Writer Roger Scruton tries to delineate the qualitative difference between the ephemeral friendship formed on the Internet and "real life" friendships which involve physical and not just cerebral, presence.
Real friendship, says Scruton, "involves risk. The reward is great: help in times of need, joy in times of celebration. But the cost is also great: self-sacrifice, accountability, the risk of embarrassment and anger, and the effort of winning another’s trust. Hence I can become friends with you only by seeking your company. I must attend to your words, gestures and body language, and win the trust of the person revealed in them, and this is risky business. I can avoid the risk and still obtain pleasure; but I will never obtain friendship or love. "
This description, however, applies just a validly to cyber friendships. They involve opening of the self, a willingness to trust, being attuned to moods and nuances, a range of human emotions which are present in any relationship. They feel quite real, even when they are merely "virtual". Scruton, however, diagnoses with great acumen the limitation of such friendships. They rarely last, because:
"When I relate to you through the screen there is a marked shift in emphasis. Now I have my finger on the button. At any moment I can turn you off. You are free in your own space, but you are not really free in mine, since you are dependent on my decision to keep you there. I retain ultimate control, and am not risking myself in the friendship as I risk myself when I meet you face to face. Of course I may stay glued to the screen. Nevertheless, it is a screen that I am glued to, not the person behind it. "
In living friendships, the friends do not have ultimate control over the other's presence or absence from their sphere of living. A chance meeting, a ring of the doorbell, can undo the damage of a quarrel or a misunderstanding. A turned off computer is just as dead a machine as can be. You need to press button to bring it back to life. In other words, it's completely under your control. As is the fate of that cyber friendship you cultivated with such panache until it went cold.
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Sunday, November 16, 2008