Friday, March 29, 2019

#88 / Disembodied Friends?

Stephen T. Asma, a professor of philosophy, has been thinking a lot about "digital friendships." He is not sold on the idea:

In the end there are three possibilities regarding friendship and digital life. First, digital life replicates all of the essential criteria of friendship, so there’s nothing to worry about. I sincerely doubt that. Alternatively, digital life fills and absorbs waking life time so that people do not engage in paradigm cases of friendship (like sports, collective arts, free-range childhoods, etc.). In this way, digital life contributes to certain kinds of social isolation. Or last, digital life produces false friendships (because they are relatively disembodied). In other words, young people do not know that they lack real friends.

To me, it is the "disembodied" thing that is most important. According to Facebook, I have over 3,000 online friends. Some of them I actually do know. I feel friendly towards them all, and as I said yesterday, I strongly believe that I would find virtually all of them, in a real-life meeting, to demonstrate "honesty, basic human decency, kindness, and concern for others." 

I have to confess to being a kind of Facebook fan, and I tend to dismiss those who make fun of the supposed "unreality" of the connections found on that platform, and on other online sites. If you read Asma's column to the end - he is mainly talking about gaming sites - he seems to end up in about the same place. 

All that said, I do want to insist on the ultimate inadequacy of our "disembodied" connections. The "online world" is a world that we create, a human artifact, but we ultimately live in the World of Nature, a world into which we are all born and in which we live and die. We are "embodied" in flesh, and we know both the greatnesses and the failures of our flesh-based lives.

The marvels of our technology can never supplant the world that ultimately sustains our life.  If we are not careful, we might forget that. 

Celebrating online friendships, as I do, I nonetheless remain convinced that we will do far better "knocking on doors," not "going online," as we search out the friendships that will sustain our lives, and that can help us forge a politics that can redeem our failing world. 

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