Flourishing on facebook: virtue friendship & new social media
The widespread and growing use of new social media, especially social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, invites sustained ethical reflection on emerging forms of online friendship. Social scientists and psychologists are gathering a wealth of empirical data on these trends, yet philosophical analysis of their ethical implications remains comparatively impoverished. In particular, there have been few attempts to explore how traditional ethical theories might be brought to bear upon these developments, or what insights they might offer, if any. In attempting to address this lacuna in applied ethical research, this paper investigates the ethical significance of online friendship by means of an Aristotelian theory of the good life, which holds that human flourishing is chiefly realized through ‘complete’ friendships of virtue. Here, four key dimensions of ‘virtue friendship’ are examined in relation to online social media: reciprocity, empathy, self-knowledge and the shared life. Online social media support and strengthen friendship in ways that mirror these four dimensions, particularly when used to supplement rather than substitute for face-to-face interactions. However, deeper reflection on the meaning of the shared life (suzên) for Aristotle raises important and troubling questions about the capacity of online social media to support complete friendships of virtue in the contemporary world, along with significant concerns about the enduring relevance of this Aristotelian ideal for the good life in the 21st century.
KeywordsNew social media Virtue friendship Aristotle Reciprocity Empathy The shared life
- Anderson, J. Q. & Rainie, L. (2010). The future of social relations. Pew Internet and American Life Project, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/The-future-of-social-relations.aspx. Accessed 7 July 2010.
- Aristotle (1984). The complete works of Aristotle: Revised Oxford translation. In J. Barnes (Ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Barnes, S. (2001). Online connections: Internet interpersonal relationships. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
- Becker, L. (1986). Reciprocity. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
- Borgmann, A. (1999). Holding on to reality: The nature of information at the turn of the millenium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Cates, D. F. (1997). Choosing to feel: Virtue, friendship and compassion for friends. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
- Cooper, J. M. (1999). Friendship and the good in Aristotle. In N. Sherman (Ed.), Aristotle’s ethics: Critical essays (pp. 277–300). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
- Dreyfus, H. (2001). On the Internet. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Ellison, N. B., Steinfeld, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends”: Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), article 1. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/ellison.html. Accessed 4 November 2009.
- Families and Work Institute (2009). The state of health in the American workforce. http://familiesandwork.org/site/newsroom/releases/healthreportrelease.html. Accessed 4 November 2009.
- Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Hampton, K. N., Sessions, L. F., Her, E. J., & Rainie, L. (2009). Social isolation and new technology: How the Internet and mobile phones impact Americans’ social networks. Pew Internet and American Life Project, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/18–Social-Isolation-and-New-Technology.aspx. Accessed 8 July 2010.
- Ito, M., Horst, H. A., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P. G., Pascoe, C. J., & Robinson, L. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project. http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/report. Accessed 4 November 2009.
- Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickuhr, K. (2010). Social media and mobile internet use among teens and young adults. Pew Internet and American Life Project. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx. Accessed 6 July 2010.
- MacIntyre, A. (1999). Dependent rational animals. Chicago: Open Court Publishing.Google Scholar
- Moeller, S., Chong, E., Golitsinski, S., Guo, J., McCaffrey, R., Nynka, A., & Roberts, J. (2010). A day without media. International Center for Media and the Public Agenda. http://withoutmedia.wordpress.com/. Accessed 9 July 2010.
- O’Brien, E., Hsing, C., & Konrath, S. (2010). Changes in dispositional empathy over time in American college students: A meta-analysis. http://sitemaker.umich.edu/skonrath/files/empathy_decline.pdf. Accessed 10 July 2010.
- Preston, S. D., & de Waal, F. B. M. (2001). Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25(1), 1–20.Google Scholar
- Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
- Rainie, L., Horrigan, J., Wellman, B., & Boase, J. (2006). The strength of Internet ties. Pew Internet and American Life Project, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/The-Strength-of-Internet-Ties.aspx. Accessed 4 November 2009.
- Schor, J. B. (1992). The overworked American: The unexpected decline of leisure. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Sherman, N. (1989). The fabric of character: Aristotle’s theory of virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Smith, A., Schlozman, K. L., Verba, S., & Brady, H. (2009). The Internet and civic engagement. Pew Internet and American Life Project, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/15–The-Internet-and-Civic-Engagement.aspx. Accessed 8 July 2010.
- Stern-Gillet, S. (1995). Aristotle’s philosophy of friendship. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
- Subrahmanyam, K., & Lin, G. (2007). Adolescents on the Net: Internet use and well-being. Adolescence, 42(168), 659–677.Google Scholar
- Tavani, H. T. (2005). The impact of the Internet on our moral condition: Do we need a new framework of ethics? In R. J. Cavalier (Ed.), The impact of the Internet on our moral lives (pp. 215–237). Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
- The Nielsen Company (2009). Global faces and networked places. http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/nielsen_globalfaces_mar09.pdf. Accessed 29 October 2009.
- Wittkower, D. E. (forthcoming). Friend is a verb. In B. J. Fogg & D. Berdichevsky (Eds.), The psychology of Facebook.Google Scholar