You Are Not The Information You Share

Literary critic, author and professor, William Deresiewicz, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, finds fault with Facebook and with modern friendship.
I appreciate the criticism Deresiewicz provides. He looks at friendship in classical terms, showing how its rules have changed with the rise of modernity. All of which is a good overview for an attack on the false nature of social networks.
Here’s a mashup of his argument:

Friendship is devolving from a relationship to a feeling–from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves, rearranging the tokens of connection like a lonely child playing with dolls.
Facebook’s very premise–and promise–is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they’re not in the same place, or, rather, they’re not my friends. They’re simulacra of my friends, little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets.
We may pride ourselves today on our aptitude for friendship–friends, after all, are the only people we have left–but it’s not clear that we still even know what it means.

Deresiewicz wonders if we even know what it means to be friends. I think we do.
Part of the problem is semantic. In Web 2.0 jargon the words “friend” and “community” are severely abused. Unless a brand has a cult following, there’s no “community” around the brand, just customers and prospects. And unless you can call on your friends in a time of need, and they you, they’re not friends, they’re faces with bios and semi-frequent updates. Maybe you see them in person once in a while, maybe you don’t.
It’s a dark, cynical world where we allow things as near and dear to us as friends and community to become less than they are. What starts as a semantic trick quickly becomes the new paradigm. Ultimately, I think we have a responsibility as professional communicators to speak honestly and think critically. It’s easy to slip and let things like “engagement with the community” get in the way of what’s truly at work. Let’s call things by name and name things correctly. Customers are customers, friends are friends, and community is the place where you live.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.