Suzanne Fields

If you're ever in a jam, here I am
If you ever need a pal, I'm your gal
If you ever feel so happy you land in jail; I'm your bail
It's friendship, friendship
Just a perfect blendship
When other friendships have been forgot
Ours will still be hot.

Cole Porter's lyrics came back to me the other day on reading a commentary by a young woman, age 18, on the nature of friendship in the Age of Facebook. She bemoaned the new measurements in social networking. The number of "friends" who respond to a Facebook member are posted in a running count under your photograph.

"Facebook has brought to the forefront of my social life a necessity I seldom considered before selling my soul and signing up two months ago, friend quantity," laments the young woman in a message to The Washington Post. "Sure, we knew that the cool girls reigned in high school, but never before has such an unquestionably accurate popularity meter indicated down to the last individual your worth as a human being (or, at least, the precise number of people who thought you were worth the two seconds it takes to 'friend' someone)."

A writer in The Nation magazine defends youthful promiscuity as a positive way of identifying deeper intimacy. "Regardless of the (sometimes harmful) results of one-night stands or sex before high school," she says, "these women are looking to experiment, to find a contrast to immediate, eternal companionship." Uh, huh.

It's not just sex and social networking that quantifies value. Men and women sit through public meetings scrolling their BlackBerrys for messages as if whoever might be "messaging" them is more important than whoever they're with -- like someone looking over your shoulder at a cocktail party in search of someone more important to talk to. Before cell phones began to grow out of everyone's ears, a certain prominent Washington man I knew carried one of the clunky early phones and assigned someone at his office to call him during lunch or dinner so his dinner guest would see him as someone really important. Now we're told to turn off the phone in social situations, and there's always someone who remembers to "forget."

This impersonality of "friendship" probably grows from the workaholic nature of Americans, especially in Washington, where politics is all, and in New York, where money is nearly all. But it might be as well the absence of real friendship, of the trusting intimacy of genuine friends. Even a lasting marriage today is no better than a 50/50 proposition; the odds against other relationships lasting are considerably longer than that. Depression replaces devotion.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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