Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Facebook's Shadow Culture

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Facebook's Shadow Culture

Article excerpt

I remember the day I became blood sisters with my friend Kristine. We planned for weeks; but in the end, nobody noticed us steal into the cornfield, prick our prepubescent palms, and press them firmly together.

Kris is now on Facebook and she's pestering me to join. She's one of the 200 million Facebook users who tend networks of friends online. I am among a dwindling number who don't.

A common criticism of such social-networking sites is that they cheapen friendship. But they're doing more than reducing its value: They're creating a shadow culture of friendship that spins cosmic sympathy into crowd sourcing.

With greater connectedness has come the ability for people to influence one another with more speed and efficiency. Social- networking sites - spurred by a resurgent "Secret" interpretation of the ancient Greek doctrine "like attracts like" - have become a potent medium for mass persuasion.

The age-old law of attraction is manifest and multiplied to the nth degree in social-media realms. Facebook's exponential success lies in its ability to get its users to do the work for them - friends persuading friends to join, comment, and feed. Twitterers compete to attract followers - 140 characters at a time. On sites like eHarmony, affinity is an algorithmic compatibility coefficient.

Friendship, like marriage, is a big attraction - a deep commitment to a nonblood relation. It is a relationship predicated on trust and nurtured, over time, through physical and metaphysical connection.

Critics consider the phenomena of chronic "friending" to be a kind of memetic narcissism, and excessive self-regard is surely part of its appeal. But these ever-widening concentric circles of congeniality are subtly turning the desire for friendship into sinister temptations for power or profit. …

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