More than eight hundred million users around the world make friends on the social network Facebook, which in a few months has become a cult place on the web. Facebook has quickly established itself as a contemporary phenomenon capable of radically transforming a concept as old as mankind: friendship.
IN THE NICOMAQUE ETHICS, Aristotle says that "friendship is the most necessary thing for living". Philia is the most precious good there is, for the individual as well as for society. Indeed, friendship is the very foundation of the social fabric, it is the fundamental principle of relationships and solidarity within a human group. For Aristotle, as for Facebook, it is friends that form the basis of the social fabric.
But are Aristotle's friends the same as those on Facebook? In his reading of Aristotle, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben reminds us, if need be, that friendship is an eminently demanding feeling. The friend is another self, it exists only in the feeling I have of my own existence. In friendship, I divide myself into another. I become one side of a division. Friendship," says Agamben, "is the sharing that precedes all other sharing, because what divides it is the very fact of existing, the very life itself. Friendship is a demanding relationship that cannot conceive of numbers. "He who has many friends has no friends," warns Aristotle.
So how can we understand the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of friends that some people show on their Facebook pages? The nature of friendship has been transformed by the relational technologies of networks. Facebook's "friends" are the mark of a relational procedure: I declare so-and-so as my friend from a set of acquaintances. This lucky person is made public by my choice, it is formalized in a technical procedure. This declaration of friendship is performative in the sense that it is the action of choosing that creates the friend. The philosopher Bernard Stiegler speaks of "grammatization" to evoke this process of isolating an action and rematerializing it in another form. In networks such as Facebook, friendship is grammatized, that is, it is metamorphosed into a new form. From the moment its consistency is transformed, friendship changes its nature and becomes a new mode of social construction.
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To stay in Aristotle's line, a network like Facebook is a pharmakon, which is both a remedy and a poison. Its existence and success reflect a search for exchange, a desire to develop its own relational network, a tension towards others. But at the same time, it reveals a profound disintegration of the psychology of social construction. By publicizing friendship, Facebook penetrates a territory that has remained intimate until now. The exhibition of "my friends" turns them into objects of exchange, conquest, even merchandising, just like collectors' items.
Facebook means: the book of faces. Is Facebook just a collection of faces, chosen among the thousands of those we meet in our lives, anonymous, insensitive to possession, to our powers. Who are these faces? What is their meaning? Are they characters or just guests, as they would say... Levinas It is a "relationship that is out of proportion to any power that is exercised, even if it be enjoyment or knowledge. "The meaning of a face is the face alone: "You are you". A you without a cumbersome content that thought would have to embrace. A face in the form of a simple call. Isn't that what Facebook "friends" are really all about?