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August 18, 2009 11:11 AM   Subscribe

What you don't know about your friends: The problem, [Francis Flynn, a psychology professor at Stanford] says, is that interacting with people and sharing experiences with them doesn’t necessarily translate into knowing lots of things about them. The main hurdle is the way we talk to those we’re close to: our conversations are usually meant not so much to gather information as to establish rapport and to bond - in short, to make friends.
posted by Korou (69 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The problem, [Francis Flynn, a psychology professor at Stanford] says, is that interacting with people and sharing experiences with them doesn’t necessarily translate into knowing lots of things about them.

Clearly, Frances Flynn does not read MetaFilter.
posted by mattdidthat at 11:21 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love those fighty or awkward moments when you find something odd out about one of your close friends.

When you call them a fascist, a prude or a spineless cur, toast to partying with fascist, prudish, spinelss curs, and party on.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:25 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"interacting with people and sharing experiences with them doesn’t necessarily translate into knowing lots of things about them."

You know what they do. What else is there?
posted by alasdair at 11:26 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


While online social-network “friendship” isn’t the same as the face-to-face version, research suggests that Facebook friendships do largely grow out of and mirror offline ones.

Research suggests you are full of shit. Facebook friendships for most people are 20% actual family and friends and 80% the kid you sat behind in sixth grade who you haven't spoken to in 15 years.
posted by ND¢ at 11:27 AM on August 18, 2009 [14 favorites]


interacting with people and sharing experiences with them doesn’t necessarily translate into knowing lots of things about them.

Also, I think Frances Flynn's statement says more about her friendships than it does about everyone else's.
posted by mattdidthat at 11:34 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


one team of researchers ... has enlisted Facebook as a research tool, taking advantage of the way the social-networking site can create enormous troves of cross-referenced information about its users. The researchers created a survey of 80 yes-or-no questions and an application called Friend Sense in which users took the survey - both for themselves and for whichever of their Facebook friends had also downloaded it. ...While online social-network “friendship” isn’t the same as the face-to-face version, research suggests that Facebook friendships do largely grow out of and mirror offline ones.

Worst. Methodology. Ever.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:35 AM on August 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


We know nothing of each other. We are each trapped in our own mental world where we can only bump up against other people, but never truly touch them. We see others only through the lens of our own experience, prejudices and psychology. Every interaction between people is just two alien civilizations trying to communicate without knowing the other's language or even what type of life form the other is. We are trapped in our own heads sending out signals saying "I need validation or comfort or recognition" and the person we are talking to is standing next to us sending out those very same signals, but they can't understand ours and we can't understand theirs. Friends and loved ones are those whom have recognized this fact and know they can safely ignore each other.
posted by ND¢ at 11:36 AM on August 18, 2009 [15 favorites]



Or at least how broadly she defines it...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 11:36 AM on August 18, 2009


Or at least how broadly she defines it...

was in reply to mattdidthat...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 11:38 AM on August 18, 2009


Clearly, Frances Flynn does not read MetaFilter.

I know, right? I've learned SCADS about people's actual beliefs and identities from cybersocializing here, my fat Filipino friend.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:39 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not my friends; I bore them with every embarrassing detail of my life and all my dull opinions.
posted by Abiezer at 11:42 AM on August 18, 2009


Yeah, this is why I hate talking to people. Voice is a comm channel, people. Keep it clear for emergency traffic.
posted by DU at 11:43 AM on August 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Also, I think Frances Flynn's statement says more about her friendships than it does about everyone else's.

What? Flynn is a social scientist; he (and if you had read the article you would know that Francis Flynn is a dude) isn't generalizing from his own experiences to pontificate on the nature of friendship, he's interpreting the results of an experiment, in which "the researchers found that people assumed, often unquestioningly, that their responses to a series of ethical dilemmas were shared by the majority of their close colleagues. In reality they often were not. More strikingly, it was the more socially connected among the test subjects who were more likely to be wrong."

