- You Lack Friends
“My best friends are people I’ve met online… We’re in the internet age, get with the times”– A confrontational Zoomer
We are facing an invisible (and yet all-too-visible) meta-crisis in humanity in [current year]. It goes by many names. “The mental health crisis.” “The death of expertise.” “The death of reason.” “Wealth inequality.” “Culture war.” Most people agree on all of these problems even on the most extreme ends of belief, from capitalist self-interested shut-ins to socialist bleeding-heart socialites. The married family and the single activist all agree that something is wrong, and they often even agree on what is wrong. The conflicts of today orbit around the corresponding culprits and solutions. What’s ironic is if you asked both extremes for culprit dates you’ll get similar answers. 2020 made things worse. So did online events in 2014/15. So did the aftereffects of Sept 2001. They may even agree on 19th century dates. But nobody agrees on why or what to do.
If you know me personally, you may know my favorite quote is a lesser-known one by Donald Knuth, about the importance of rapidly changing levels of abstractions. To solve problems, you have to move abstraction levels; there’s a famous quote attributed to Einstein about doing so.
If I say the word “apple”, chances are you don’t think about the miracle of international supply chains that give you access to them in unsuited growing environments. You also don’t think about fructose and glucose and how they are absorbed and utilized in the body. You probably think about sayings like “an apple a day…” you hear from other people, or you think about the popular tech company. Most people aren’t good at voluntarily changing abstraction levels. But you have to do so in order to solve problems. The silver lining is that often, they do it automatically when the right emotions present themselves. It isn’t usually conscious. But how can we encourage it?
In order for our good ideas to have an effect on the world, people have to hear us. Some of our many names for the meta-crisis signify “fake news” or other trust-damaging scapegoats. If you gaze into the abyss for answers long enough (and don’t go mad) you might conclude that “the problem” is a decline of trust, or religious belief, or rationality/empiricism, or education. I have watched people go down into the abyss and conclude one of these (or go mad) many times now. But even if they are partly right they never manage to have an effect.
So what DOES have an effect? You’ll see a number of people (again, on both extremes) who lament that evil is winning. Corruption keeps getting away with it. What is the silver bullet that keeps getting used against us that we aren’t using? Why does good lose and evil win? I propose that all of the above answers are half-truths, and the answer is the invisible mist between the gaps. What is the one thing benefitting our perceived enemies that we are missing out on?
In the shut-in era of post-2020 we have had a lot less serious human contact, and it shows. Odds are, you don’t have that many real friends anymore. I mean REAL friends. If you play games with people they might be your teammates, but they aren’t deep friends. Ever since Facebook was founded we have started to think of the word “friend” to mean any peer we associate with. You don’t need more followers. You need a friend like Holmes needed Watson, like Frodo needed Sam.
You need friends who know people. You need friends who are better people than you. Maybe you are looking for someone to fall in love with. Or, maybe you need somebody who gets other people jobs. There is a booming business right now in the recruiting industry where lay extroverts hook you up with companies, and they can become your best real friend. I have made a few and we started professional but talk about games and hobbies all the time too. You don’t need rich friends to be rich, but rich people make the right friends and will break every rule made to get to have dinner with them anyway. They understand something most of us don’t.
I spent the first half of this year being unemployed (again), rejected handouts, and I let myself descend into the abyss, holding onto one single idea: if I kept trying to get a job I wanted eventually I would find out what’s wrong with me. As it turns out, it was my resume/cv. My experience is impressive but was only formatted well enough for a first interview, and failed in a side-by-side, so I’d do lots of interviews and get no job, always a plan B. When I went all-in on an over-the-top resume overhaul, I had a job within 7 days, after what felt like as many months. Allegedly, the new company didn’t have a job for me and created the position for me. And I wouldn’t have done it without suggestions from my friends on LinkedIn.
If you can’t beat them, join them. We, the good lay people, haven’t learned how to attract people who like us personally and will bail us out. There’s an excellent parable from Jesus that I think teaches this lesson well. In the parable of the unjust steward, a rich lord’s accountant finds out he’s screwed because he didn’t allocate resources properly. He is told he’s getting audited and he’s like “oh no now what?” When the shoe drops he’ll be on the street. He knows he’s toast no matter what, and what he does is genius: he looks into the rich man’s clients, sits down with them one on one, and cuts them deals. Pay off their debts now and he’ll give them big discounts. When the rich man finds out he’s been played he golf claps. It ends thus:
And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
He was smart enough to use his position to make friends. Too often the morally “faithful” never figure this out. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when he said to be “wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” Most of us aren’t being the former when it counts.
So let’s talk about how to win friends and not be ignored by people. How do you make deeper friends? All the talk of sexuality online has damaged the old meaning of the word intimacy. There are levels of asexual, platonic closeness between humans and we are forgetting how to measure it. If you’ll allow me by reading this far, let me, on behalf of successful introverts, offer some tips on how to grow friends. The best measures of a relationship by my analysis are how long you spend together (quantity) and how focused your time is together (quality).
- The more time each month you talk to someone, the closer a friend they are.
- (More crucially at the heart of our problems:) The more senses you use, the faster and deeper the friendship runs.
It is the latter on which I want to focus. The more private and more interactive your interactions are, the more real the friendship is. That is, this second dimension of friendships has two dimensions of its own: privacy, and interactivity. I can make a rough compass chart someday but let’s cut to the chase:
From best to worst:
- IRL lunch or dinner date
- IRL conventions and conferences
- IRL labor together / coworker-ing
- 1-one-1 video chat
- group video chat
- phone call
- 1-on-1 voice chat
- voice chat
- Private contact info text – SMS
- Private text – DMs
- real-time chat channels (IRC and AIM, but also such as Discord)
- Social media comment sections
The more private a communication platform, the better. Most of your social media mutuals aren’t your friends. Modern kids are more isolated and more mentally unhealthy than ever, and people develop online “friends” that do nothing good for them or end up betraying them over politics later. Many want to be famous streamers and ones who do find it hollow. Many are feeling financial hardship while others rush forward succeeding. I myself did until I started investing and looking into entrepreneurship. I have friends involved in and starting big things.
So start spending money to go to conventions and conferences. Pay for VIP seats and benefits. Start scheduling lunch or setting up a video chat with your friends. Bring a “friend” down from the abstract internet and make them into a real friend. You’ll find out who your real friends are. Maybe you’ll start having influence and getting the things you want most. Spend less time commenting on awful sites like Facebook and Twitter, and more time in DMs. You’ll begin to develop real love for other people, and I’m told the word on the street is that love wins.
How you like them apples? (That only got shipped to you because somebody nearby knew how to make the right friends)