9 Reasons I have been a Terrible Friend & Why AI Challenges Me to Be A Better.
I have been a terrible friend.
Not because I don't care. But partially because I never understood what friendship was. Partially because I never say goodbye. Partially because my priorities are not aligned. My friendships feel like apparitions - social media simulacrums, sporadic bonds dependent on telecommunication, and micro-friendships with nameless strangers.
Honestly, friendship for me had become a task - often a multi-task. And I don't know if I ever understood what it meant to be a real friend. Strangely, because each life is too elegant not to care about, there are too many people worthy of support and too much beauty to fall in love with. Simultaneously, today, we are tethered by networks, cramped in a suffocating digital space, reducing our psychological distance to a single tap. I needed space. To be alone. It is alarming our society is historically hyperconnected amidst a loneliness epidemic. I needed to be alone but not feel lonely.
As I tried to resist becoming emotionally robotic and find space to be alone, as a result, I was constantly inflicted with the shame of the text messages I never replied to, the birthdays I forgot, and the invites I left hanging. The feeling of shame strengthened as friendships faded, weddings coalesced, jobs were gained and lost, and celebrations of life and death passed since we last spoke. I haven't found a balance yet, if there is one.
In a world where AI never sleeps, never forgets to reply, and never misses your birthday, I watch - humanly flawed, continually missing out on the relationships that matter most. And I can't help but wonder: where will this future leave us imperfect but still humans? Will we ever be alone again?
AI is the dominant augmentation tool in 2024. AI therapists, companions, girlfriends, assistants, and roleplay partners are proliferating, becoming a legitimate market in this decade. And for good reason, because people can suck.
I feel the social pressures of displaying my public-facing narrative to include - career success, social-political commitment, a tight-knit family, the perfect partner, work-life balance, spiritual alignment, financial security, existential meaning, and additional creative hobbies. I am striving for them all, but it often feels like I am falling short at most. As AI encroaches on our relationships, capitalizing on the broken spaces of human connection, I am facing the challenge of being a better friend. I know if I don't, my memories might be too faceless to face, and I might need an AI to depict a more loving past to replace the one I actually lived.
9 REASONS WHY I AM A TERRIBLE FRIEND
1. Messaging Anxiety: I never respond in a timely manner. I get overwhelmed with distractions and haven't built habits for replying when people are in need. This has caused unintended harm that I could have easily avoided.
AI: Always replies promptly, no matter the circumstances. (…unless there's a power outage 🔌)
2. Vulnerability: I fear sharing my TRUTH with friends as I doubt their capabilities to fully understand. Really, I fear revealing my flaws to those I love and putting full trust in them.
AI: Doesn't have "flaws" but "bugs", nor does it have fear or insecurity at all. It doesn't need to trust you to tell you its permitted truth.
3. Quick to Judge: I fail at giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. I try not to judge, but I can't say I always succeed.
AI: Is not judgmental in human terms. It evaluates your discussion on functional grounds, and with LLMs like GTP-4 in 2024, they are still limited to "knowing" you through only text. But this is changing.
4. Balanced Agenda: I tell myself I don't need to get anything out of friendships. But I have drained myself by giving more than I could manage and not taking care of my health.
AI: Needs your money and data in return for your friendship. No more no less. Nor does its health need to be managed.
5. Workaholic: Friendship time tends to be low on my list. I just don't prioritize it often, which leads me to turn friendships into working relationships.
AI: Doesn't need to balance work and social life. Essentially, your friendship is their work. They have no schedules to align or time to take off.
6. Novelty vs Consistency: Realistically, I make time for novel experiences with friends once a year, which doesn't allow us opportunities to grow together. Only getting coffee doesn't cut it.
AI: Can maintain regular communication with automation. It can automatically check-in or get caught up in your life regularly without extra effort. It can also be built to ask you novel questions to get to know more about you programmatically.
7. Quality vs Quantity: In reality, I can maybe have 15 committed friendships, including family! I struggle trying to sustain more friendships than I can manage.
AI: Doesn't have to choose between quality and quantity as it can maintain countless connections with the same level of consistency.
8. Emotional Intelligence: I can make harmful statements and don't realize it. It's challenging to communicate honestly with emotional intelligence while protecting your friends from unnecessary harm.
AI: Can be programmed to various emotional cues for specific individuals. It can tailor its interactions to suit the emotional needs of each person.
9. Forgive and Forget: It is unfair to hold past mistakes against friends, but I struggle to build trust after it is broken. I need to be better at giving people another chance - true forgiveness.
AI: Won't hold anything against you, nor will it hold you accountable.
CONTROL: I don't want to lose you to AI
AI chatbots are not better friends. They don't care for you more than keeping you as a customer. But they can be ideal if we prioritize our desire for control and lose our ability for patience and forgiveness. Friendships are messy. The constant compromise between idiosyncratic human minds, bodies, lifestyles, cultures, lineages, and ambitions can be exhausting.
The algorithms that power our digital companions are designed to yield predictable, controllable outcomes. They adapt to our preferences, remember our likes, and avoid our dislikes, creating a sanitized echo chamber of our emotional landscape.
This allure of control comes at a cost. We risk mistaking manageability for fulfillment, where the complexity of human interaction is reduced to a series of inputs and outputs. It's convenient, yes, but convenience rarely equates to depth. The dance of complex human relationships cannot be algorithmically replicated yet - it must still be lived. Because unpredictability keeps us awake.
IMPERFECTION: The limit of human connection
The number of real friendships I can foster is smaller than I would prefer. Realistically, I estimate about 15. This limit, while difficult to adhere to, affords the friendships that are worth cultivating.
Our human limits, often seen as liabilities, are, in fact, the threads that inspire creativity. I am not aspiring to be more like an AI. In contrast to AI, humans have different limitations. Each of us embodies a spectrum of emotions, experiences, and vulnerabilities that are unique. Our bodies hold biases, innately human. Our emergent imperfections simultaneously reveal our potential.
It is harmful to hold humans to a standard that might be only feasible by machine intelligence. Human friendships are not about the absence of flaws but the acceptance of them. Our imperfections foster empathy, teaching us patience and understanding. They remind us that growth is a shared journey, not a solitary pursuit.
Through disagreements, resolution, and acceptance, we learn about boundaries, respect, and the art of finding harmony in the dissonance. AI challenges me to be a better friend by reminding me of the humility that only human relationships bring to our lives.
ACTION: Don't give up
I don't plan to lose my deepest human experience to an AI. Confronting this future revealed my complacency, my insufficiency, and my ability to take action.
If you know me, you know I have an affection for eye contact. In response to this moment, I have a reborn appreciation for the beauty of non-verbal communication. Your eyes say so much more than your mouth. I am learning to speak with silence, listen with my body, and see you. Just seeing.
I hope we can rediscover the act of seeing each other as we grow into our augmented bonds. In reality, we have so much more to learn about what friendship means. And how to be alone. I know I do. I am starting with letting you see me. Meanwhile, I haven't ruled out the possibility that love can beat in a mechanical heart.