I have no doubt whatsoever that you know everything there is to know about all of your friends and that you would be able to describe their tastes, opinions, political views, and ethical character with flawless accuracy. That is not universally the case. Pity us mere mortals!
posted by DaDaDaDave at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


One fun way to learn more of these kinds of things about your friends/family is to play one of the various party games like Say Anything that encourage everyone to make choices that reveal things about themselves and have other people guess what their choices will be. It's interesting to learn new and surprising things about people, but to me it's even more fun to see what kinds of assumptions people make about you when they guess.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I suspect that the real issue here is that the word "friend" has become so devalued in our aggressively social times that many people no longer seem to get that real friendship implies more than simple interaction. Also, I hate most people because they are shallow. Or so I assume, since they aren't my friends and I don't really know much about them.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:58 AM on August 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


What? Flynn is a social scientist; he (and if you had read the article you would know that Francis Flynn is a dude) isn't generalizing from his own experiences to pontificate on the nature of friendship, he's interpreting the results of an experiment, in which "the researchers found that people assumed, often unquestioningly, that their responses to a series of ethical dilemmas were shared by the majority of their close colleagues. In reality they often were not. More strikingly, it was the more socially connected among the test subjects who were more likely to be wrong."

Thanks for the correction.

I read the article and a concrete definition of friendship is lacking. Without this it's difficult to extract meaning from this particular story, which reads like science-lite at best.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 11:59 AM on August 18, 2009


Lots of contentious information in here.

Although such blind spots might at first seem like a comment on the atomization of modern life, the shallowness of human connection in the age of bowling alone, psychologists say that these gaps might simply be an unavoidable product of the way human beings forge personal bonds.

They do seem like a comment on the shallowness of human connection in the age of bowling alone. But the psychologists say that this is just the way we are? What, they did a study of human relationships across the myriad of cultures and eras of human history? That's somewhat of a hasty generalization...
posted by ageispolis at 12:00 PM on August 18, 2009


What you don't know about your acquaintances.
posted by naju at 12:00 PM on August 18, 2009


Research suggests you are full of shit. Facebook friendships for most people are 20% actual family and friends and 80% the kid you sat behind in sixth grade who you haven't spoken to in 15 years.

Yeah, but in the real world, there's a similar breakdown of your real friends, and people you just "see around" - co-workers, folks at the bar, neighbors, etc - people you might not even facebook friend, but might make assumptions about anyway. Since the article says "especially their close friends" I expect they asked participants to clarify the kind of relationship they understood themselves to have.

I was surprised they didn't bring up the old standby to never talk politics or religion at a family dinner - obviously you don't want to know too much about the ideas of those you love...

All in all, a depressing article in my mind. Enforces a solipsistic worldview, that friends are there to provide you with what you need, rather than other minds to really make connection with. But I can't say I found it surprising either.
posted by mdn at 12:02 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"... people assumed, often unquestioningly, that their responses to a series of ethical dilemmas were shared by the majority of their close colleagues. In reality they often were not. More strikingly, it was the more socially connected among the test subjects who were more likely to be wrong."

That's because they hadn't spent enough time playing those drunken college games like, "Okay, if you had to pick between your mom getting leprosy and ..."
posted by adipocere at 12:04 PM on August 18, 2009


"The team’s as-yet unpublished finding was that while people do have some idea of the political beliefs of their friends, especially their close friends, they also made significant errors. The most common one is assuming their friends agreed with them on issues where they didn’t. Psychologists call this projection: in situations where there’s any ambiguity, people tend to simply project their feelings and thoughts onto others."

That is not what projection, it is the false consensus effect.
posted by kathrineg at 12:04 PM on August 18, 2009


our conversations are usually meant not so much to gather information as to establish rapport and to bond - in short, to make friends.

Clearly, Frances Flynn does not read MetaFilter.
posted by logicpunk at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2009


Also, I know all of my friends, biblically.
posted by naju at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


If we were all friends with people we knowingly and actively disagree with, the world would be a much easier place.
posted by doobiedoo at 12:13 PM on August 18, 2009


I wouldn't jump to defend my encyclopedic knowledge of my friends' wills and whims, even though I've been close with the core of them for 10 to 15 years. People change over those years (teens and twenties, in this case), a LOT. A couple of my friends have done political 180s, that's for sure.

