest only narrow that bandwidth even further.

Psychologist Sherry Turkle, who has studied the effects of technology on human behavior for decades, has admitted her discomfort with how it is affecting relationships. In her TED talk, she says, “We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere – connected to all the different places they want to be.” 

How can we achieve both? Do we want both? Is it possible to have them simultaneously?

Life is hard, technology is simple. And for most people, the easier-traveled road is the likely one taken.

For me, the eternal researcher, the road has always been to ask questions and to hope that others will want to join me in the search for answers.  Here are a few I’ve been asking myself.

  • Social robots work because we accept ‘pretend empathy’ – is this good? Bad? Ugly?
  • As we expect more of social technology, do we expect less of each other?
  • Do we want connection if we can have no control over it?
  • When it feels like no one is listening to you, what do you do?
  • If friendship nears extinction, what will become of love?

Maybe we can start by deciding what our shared definitions are, not only of friendship but of empathy, connection, control, and love.

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