It is obvious that technology has mightily facilitated communication between people. Owing to the marvelous technological developments that have taken place, we are doing what was all but inconceivable a mere 25 years ago in terms of communicating with folks. But are friendships better today than friendships were 25 years ago? In the opposite direction, it is far from obvious that an affirmative answer is ever so appropriate to the question just asked.
As Aristotle understood companion friendship, individuals who are companion friends spend a tremendous amount of time together; and it is precisely because they spend a tremendous amount of time together that the companion friends come to have a tremendous sense of each other’s character. Aristotle correctly grasped that no story can take the place of friends actually witnessing one another’s behavior. For Aristotle, this meant that companion friends spend a lot of time in one another’s company. Alas, the telephone has made it possible for there to be tremendous communication between individuals even though they are not in one another’s physical presence, where the communication includes not just the words that each person utters to the other but also the tonality and hesitations and the quality of an utterance. For instance, an utterance can come across as extremely sincere or something that a person was very reluctant to say or as an instance of tremendous joy. And so on. This is especially so with companion friends talking to one another, since there is a tremendous bond between them.
Now, as we all know, texting is one of the great technological advancements. There can no doubt about it: Texting is a quite wonderful way for two individuals to communicate with one another without either individual disturbing anyone around her or him. Without a doubt, the benefits of texting are enormous. But there is a non-trivial downside to texting, namely that in effect sincerity or the lack thereof is absolutely inconsequential. Leslie can send a text to Mary in which she claims that she [Leslie] had a wonderful time at Mary’s party; and that claim is surrounded by a dozen simile-faces. Yet, Leslie is simply lying; for she thought that the party at Mary’s house was horrible. Now, to be sure, it is perfectly possible for a person to get away with such a lie while having a face-to-face conversation with an individual. But there can be no if, ands, and buts about the matter: It is much, much easier to get away with a lie via texting than it is via a face-to-face conversation with the person. For a face-to-face conversation with a person requires the right body language and tonality of voice, whereas texting does not require any of that.
So, an indisputable truth is that technology mightily facilitates a measure of dishonesty that would have been all but impossible a mere 25 years ago. Consequently, there is a quite poignant respect in which technology is undermining the existence of companion friendship.
The concluding point of the preceding paragraph can be put another way, namely as follows: Notwithstanding the extraordinary amount of communication via texting that takes place nowadays, there is not a shred of evidence that warrants the conclusion that, thanks to technology, friendships have come to be so very much richer than they used to be. For all the texting between individuals that takes place nowadays, there is not a scintilla of evidence that warrants the view that nowadays friendships are so very much richer than they were in the past.
Friendship is routinely one of the topics I take up in my course Ethics and Contemporary Issues. Alas, it is simply not the case that I am hearing richer and deeper and more insightful views about friendship than I heard 20-years ago. Nor am I hearing a sublime appreciation of the ideal of friendship that mightily exceeds the rich friendships that folks had in the past. Put another way: Notwithstanding the far greater amount of communication that takes place between individuals these days, there is little, if any reason, to believe that companion friendships nowadays have a depth and richness to them that they lacked in the past.
Indeed, my biggest worry is that owing to the tremendous amount of communication between individuals that is taking place by way of some form of technology rather than face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice telephone) communication, there may be far more self-deception with regard to whether a person has a rich friendship with an individual than was the case in the past. I fully grasp the point of adding a smiley face to a text-message. I have certainly done that myself. But no image of a smiley face can come even close to having the majesty and affirmation of a genuine smile from another. Hence, there can be no greater sign that humanity is in for a horrific decline than that the smiley face on devices has more leverage than the wonderful smile that flows from the interaction that is so mightily and rightfully occasioned by a person’s majestic and ever so genuine goodwill.
© 2016 Laurence Thomas