It's not really beliefs that matter, it's character. Friendship shouldn't be based on what you like, but what you are like, to turn that shallow High Fidelity ethos on its head. Loyalty should be to people, not to ideas, because that's just dogma, innit.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:17 PM on August 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Contributing to this is the proliferation of social networking. There's not as much to explore when it's assumed your bio can be picked up by anyone who adds you on Facebook.

Another important point is context. Ever made friends in class or at work, but when you hang out with them in a new environment, the good times grind to a halt?

I took an accelerated Spanish course this summer. 6 weeks, 6 hours per weekday. Everyone in the class bonded. I'd made friends with pretty much everyone. To celebrate our time together, we organized a get-together at a Waffle House after the Final.

There was a group of 12 of us, and some new friends and I got blazed after our order was taken. We came back just as our food was coming out, and in classic stoner fashion...I mistook a bowl of molasses for syrup and dumped the entire thing over my pancakes.

It was a struggle to swallow it down, especially with heightened taste buds. Everyone was laughing their asses off at me, and I'm a giggly high, so I couldn't stop laughing myself. For at least 10 minutes.

This girl I had gotten along with really well all six weeks of class kept giving me the stink eye, then began berating me and telling me to shut up, with serious ferocity, over and over again. Definitely broke the mood, and there was awkward silence throughout the rest of the meal.

Then I got home and checked out her Facebook. There was something about Obama's birth certificate and bible verses.

Jesus, me.

Moral of the story: Facebook stalk your new acquaintances.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 12:22 PM on August 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


In all honesty, I suspect that most friendships, and possibly all of civilization, itself, actually depends on a level of mutual ignorance of one another.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:26 PM on August 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


Innit is a frank jerk verb, like Quisp. Ceder or quisp.
posted by Mblue at 12:27 PM on August 18, 2009


What I got from the article was although we know our friends in general, we don't know all their fine details in opinion, taste, and worldview; and with the things you don't know, they're filled in with your own opinions, tastes, and worldview. (Which, as kathrineg and the Mind Hacks post I got this from both say, is called the false consensus effect.) Furthermore, these gaps in knowledge don't necessarily matter (very contingent on context).

Ambrosia Voyeur and Christ, what an asshole: yes.

Certain topics just don't come up because they're not supposed to be discussed, or they're not integral to the relationship, like religious and political views. And sometimes, isn't it hard to choose a gift for a sibling or close colleague? (see: Ask Metafilter's gift tag)
posted by Korou at 12:28 PM on August 18, 2009


For others to know you, you must first know yourself, which is in itself nearly impossible.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 12:28 PM on August 18, 2009


I think I can differentiate between acquaintances and friends.

Acquaintances send me a bunch of crap on Facebook, like Easter eggs, farm animals and drinks. Where do they get the time for this shit?

Friends update pictures on Facebook and talk to me on the phone.

Really, in this day and age, is there any more we need to know?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2009


You see this with kids all the time. They come home talking about Joe. Joe this and Joe that, Joe said this and he's so cool. When you ask Joe's last name they don't know. They don't know where he lives, who is parents are, or anything that could identify him beyond his name. Yet they're best friends now.
posted by FunkyHelix at 12:41 PM on August 18, 2009


For others to know you, you must first know yourself, which is in itself nearly impossible.

Um dude it says who you are like right below your comment before the time and date and after "posted by". Not that hard.
posted by ND¢ at 12:42 PM on August 18, 2009


Apropos Facebook and Twitter -- it's been surprising to me, though I suppose it shouldn't have been, how many people make really obviously controversial statements without qualification, and are amazed that their "friends" might disagree.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:45 PM on August 18, 2009


Your cell phone knows more about your friends than you do.

Just by analyzing the calling patterns, the researchers could accurately label two people as friends or nonfriends more than 95% of the time. But the results, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the mobile phone data were better at predicting friendship than the subjects themselves. Thirty-two pairs of subjects switched from calling each other acquaintances to friends in the traditionally gathered survey data. These are most likely new relationships that formed during the course of the study, say the researchers, and they left a clear signal in the mobile phone data. Friends call each other far more often than acquaintances do when they are off-campus and during weekends. The pattern is so distinct that the researchers spotted budding friendships in the phone data months before the people themselves called themselves friends.

posted by Rumple at 12:48 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tell me, are you familiar with the writings of Shan Yu?
posted by backseatpilot at 12:53 PM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


We are each trapped in our own mental world where we can only bump up against other people, but never truly touch them.

