Friendship in the Age of Facebook: Rory Varrato at TEDxGrandviewAve

Translator: Mohand Habchi
Reviewer: Denise RQ I’m faced with the perennial problem one has when confronted with a brilliant
and a beautiful crowd such as this, and that is, I have so much
I’d like to talk with you about and no much time to do it in. So I apologize if I move quickly, but I have full faith
that you’ll have no problem keeping up. I want to begin with a sort
of Socratic confession. As many of you probably know, the Greek philosopher Socrates
didn’t claim to have any sort of special knowledge or expertise
that made him any wiser than anyone else. On the contrary, he thought
that whatever wisdom he may have had, stemmed solely from the fact
that he simply knew what he didn’t know. Which is to say he was ignorant,
but he was aware of his ignorance. And he was willing to ask the questions that needed to be asked
in order to remedy it. And he pretty much never succeeded in terms of finding
any final answer or ‘Truths’. But, that didn’t matter because the value lay
in the questioning itself. And so, it’s in that spirit
in which I wish to proceed here today. And the question that I want to ask you is one that I first asked of myself
a little over a year ago. And it’s something that you’re going to probably have
two immediate responses to. One, you’re going to feel mildly insulted, and two, you’re going to think that you’ve
an immediate and obvious answer to it. And that question is:
do you have any friends? If you’re anything like me,
your immediate reaction to that question is, “Well, yeah. I’ve friends.
I have a lot of friends. In fact, I have probably
more friends than you.” (Laughter) But, that’s a kind
of a knee-jerk reaction. It doesn’t really tell us very much. And for me, that was
an unsatisfactory answer, I wanted to dig a little deeper. So the question then became: do you have any friends
with whom you are not Facebook friends? Or with whom you do not engage
in any social media interaction at all? OK, this is a little more interesting. Not that the answer to that question
is particularly interesting, but the fact that it can even be posed
suggests that there’s a tension between our real-world relationships
and the online world. It’s something that’s worth exploring. Is there or ought there to be a difference
between online and offline friendship? What has friendship become
in the age of Facebook? For me, being a student of History
and of Political Theory, my first inclination
when asking these types of questions is to look backwards, and what others have thought
about them in the past, and to see what I can learn from them. So, I’ll have to apologize again, but I want to bring out my second
Greek philosopher of the day, Aristotle. And Aristotle thought
that there were three types of friendship. Friendship of utility, which is
basically the type of relationship where individuals simply use one another
as a means to an end so we could think today of it,
perhaps as a business relationship. Something of this nature. Second type of friendship
is friendship of pleasure where individuals
engage in a relationship purely because they drive
some sort of pleasure from one another. And that’s where their relationship
begins and ends. So we could think of kind
of casual acquaintanceships. Something like players on team sports,
or members of a book club. Something of that nature. Finally, and most importantly, we arrive at true friendship,
or friendship of virtue. And this is the real deal. This is the type of friendship
that’s created through sustained and intimate
shared activity that occurs over time, to the point, where, ideally, you truly come
to identify with your friend as an extension of yourself. Their happiness is your happiness.
Their sadness is your sadness. Their problems are your problems.
Their good is your good. And if that sounds a lot like love,
that’s because it pretty much is. The Greeks had a much broader conception
of love than we do today. And this particular type
was called “philia”. Through this type of intimate friendship
we can develop a sense of obligation. And this is key
because with this sense of obligation, we begin to be willing to make
sacrifices for other people. What I mean by obligation and sacrifices is your willingness to make
a small sacrifice of your own in order to better your friend,
to increase their happiness not simply because
you feel that in so doing you may get something back from them
in return down the road but rather because you truly identify
with them as an extension of yourself. By helping them out, you help yourself, and this how friendship becomes important
for politics and society in general, because through this sense of obligation,
we are able to better improve our society. We develop alongside
this sense of obligation virtues that we supposedly value in a good liberal, democratic,
society in which we live. Virtues like toleration, cooperation,
a willingness to make concessions, the ability to see things
from others’ perspectives. In a world in which we face
increasingly global problems, we need to find a way to relate to others at this level of intimacy
that we feel for our friends, because how else
can we ever solve problems that transcend the boundaries
of nation, or city, and state? Things like climate change, world poverty, world hunger, human rights violations. So in order to better explain
this concept to you, I want to make my third and final stop
on my philosophy world tour with the Roman statesman Cicero, who had popularized the conception
of the individual’s position in the world that is best explained
with this diagram here. In the center of the picture,
you have the individual, yourself. You’re surrounded by your family
and friends at the most intimate level; these are the people
with whom you’re closest to. From there you expand to the city, people you still identify with
