5 ‘Friend’ versus ‘Electronic Friend’

Joseph C. Pitt

When engineering a social system, much thought needs to be given to how these systems could disrupt other important current social systems, diminishing human value, and whether that disruption can be systematically anticipated. I view Facebook as an engineered (i.e., designed) social system. It was designed as a means to facilitate communication among a group. Determining who was to be included in this group resulted in the use of the term ‘friend’. To become a member of the group, you ‘friend’ someone in the group – thereby creating, among other things, the verb ‘to friend’. Little or no thought was given to the negative implications of this decision. Here I examine some of those implications. I will also look at the impact the electronic world of information has on our understanding of information and its impact on the way we live. But first some preliminaries.

Social systems are rarely engineered deliberately and even when they are, there is no guarantee they will work in the way they were intended to. Consider a housing development. Planned living environments can be traced back as far as Thomas Moore’s Utopia (1516), but to refer to them as examples of social engineering is misleading. At best, a planned housing development creates an environment in which social systems can emerge. By ‘social system’ here I mean a set of relations among people with recognized rules of interaction, rarely set down on paper but understood ...

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