Even worse, our negatively charged fields repel each-other. Like, we've all got restraining orders of one angstrom! I feel so alone.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:53 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am Facebook friends with folks I went to kindergarten with, 40+ years ago. We all grew up in very similar circumstances. It was really a homogeneous time and neighborhood. Almost everyone had two parents and lived in a brick twin or row. We all got the same semi-competent public school education. The Jewish kids went to Hebrew school, some of the Catholic kids went to CYO. It was blue collar, lower middle class, Democratic Northeast Philly.

Fast forward forty years. How did some of these people become birthers? Why do they post Glenn Beck videos? How did that happen? No-bama and socialism, Nazi-ism? Really?

So much for Facebook friends.
posted by fixedgear at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


For others to know you, you must first know yourself, which is in itself nearly impossible.

I know myself well enough to know that it's probably not a good idea for anyone else to know me as well as I do.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:59 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Indeed, according to Michael Norton, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Business School, simply believing we have lots of close friends brings the same benefits as actually having them. In other words, if someone’s ignorance of one of his “friends” extends so deeply that he’s not actually aware that the person doesn’t like him, he may be better off for it. Even befriending entirely fictional people seems to do some good - a paper published last year by researchers at the University of Buffalo and Miami University found that television characters actually function as “social surrogates” for viewers, and watching a favorite show can be an effective way to alleviate loneliness.
Damn. That's sad.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2009


I don't think it's sad, I think it's cool that people can be happy even if no one likes them.
posted by kathrineg at 1:08 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


A few months ago, I had to replace my passport, and Passport Canada required that I furnish the name of two individuals who can vouch for my identity and had known me for a minimum of five years, as well as the name of another individual who could review the contents of my application, guarantee the truth in their content and co-sign the document.

I gave them the name of two guys whom I've been friends with for almost 10 years. We email each other or hang out once a week and are linked on Livejournal, Facebook, listservs and other social media. My guarantor is an old high school chum who has known me for 17 years and lives on the other side of the country, but is also hooked up to me via an array of internet platforms.

Within two days of receiving my application, Passport Canada called all of those guys asking them my height, weight, eye color, current address, current profession, past street addresses and past employers.

Those guys had ready answers for, maybe, half of those questions. They gave two, maybe three, incorrect or "I don't know" answers. I, somehow, miraculously got my passport anyway.
posted by bl1nk at 1:10 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


To quote my friend from Facebook (of all places):

You ever notice no one knocks anymore? They just text their friends when they get to the doorstep, "I'm here." I've been trying to break this habit myself, so when I went to go pick up my friend, I actually walked up to the door and rang the bell. No one answered, but my phone went off seconds later. It was my friend. She told me she was scared because someone was at the door. *sigh*
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 1:12 PM on August 18, 2009 [20 favorites]


I don't think it's sad, I think it's cool that people can be happy even if no one likes them.

Color me naive if you want, but I'd actually prefer to have friends who, y'know, actually like me.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:18 PM on August 18, 2009


from article: People need friends. Aristotle said so, as did Dionne Warwick.

That's just not true.

Aristotle didn't say "people need friends." He said "Man is a political animal," and claimed that a human who didn't need other humans wasn't a human at all, but an animal or a god. He intentionally didn't say that people need friends; and the difference isn't trivial. The very definition of 'friend' can be hard to establish, and it's clear to me that Aristotle probably had in mind the discussion of benefit and harm in friends and enemies which takes place at the beginning of Xenophon's Oeconomicus.

Also, Dionne Warwick didn't say "people need friends" either. She said "Keep smilin', keep shinin', knowing you can always count on me, for sure - that's what friends are for."

Friends and spouses are people to whom we are supposed to be able to confide anything - we draw support and a sense of well-being from the thought that our friends know us better than anyone else in the world, and like us nonetheless. Instead, it appears that there are whole regions of our personalities that they miss entirely, and we do the same with them.

'Whole regions of our personalities?' How did you test peoples' understandings of 'whole regions' of the personalities of their friends and families?