and feel close to, but of course, not quite as close
as you feel with your friends and family. And this loss of intimacy continues as we proceed to the level of the nation,
and to the world at large, where, at the level of the world, all we probably can feel
is a vague sense of shared humanity. But this is a far cry from the intimacy
that we feel for our friends. And in order to address
these global problems, we need to figure out a way
to develop that intimacy. With the advent
of new types of technology, specifically the Internet, we feel empowered as individuals to leap from our position
in the center of the circle straight out to the edge of the world. But the problem is that in so doing,
we perhaps neglect to carry with us those virtues that we’ve developed
with our friends: toleration and cooperation. So instead, perhaps
a better way to think of this, is that we need to carry with us
those virtues as we pass through from the center circle out to the edge. So at this point,
you’re probably wondering, “Well, what the hell does this have to do
with social networking?” And the answer to that is I think
social networking is destructive of the type of intimacy
that I’ve been talking about that we need to develop
amongst our friends. And I think it’s destructive
of this in two ways, and I want to be clear here
that I’m speaking primarily to those around my age and younger. And the reason for that is not
that this doesn’t apply to older people, but because like Bane
we were born in social networking. They merely adopted it. (Laughter) So we don’t have a frame of reference
from which to compare our lives to, we’ve been in social networking
from the beginning. So the ways that I think social networking
is destructive of friendship, and there are two primary ones:
one’s online, one’s offline. Online, I think there’s
a problem of trivialization of aspects of our personalities that in the past have been
more important for friendship, and I’ll give you an example, a very easy example that you can
all relate to: birthdays. Birthdays are part of the trivia
that we enter into our Facebook profiles, and that we assume
that our friends enter as well. And for that reason,
we think in the back of our minds, “Well, we can always
look up our friends’ birthday. We don’t need to remember it quite as closely
as we may have in the past.” And in fact, Facebook takes
the extra step for us, and will remind us of one of our friend’s birthday
is coming up few days in advance. So we really don’t have
to remember it at all, it’s assumed that this is a burden for us. And so, at what point then, do we cease
to be wishing our friends happy birthday because they’re our friends,
and it’s their birthday, and instead, we start doing it
simply because Facebook told us to? So that’s the online way. The offline way, which I think is perhaps
even more pernicious, ironically enough, I can also illustrate it for you
with an example. This is something
that we’re all familiar with, and that I’m sure
we’re all guilty of, as well. After this awesome conference is over,
you’re going to go out with your friends; perhaps to the after party
that they are hosting, and you’re going to be having
a great time with them. And you’re going to be having
such a great time that your hand is going to start shaking. And you’re going to feel the urge
to reach down into your pocket and pull out your phone. And you’re going to leave your friends, and you’re going to enter
the world of Facebook because you need to tell the Internet what a good time you’re having,
how much fun you’re having. But the problem is that, when you do that,
you cease to be having fun, you’re no longer having that fun time because you lose
the thread of conversation, you break eye contact with that cute girl
or guy across the bar, and they leave, your drink is empty,
the music’s changed on the stereo, the sun is setting, the night’s over and you go home alone so you can stare at yourself
online some more. (Laughter) And if it seems like I’m dramatizing
some small and meaningless things, it’s because I kind of am. And they are small,
but they’re not meaningless. And that’s because they’re but a few
of many, many, many small things. And this is why I think social networking
is changing our conception of friendship through a process of creeping normalcy which is where something changes
bit by bit, gradually, over time, so slowly that we don’t really notice
that it’s happening until it’s too late, and we realize suddenly that the thing is
totally different than what it once was. So, what can we do about this? How can we reclaim intimacy,
and perhaps harness it to apply those virtues
of toleration and cooperation that we develop
through intimate friendship to combat the problems
that face us on a global level? Well, I think part
of the answer to that lies in changing our attitudes
toward social networking. And so, I want to leave you
with a challenge, a challenge you can accept here today. And that is, after I finish,
they’re going to be two speakers, and we’re going to have
a brief intermission. The speakers are going to be phenomenal,
and you can be spellbound by them, but during the intermission,
I would be willing to bet you that almost all of you,
if not all of you, will feel that urge to reach into your pocket
and pull out your phone. Challenge is resist it. Don’t be like this girl here. Stay with us. Be present (Laughter) and strike up a conversation
with whoever is next to you. Chances are– I mean,
you’re a cool, and you’re here, so they’re probably pretty cool too. (Laughter) So strike up a conversation,
or come find me, and we can have a conversation if you’re not altogether tired
of hearing me talk yet. And I guarantee you that if you do this, you will be able to answer that question
that I posed at the beginning of my talk, “Do you have any friends?”
with at least one yes. Thank you. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

