05 September 2011

The value of private friendships

"… not being on Facebook had made me feel as if I lived under a rock … I received e-mails from two friends announcing the births of their babies, and I hadn’t known either woman was pregnant, even though I was a bridesmaid in one of their weddings. (One e-mail began, “For those of you who we are not in touch with by cellphone, or Facebook. ...”) Last August, my friend Jesse told me that not being on Facebook was just plain rude."
- Curtis Sittenfeld, I'm on Facebook. It's over, New York Times, 3 Sept 2011

There is a difference between a letter and a newsletter, just as there is a difference between one person saying "I love you" to another person, or to a crowd. A communication to a list is a newsletter.

In the rush to find out trivial things about people we haven't cared enough about to want to keep in touch with, we are losing the most important parts of ourselves. The imposed extrovert personality of 'friendship' that is the dominant culture negates the value of real friendships, intimate secrets and inspirations between people who actually care about each other. This EZ way to socialise in bulk takes the pain away from actual communication, the letter that really matters, the one-to-one conversation without the thought by either that any part of that communication needs to be labelled 'off the record'.

I owe, I always owe, letters to people that I have been slow to write to. Some of the most important, I will probably write after I do those other things I never get around to because they are too hard. In the end, I will fail. But at least I know that. To make life easier by commoditising the personal relationship only cheapens life.

When we can speak from the heart and not some online 'personality', we can not only be more honest but more generous and hopefully, naked compared to wearing that online clothing: the self-defensive garb woven of finely felted bullshit. In personal communication, we can be who we really are, in all its quirks and many conflicting variations of 'who'. It's hard, old-fashioned, finicky work—communicating—but I would value it higher even than the time needed to put into making a decent cup of coffee, or getting into the next networking loop. Real hard friendship might even be more worthwhile working at than body sculpting.

Real friendships if they are worth it, are also worth caring enough about, to take the care to be personal and private about them. And as for those 'Friends' lists, anyone truly interesting has a mix of true friendships that is worth privacy, too.


Justin Patrick Moore said...

Hi Anna,
I like the sentiment of your post. I'm not on Facebook myself (though I do communicate in comments via blogs like this). I just came back from a conference and my friend whom I traveled with was nagging me to get on Facebook... so I could also upload pictures of our whole trip as they were being taken, and have people comment on them. I'm not yet convinced.

I like a good old fashioned handwritten letter, and even email has the characteristic of being more personal when we are writing to one person. And I value this. So much of what gets put online now would have been unthinkable a few generations back. What we share, and what we don't... I want to put my work out there to the world, but I still want to have something of myself left to, something to share with my wife, kids, and my close friends.

That's why I'm not on Facebook, and I sure hope it isn't rude!

anna tambour said...

Thank you for saying how you feel about this ball of barbed wire. Indeed, your comment is better than my post. I hope this line gets quoted widely.
"I want to put my work out there to the world, but I still want to have something of myself left to, something to share with my wife, kids, and my close friends."

Oddly enough, I posted a comment on your blog saying how much I enjoyed your story Gertrude and Ludwig Spin a Web in Flurb, but I messed up my email when trying to 'publish' it, so it never appeared. I've been meaning to tell you some way. Many concepts have such dominant personalities that they never allow a story to live in its own right. Your story is a living, snorting tale.