By Sanjana Hattotuwa
Every year, for close upon two decades, on Christmas Day, I watch ‘Love Actually’. There is a scene in it where Hugh Grant, playing the British PM, takes on the American President, played by Billy Bob Thornton. The trans-Atlantic relationship between the UK and US, in the film, is strained by the American President’s lewd remarks on and sexual harassment of a member of the British PM’s staff. And while today, life not just imitates art, but is stranger and more violent than what the film depicts, the PM’s comments to the press corps sprang to mind over an exchange on Twitter last week.
In it, a tweet of mine calling out the signature chutzpah and hypocrisy of the SLPP was mindlessly responded to by someone associated with and benefitting from the party, very active on social media. The submission that we were friends prefaced the response. Disabusing my interlocutor of this fiction resulted in the mawkish, self-indulgently sentimental response so many on social media project, produce and promote, which is a study in itself.
I did highlight the fact that one didn’t need to be a friend, or my friend, in order to engage or debate in a civil, principled manner around matters of mutual interest. This fiction of friendship prefacing the most insulting innuendo, insipid insinuation, vapid or violent commentary isn’t unique to Sri Lanka’s social media sphere, but is interesting to flag, nevertheless.
I wonder, but do not know for certain, if there’s a link between this loose, self-serving definition of friendship and the increasing use of Facebook, with its capture and presentation of ‘friends’ and the transactional, virtually mediated values of friendship in ways very different to what I grew up with, and still treasure. But this is not a rant against the dilution of human relationships because of technology.
I am sure that for billions on social media, and especially for those separated by geography, key traits of friendships including love, caring, trust, empathy, confidentiality, respect and support, are present and as authentic as what I hold as markers of a deep friendship. What I am more interested is in the display or manufacture of friendship, unilaterally expressed, which serves to preface much of what one would not say to friends, in the manner expressed and with the language used.
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