The team’s as-yet unpublished finding was that while people do have some idea of the political beliefs of their friends, especially their close friends, they also made significant errors.

Ah. What we seem to be confronting, then, seems to be the fact that we're so convinced (almost all of us, of every stripe, as far as I can tell - especially myself) that anyone whose political opinions are different from mine must be a real jerk. 'Bob's one of those Ron Paul nutjobs? That's impossible - he seemed like such a nice guy! I can't believe it.' 'Sarah's an anarchist? Nah, that can't be; I've known her for years, I've never her get pissed off or destructive.' This is a 'surprising revelation about personality' only if follow the respondents in their assumption, completely unfounded, that political orientation is a profound and essential expression of who a person is.

If we actually question that assumption, we're led to an interesting possibility: that political affiliation, and maybe even a whole range of attitudes and beliefs, are really pretty much arbitrary and accidental as far as our personalities are concerned, and say very little about who we really are. What music we like, what entertainment we enjoy, what programs we watch - not to mention all the other little things about us, our favorite colors, our favorite furniture, our sense of style - it may be that these things in reality have very little to do with who we are and how we live, though they seem so very important to us.
posted by koeselitz at 1:19 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


from article: Indeed, according to Michael Norton, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Business School, simply believing we have lots of close friends brings the same benefits as actually having them. In other words, if someone’s ignorance of one of his “friends” extends so deeply that he’s not actually aware that the person doesn’t like him, he may be better off for it. Even befriending entirely fictional people seems to do some good - a paper published last year by researchers at the University of Buffalo and Miami University found that television characters actually function as “social surrogates” for viewers, and watching a favorite show can be an effective way to alleviate loneliness.

jason's_planet: Damn. That's sad.


Frankly, the thing that popped out at me was that this observation was made by a psychologist who teaches at a business school.
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2009


Color me naive if you want, but I'd actually prefer to have friends who, y'know, actually like me.

Well, fine, but not everyone is likable so this is a good alternative. Yay!
posted by kathrineg at 1:35 PM on August 18, 2009


Metafilter: not everyone is likable so this is a good alternative. Yay!
posted by ND¢ at 1:49 PM on August 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


Not a single one of my friends come close to knowing all there is to know about me - both in regard to what I do and what I think.

Which, as the article underscores, does not discount them as friends.

Just saying..
posted by pwedza at 1:50 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I still knock and/or ring doorbell. I am old.

37 is old now, yeah?
posted by everichon at 2:19 PM on August 18, 2009


I don't like how they suggest that because people don't know someone else's view's on politics, or religion, or abortion, that somehow they're messing up as a friend. After all, friends are supposed to be people that we know things about, right?

I know things about my friends, but it's like real stuff that affects my life or their life or the way they look at the world. I know which of my friends had shitty childhoods and which of them didn't. I know which of my friends can be friends with ex-lovers, and which can't. I know who I should believe when they tell me they'll help me move in a month. I know which ones are desperate for love, or babies, or the attention of strangers. I know who likes parties, and who likes beaches. I know who to go to for good advice, and I know who to go to to have a shoulder to cry on, and I know who to go to when I need a stiff drink. To me, it's shit like THAT that's important to know about people.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:28 PM on August 18, 2009



Friendship is a totally subjective experience. Without qualifying it and without describing the populations studied there really isn't anything meaningful to get from this piece. Maybe when Flynn's work is published there will be more to examine but I doubt the "Friend Sense" study, as it's been presented, will show up in any journals anytime soon.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:36 PM on August 18, 2009


Most of my friends live in apartments where either:

1. The buzzer is programmed to call your phone when activated
or
2. The buzzer/doorbell doesn't work.

So yeah, of course I just call them.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:31 PM on August 18, 2009


[Aristotle] intentionally didn't say that people need friends; and the difference isn't trivial. The very definition of 'friend' can be hard to establish, and it's clear to me that Aristotle probably had in mind the discussion of benefit and harm in friends and enemies which takes place at the beginning of Xenophon's Oeconomicus.

That sounds wrong to me; Aristotle is usually considered to be one of the few philosophers who talks about friendships in a mature way. Are you thinking of books 8 and 9 of his Ethics? I've always found Aristotle on perfect friendships to be really moving. I incorporated some of his Ethics into a best man speech at a wedding and it went over really well.
posted by painquale at 4:03 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


So friends aren't as clued into the important things as they should be?