21 Responses

  1. Excellent talk! I have a teenage son and see him very little. When I do see him he's always got his phone in his hands carrying on an online 'conversation'. Sometimes I ask him to turn it off because I want to have a conversation without interruption. What young people may not think about is that you don't get a do-over, life is happening now, the people you love and that love you are here now but they won't always be . . . if you're going to be with someone, 'be' with them . . .

  2. Nice talk. I'm a 54 yr. old man who lives in San Francisco where everyone is very digitally connected.
    I go for long walks where I see many people almost oblivious to their immediate surroundings because of their cell phones. I've never understood the need to talk on the phone incessantly. It takes me out of the "here and now", which is what life's all about, imo.
    I finally gave in and bought an ipod so I wouldn't have to listen to other peoples phone calls at the gym.

  3. What really fascinates me is when people talk or text with someone else when they're in the company of another. Then, when they're with that person, they're chatting with someone else, so in essence, they're never fully engaged with the one they're with.
    We're all slowy becoming cyborgs, which imo, will be both good and bad. Because of technology, the world is evolving very rapidly now.

  4. when you've been disappointed by a few close friends, you appreciate a certain degree of distance in a friendship!

  5. This was a great talk! It makes me rethink how I use social media during events and outings with friends. Great job, Rory!

  6. I am impressed that a young person realizes how impersonal social media can be. Awesome job Rory.(79 years LMV)

  7. Free facebook hacking tool is located at HAQABLE in your browser just google " HAQABLE " go to the site

  8. I'm lucky that I have used social media to reconnect with people I already knew, make plans, then hang out in person.

  9. 5 years later and I wonder how many Facebook users finally realized that the Facebook company used their desire to "have friends" just to steal their private data. SAD!!!! I deleted my Facebook account over 5 years ago and once again found what real friendship is really all about. I'm from the older generation but easily got sucked into the facade of social friends reconnecting with people that really weren't old friends but with those that were friends LONG ago. Now I remember why those friendships needed to stay in the past. I also developed social friendships with people that really were more about snooping into the lives of others than being true friends. When I was a child way back in the day someone once told me life is much better with a couple of really good friends you care about than having tons of superficial friends. I believe that is still true today. Social media is not about making friends. ONLY FACEBOOK NEEDS TO MAKE YOU BELIEVE THAT!!!(that's why they called it "friends"!!!! That's how they make their money) I worry about those that actually believe that friends on social media are truly their friends. This elderly person has had actual friends take their own life when they realized that friends on Facebook was a lie. First step is to admit there is a problem. Second step is put down the phone and actually live your life. My philosophy,,,, so I'm putting down the phone now and going to the beach. I hope you do the same

  10. It would surely make a difference if Facebook had a "Contacts" or "Acquaintances" list rather than one called "Friends" that actually largely demeans the value of friendships…

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