Are You Addicted To Friendahol?

Apropos of a new study showing that people with more school friends make more money, Meghan Daum has a jargon-y trend piece in the LA Times about an addiction she dubs "friendaholism."

A friendaholic, writes Daum, is someone who takes the view that, "a friend is someone on your Facebook page or in your Twitter circle" and that "friends have been assigned value not necessarily because of anything they've actually done with you or for you, but because, well, they just exist in the world and so do you." She continues,

The idea of friendship, at least among the growing population of Internet social networkers, is to attain as many of these not-really-friends as possible. Hence, the alcoholism analogy, which I don't make lightly. Like cheap wine, "friends" provide a high that can only be sustained by acquiring more and more of them. Quantity trumps quality.

On the one hand, if I never see another article on the pernicious effects of Facebook, it will be too soon. Ever since the Internet became mainstream — and perhaps before that — journalists have been randomly pasting the names of applications into a mad lib of social hysteria. Maureen Dowd talked about "Googling and Bikramming to get ready for a first dinner date" in 2005, and as the Internet becomes more ubiquitous, references to it just get lamer. Growing up with this kind of tech-trend writing has made me sort of a reverse-curmudgeon; I don't believe the Internet can change anything. When Daum writes, "you have to keep Twittering, instant-messaging and texting lest you become a bad 'friend,'" I automatically doubt that such people exist.

However, I do admit that the study Daum references creeped me out. It claims that for every "extra" friend you had in school — according to Daum, someone who lists you as a close friend but who wasn't actually close enough to make your list — you can expect an extra 2% in salary. I'll admit that this study made me count up my friends, not because I ever expect to make a fat salary, but because the findings implied that those with more friends were somehow more effective, more successful, better at life.

Which is, if you think about it enough, a soul-destroying concept. The sheer act of counting up your friends devalues them a little — it implies, to quote Daum, that "quantity trumps quality," and that friends only have merit insofar as they add to your number. It also transforms one of the most intrinsically good things in life — being close to people — into an extrinsically good thing, something that is good only because it will get you other things. The outlook that everything good — friends, food, sex, going outside — should be good for something may not be new, but it's terrifying. And it's just as ubiquitous as Google — open any women's magazine and you'll see how, say, a good night's sleep will make you more effective at work, as opposed to just making you feel good. If everything in life is a means to an end, that end should be pretty sweet — but at the end of life, everyone dies. To forget this, and to treat everything fun as a tool instead of a treat, is way scarier than spending too much time on Facebook.

The age of Friendaholism [LA Times]

Earlier: According To Study, Friends Are Money