Because they guessed wrong about their friends' options in a bunch of questions, "the bulk of which dealt with political issues, including high-profile topics like abortion, illegal immigration, nuclear weapons, and universal health care"?

Maybe the lesson is that friends do know the important stuff, and that those things in the survey aren't as important as the connections we make with the human beings around us.
posted by revgeorge at 4:08 PM on August 18, 2009


No one answered, but my phone went off seconds later. It was my friend. She told me she was scared because someone was at the door. *sigh*

One of the great things about the iPhone is, if you're afraid to answer your door, well, there's an app for that.
posted by Brak at 4:08 PM on August 18, 2009


"SPIT ALL OVER SOMEONE WITH A MOUTHFUL OF MILK IF YOU WANT TO FIND OUT SOMETHING ABOUT THEIR PERSONALITY FAST." — Jenny Holzer
posted by sidereal at 5:17 PM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


None of my dad's friends (or relatives, even siblings) knew he was an abusive (emotional abuse, mostly) husband. He was a chameleon and we kept up appearances, gritting our teeth and smiling politely in response to every "Gosh, your dad is such a great guy!" remark. Oh, the shock waves that rolled through our community when my parents announced the divorce. "Bob and Betty? What? What?! But...why?" This was after 20 or 30 years of friendship.

It made me grow up too fast in my head, but the dichotomy seems to have given me a pretty good radar for detecting other chameleons. That was invaluable when dating.

23skidoo: I don't like how they suggest that because people don't know someone else's view's on politics, or religion, or abortion, that somehow they're messing up as a friend. . . .
I know things about my friends, but it's like real stuff that affects my life


Heh, our concepts of "real stuff" differs. The legal status of abortion affects my life, so I prefer to know what my close friends think of it and why. Not so I can make sure my friends will all have identical beliefs as me, but so I can have a better sense of them as a whole person. It helps keep shades of grey in my thinking.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:37 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That "shades of grey" remark isn't to imply that the thinking of everybody else who doesn't think abortion, etc is simplistic. I just wanted to avoid being charged with having simplistic grounds for choosing friends.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:40 PM on August 18, 2009


I actually stopped being friends with someone recently, mainly for this reason. They got into a really annoying pattern of constantly broadcasting that they knew my every inner thought and feeling. They couldn't let an interaction go by without making an explicit statement to the tune of "I know you better than anyone else, probably better than you know yourself (because we both liked the NES so much twenty years ago)." What's worse they really seemed to think I had not changed since being a decidedly obnoxious 22 year-old. It annoyed me so much, and in fact creeped me out so much, that I started avoiding this person at every opportunity. Wonder if they saw that coming?

(to be honest I think my "friend" has some mental problems beyond an overassesment of his knowledge of me).
posted by autodidact at 7:40 PM on August 18, 2009


Maybe the lesson is that friends do know the important stuff, and that those things in the survey aren't as important as the connections we make with the human beings around us.

Important as the connections? No. Important as the trivial stuff we take comfort in sharing commonality over? Maybe.

I keep getting -- and answering -- those 20 questions kind of quizzes, where you email the people who have sent it on with your answers. And it's always the most trivial stuff you can imagine. I mean, you can ask people 20 questions in this format -- anything you want -- and you want to know my favourite fruit? Ok...

I'm still working on the list *I'd* like answered, but it doesn't dodge the heavy stuff. It may make a few people uncomfortable, and undoubtedly provide some surprises, but this is the stuff I think our little group would benefit knowing about each other. Unless, of course, we'd rather not know.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:50 PM on August 18, 2009


I think they confused "what people believe" with "how people act." While I'd buy that we don't notice some things about our friends, is what they believe really all that important? More important than, say, how much they tip or how they treat strangers?
posted by QIbHom at 7:32 AM on August 19, 2009


I really despise those quiz meme things Durn Bronzefist mentions. That's not how you make friends. Friendships come from shared experience and history over time, not from random lists of facts you read and promptly forget. I find that I remember important facts (pieces of history) about my friends in context of our shared experiences much better than I do from Facebook quizzes. The fun quizzes like that are the ones that go back to shared memories with friends rather than artificially cramming "friend data" into your head as if you'll be tested next week on it.
posted by immlass at 9:04 AM on August 19, 2009


A good friend of mine once said to me "I think I have you pretty much worked out", after spending a few weekends with her and talking a bunch on IRC.

