You've Got a Friend. Ashley Has 1,376 Friends

December 6, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I don’t really think Facebook did much to change the definition of community. But what has FB done to friend?

In a comment on the previous post, Aftersox suggests that we need a new definition of community, maybe something that encompasses online communities. My point was that the word has already been stretched to include all sorts of agglomerations of people. I doubt that many Facebook users thought that there was anything strange about the message the referred to a community of 350 million. That’s why, when we want to refer to a truly communal group, we go back to Tönnies’s German vocabulary – Gemeinschaft.

But what are we to do about friend? Surely a retronym is called for.

A retronym is a term that comes into use when technology makes the old term confusing. Acoustic guitar, for example. When electric guitars came along, we needed a special term for the instrument which for hundreds of years had just been a guitar. Manual typewriter, prop plane, desktop computer, land line, manual or standard transmission, broadcast television.

What term will we use to distinguish friends in the old sense of the word from Facebook friends?

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