Sunday, July 16, 2006

Confidant Crisis

The Way We Live Now By ANN HULBERT - New York Times: "By now, I bet almost everybody knows somebody who has joined a social networking Web site like, with more than 90 million members, or, a college-based Web site that has become a high-school favorite, too. That means most people probably also know that “friend” is no longer just a noun, but a verb, one that entails minimal exertion: “to friend” a person involves an exchange of mouse clicks, one to request a spot on someone’s (often very lengthy) list of people granted access to his or her online profile, and a click in response to accept the petitioner. If you’re too old and busy to be logging on obsessively to this Internet social scene, you’re doubtless enmeshed in your own way, e-mailing far-flung acquaintances or anticipating the spread of free Internet telephone service.

“Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades,” published in the latest American Sociological Review, made it into the headlines and onto “Good Morning America.”

Look at Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics,” or at junior-high-school cliques, and it’s clear that discriminating among degrees of friendship can be a daunting task. The most tenacious of taxonomists, Aristotle thought pleasure and utility counted for less than the rare commingling of virtuous character as the basis for friendship. Centuries of varying ideals and fears ensued. Are our close ties becoming shallower and more instrumental? In his new book, “Friendship: An Exposé,” Joseph Epstein quotes the German sociologist Georg Simmel already worrying a century ago that we moderns are destined to drift among “differentiated friendships,” missing out on an all-encompassing connection."

Ann Hulbert, a contributing writer, is the author of “Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children.”

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