It was probably the most insulting thing anybody's ever said to me. It was like being told I was incredibly shallow.
posted by Freaky at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2009


Heh, our concepts of "real stuff" differs. The legal status of abortion affects my life, so I prefer to know what my close friends think of it and why. Not so I can make sure my friends will all have identical beliefs as me, but so I can have a better sense of them as a whole person. It helps keep shades of grey in my thinking.

Dude, semantics. Feel free to place importance on whatever friend criteria you want. When I said "real stuff", I wasn't meaning to imply that the things mentioned in the article were somehow "fake stuff". Alls I was saying was that the stuff I value knowing about my friend will have consequences in the real world. If I don't know how my friends feel about abortion, I can see this NEVER being a problem between us. (The legal status of abortion is very important. My friend's opinion on it is much less important.) If I don't know which of my friends can help me move a sofa, I can see this being a problem about once every three years.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:18 AM on August 19, 2009


painquale: I've always found Aristotle on perfect friendships to be really moving. I incorporated some of his Ethics into a best man speech at a wedding and it went over really well.

Absolutely. He's incredibly moving on friendship.

I just don't think he said "people need friends."
posted by koeselitz at 6:04 PM on August 19, 2009


Friendships come from shared experience and history over time, not from random lists of facts you read and promptly forget. I find that I remember important facts (pieces of history) about my friends in context of our shared experiences much better than I do from Facebook quizzes.

Ok, well, couple of clarifications. I was not talking about those ridiculous Facebook quizzes where you're expected to rank ten items of someone else's choosing. Garbage. No, these are simple email forwards. Someone makes up 20 questions based on things they want to know about their friends, and each person answers, emailing to everyone who came before and someone new. Like a chain letter without the curse. At least that's open-ended. Your answers are your own. *But* what inevitably gets passed around are lists of questions asking you your favourite colour and what kind of pasta you like best. Completely inane stuff.

While I certainly agree with you that shared experiences are the building blocks of relationships generally, it doesn't seem at all obvious why we wouldn't *want* to know more about the people we have this connection to. Why keep things shallow? I'm curious what my friends think about the Parti Quebecois and separatists generally. If they believe in some kind of life after death. Whether there was "one that got away". Some of that stuff you cover in the normal course of getting to know people, but not all stuff and not everybody, so a format like that can break through a reluctance to discuss some pretty interesting stuff, if you're not all hung up on asking people their favourite green vegetable.

Really, some of the responses in this thread are bordering on defensive, and that's interesting in itself.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:24 PM on August 19, 2009


While I certainly agree with you that shared experiences are the building blocks of relationships generally, it doesn't seem at all obvious why we wouldn't *want* to know more about the people we have this connection to. Why keep things shallow?

I find that a lot of the sort of 20-questions quizzes are pretty shallow, though. Sadly, most of the ones I see go by aren't on Quebecois politics, life after death, or the one that got away. In one particular circle we had a general-interest email list where a lot of serious topics of those sorts got discussed, kind of like Metafilter as mailing list. That circle is much richer for it. I'm all for having those discussions. I just haven't had the experience of those discussions starting from 20-question memes, and I do see people using FB/LJ/etc. memes as almost a substitute for shared experiences instead of an adjunct to shared experiences. The substitution is the part I despise.
posted by immlass at 9:32 PM on August 19, 2009


I think the most useful insight one can take from this study is that part of getting along with people who aren't identical to you is leaving certain things vague, knowing what topics/issues to not push hard on, covering over or forgetting certain things. From a philosophical point of view, the interesting thing in this is that there isn't a simple relationship between knowledge/familiarity and the strength of social ties; the blurirng effects of not-knowing might help to make relations smoother (sometimes).

OK, back to casting aspersions on the researcher's social skills…
posted by LMGM at 2:45 AM on August 20, 2009


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