Friends in the age of Facebook.

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Ethan J. Leib, author of the new book Friend v. Friend, contends that the institution of friendship is in trouble. A law professor at the University of California-Hastings, Leib suggests that longer work hours, online communication, and suburban sprawl have diminished the number of friendships an individual can maintain and argues that the law lags behind the cultural changes. We asked him to pose questions about the current state of friendship, friending, and social contracts.

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  1. Sociologists today ask whether the institution of friendship is in decline. Some people say that we now have few people with whom we can discuss important matters. Many of the rest of us wonder how our friendships have changed over the years with the birth of social networking platforms that purport to help us "friend." Can a case be made that friending detracts from friendship? Or should we thank these platforms for helping us to peer into each other's lives more frequently and more intimately? Is friending actually creating and supporting more true friendships? Or rather are we addicted to something that approximates real connection but is actually very mediated and done only alone?

  2. Social media may be changing our circles of affection-but so is the reality that we are living longer, are freer not to marry, are freer to get out of marriages, and are freer to live openly, whatever our nature or orientation. In light of all this, should public policy take an interest in how friendships are functioning in our societies?

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  3. The specter of politicians and judges meddling in the most private and intimate spheres of our lives is deeply unappealing. Yet isn't the public sphere of the law always structuring and regulating intimate choices, whether in marriage, family, sex, or private ordering in the economy? If so, and if families are changing so they are more and more the products of choice, what makes voluntary friendships immune from the gaze of public policy?

  4. Friendship has always been a respite from the state--some have thought it subversive and undermining of state authority--yet paradoxically friendship can only reinforce personal freedoms if someone takes...

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