27: Friend groups

Kevin Kwok has a schtick about how friend groups underinvest in themselves. A group of people with high mutual trust, shared interests, and low coordination costs have already solved for many of the issues that otherwise prevent humans from accomplishing great things.

I've been thinking about whether friendships could be described as having a purpose beyond personal fulfillment, and I think it shares some parallels with dating. One of modern dating's great albatrosses is the hedonistic treadmill: the Tinder-induced "Welcome to Hell" of meeting, connecting, dating, and ghosting, repeated ad infinitum. Dating around is a perfectly good way to pass the weeks and months and years, but at some point, if you're not committing to something – building towards a "we" that exists outside of yourself – the initial thrill of intimacy begins to take on a saccharine, artificial quality.

Similarly, there's a version of modern friendship that feels like dating around, especially because it's extremely easy to meet new people these days. Maybe it's getting coffee with interesting people from Twitter, or grabbing a drink with old acquaintances to catch up and trade "life updates" every month or quarter. It feels good to meet people, swap ideas, connect on some superficial level, and perhaps even be a small part of one another's lives, but if you never really settle down and commit to those friendships, you're just collecting names. Over time, those names get replaced with other names, and the cycle begins anew.

(To clarify, lest you take me for a misanthrope: not all acquaintances, of course, turn into friendships. A healthy social life involves a mix of both close friends and casual acquaintances that are great to occasionally catch up with, or even "sidewalk friends" (like gym buddies, officemates, or the barista you see every day) whom you interact with regularly, but don't pursue deeper meaning with. I'm mostly curious about the odd deadly purgatory between acquaintance and friendship, where two people are making more than occasional time for each other, but not progressing towards anything deeper. Perhaps there's an opportunity for these to blossom into deeper purpose, collaboration, and meaning.)

"Commitment" in the context of friendship usually refers to things like keeping your word or showing unconditional support. But I think there could also be a implied commitment not just towards each other as individuals, but to a shared sense of self. To try on a more normative version of friendship, perhaps we could say: "A group of friends who enjoy each others' company ought to build something together."

This isn't a shill for startups; "building something together" doesn't have to mean starting a company. In its most primitive form, it might mean acknowledging the existence of a shared group identity, one that can exist outside of any individual member, and that everyone is building towards. The strongest groups I can think of have nicknames or shared rituals and practices that an outsider wouldn't immediately understand. They trade stories and maintain an oral history together.

From that shared group identity, however, more opportunities could emerge, such as:

  • Starting a company (yes)

  • Starting an angel fund, fellowship, or grant program to support people or ideas you like

  • Starting a publication or publishing arm (Reboot and Paper Gains are two fun examples)

  • Starting a public library, studio, or event space

  • Starting a group house or building a compound together

Some groups of friends are already very good at doing this. (Side note: Other Internet provides an excellent framework for positive-sum squad thinking in their essay "Squad Wealth".) In a work context, I notice this behavior most often in hiring for, founding, and investing in companies, which are often rooted in strong fraternal relationships. But it feels like there's still a lot of opportunity that's being left on the table.

“Let's buy a bar together” or “Let's buy land and move to the country and raise our kids together” are common refrains among urban-dwelling 20somethings, but very few people actually do it. I wish these interests were taken more seriously, and that we encouraged each other to act upon them, rather than thinking of them fondly as the whims of young people before reality hits.

Writing

  • “The creator economy”: I’ve been struggling with the concept of a “creator economy,” so I shared some thoughts here. I know everyone has been laying out their principles like playthings and examining them one by one, post-deep COVID, and I guess I'm no exception. For me, a question I've been stuck on is something like, “Is there inherent value in 'creating' for the sake of it?”. I guess it's partly why I haven't been publishing very much, either, even though I've been writing a lot in private.

Links

  • “Beyond Based and Cringe” (Nate Sloan): Nate draws parallels between the late 00's - early '10s irony and sincerity with today's based and cringe, which I hadn't considered before, and asks whether these labels are self-limiting.

  • There Is No Antimimetics Division (qntm): This is the best new sci fi I've read in recent memory, I think because it feels fresh and modern, tackling some of the hardest social questions that the world is facing today. It's about antimemes, defined as "an idea with self-censoring properties...which, by its intrinsic nature, discourages or prevents people from spreading it." I might write a longer piece about this later. Oh, and even cooler is the fact that this book came out of a fictional universe, SCP Foundation, that's been collaboratively developed on a wiki! (Warning: it is a bit spooky and graphic; think Lovecraftian horror.)

  • “Uniswap Research Report: Discord, Governance, Community” (Other Internet): I'm consistently surprised that there aren't more ethnographers flocking to crypto right now, so I'm happy to see that Other Internet has started tackling ethnographies of Discord communities, starting with Uniswap.

  • Funding the Commons: This summit from last week, hosted by Protocol Labs and friends, is chock-full of interesting questions and ideas about funding public goods.