"To be a friend to many people in the complete kind of friendship is not possible . . . it is necessary to get experience and to come into intimate acquaintance with each other, which is of the utmost difficulty. But it is possible to be pleased by many people for usefulness and pleasure, since there are many people of those sorts, and their services are provided in a short time" (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book Eight, 1158a, (trans. Joe Sachs).
Aristotle is right. In order to have strong friendships, we need to spend significant time with one another. We need people who believe in us, tell us the truth, and support us. I think of small groups, phone calls, long walks, and long drives with friends.
But I admit that I have come to also really enjoy Facebook and Twitter. My Facebook friends are people I know from real life (high school, college, church, seminary, colleagues, etc.) On Twitter, I follow some Christian leaders, authors and pastors. My Facebook Status Updates and Posted Items tend to be more amusing and personal--about my kids, witty remarks, etc. My Twitter tweets are more thoughtful comments usually pertaining to church leadership and theology.
Interestingly I think I exchange what Aristotle calls "pleasure" through Facebook--joking around--seeing what my friends are up to. I exchange what Aristotle calls "usefulness" through Twitter.
I think the usefulness and pleasure of Facebook and Twitter have to do with your particular life situation and personality. Because I am usually either reading or watching my 3 and 1 year old boys and my laptop is nearby, it happens to fit my lifestyle. My wife Amy on the other hand neither blogs, nor has Facebook or Twitter. Instead she chats with people on the phone and at her workplace--our church. Aristotle is on to something--we all need solid friendships of equality but we also all enjoy other relationships that bring us smiles (pleasure) and insight (usefulness).
If you are someone who knows me from real life, you can find my Facebook account here.
If you are interested in church leadership and my blog, please follow me at my Twitter page. Or you can just go check it out anonymously without joining Twitter.
I am reading Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics for Stanley Hauerwas's course Happiness, the Life of Virtue, and Friendship. I have posted about that here.
There are lots of interesting comments from Aristotle about relationships in book 8 of the Nicomachean Ethics that I thought were relevant to Facebook and Twitter. You can access an old translation online for free. For example, Aristotle addresses the issue of power in relationships. In Twitter, power is obvious. If you follow someone but they don't follow you, they are in the power position. If they decide to follow you, you are equal. In Facebook, everyone is equal because you both have to agree to be friends. Now, there are people who accept everyone as a Facebook friend and follow everyone who follows you on Twitter, but this has some negative effects on the functioning of the applications--they are cluttered with people you really do not know.