The ‘friends’ of Laurence Inman

Laurence Inman realises, possibly too late, that it’s quality not quantity that counts.

I sometimes feel that I should have more friends. Other people seem to have so many. And the adverts are always showing huge gangs of smiling mates having a great time in the woods playing games and eating stuff. It’s obviously a very happy world out there.

On Facebook I’ve got over four hundred ‘friends.’ I probably know about a tenth of them. Of those, I might have spoken to five or six in the last year. It doesn’t matter, because the whole point of Facebook is to provide us with the comforting illusion that we’re somehow taking part in the great jovial gathering in the sky. We were invited. Our ‘friends’ want us to be there. That’s why they keep telling us when they’ve just had a cup of tea, or why they can’t stand that camp bloke on the X-Factor.

There is something deeply unsatisfying, even unsettling, about Facebook, and I think I know what it is. It involves us with too many people.

We are always being told that we are social, gregarious animals. We squash together in huge numbers, like ants, bees or termites. But we are not totally gregarious, nor completely social. That’s why we live in houses and not communal compounds. As Aldous Huxley pointed out in Brave New World Revisited, we are ‘a creature more like a wolf, let us say, or an elephant.’ We like to go with small packs, not million-strong hordes. The number that helps us function best is, I would guess, somewhere between a cricket team and our old form at school.

Pope had it right in An Essay On Man:

What’s Fame ? a fancy’d life in others breath,

A thing beyond us……..

All that we feel of it begins and ends

In a small circle of our foes or friends.