Social minimalism

I think that what people often fail to realise about minimalism is that it strongly reflects our biology and cognitive psychology. We have limited attention; hence, we should be mindful of what we pay attention to in order not to spread it too thinly. That lesson also applies to friendships. Meaningful relationships require intimacy, which does not develop spontaneously. It requires energy, attention and history. If you are best friends with everybody, then you are, in fact, best friends with nobody. To some degree, exclusivity is a requirement for a meaningful relationship. It signials that we are willing to invest time and energy in this specific connection, rather than its alternatives.

And we should emphasise having meaningful relationships. Several studies have shown that especially later in life, the number of intimate friendships is a better predictor of happiness than having a spouse or children. What I read into that, is not necessarily that children and spouses do not make us happy, but rather that the voluntary nature of friendships usually means that we don't stick around people that have become too bitter and ungrateful. If you still have friends when you come of age, it surely means that you are the type of person people delight in being in the same room as. Hence, we should use our friends as a metric for judging who we are.


Is it not interesting how clever and interesting people usually attract other clever and interesting people? That attractive people have attractive friends. It's like some kind of social Darwinism where the evolutionary pressure is in-group conformity. Childhood friends usually have remarkably similar careers, sense of humour and even appearance. The similarity between friends might be necessary since differences in perception and preferences often are the root cause of disagreements. Hence, the more similar friends are the fewer conflicts they will have, and less chance of growing apart. 

The adage of "show me who your friends are, and I will show who you are" is then on point. If you think your friends are funny and interesting, there is a very good chance that you are funny and interesting as well. Friends can then serve as a mirror - by letting you notice new facets of your personality. 

The problem is that with the dawn of the connectedness of social media, we tend to think differently about what friends should provide. Most profoundly, the way it transforms social relations into 'stats' and 'likes'. It removes the consciousness of what gifts friends can offer and instead makes us focus on the void of social recognition. One particular episode showcased for me how corrupting social media had become too intimate relations. 

As I wished a friend from class 'happy birthday', she responed with: 'thanks! Could you congratulate me on facebook as well?'. Birthday blessings had seemingly become yet another form of munitions in the social media popularity contest. If it is not shared, it is not real.

Now more then ever, we need to realise that friendships have a 'less is more' quality to them. Hence, we should be incredibly careful of not eroding our 'real' friendships by focusing our energy in keeping up with our acquittances. Almost everyone can agree with that statement, but we act as if we do not. Is it not instructive that we message acquaintances while having coffee with a friend? That every moment has to caught and shared on Snapchat, so people we don't care for can see it as well? 

Social minimalism is in opposition to using friendships instrumentally. It is a way of acknowledging that a friend in front of you, is better than ten on facebook. It is the way of giving the people you care about the attention they deserve.