Relationships The Internet

The value of friction

Bookmarked We can’t thrive without friction by David Hansson (

To prevent a relapse, I’ve replaced the free-for-all of the thunderdome with connections mediated by friction. The kind of friction the internet had since its inception, but that has been outrun by the virulence of the frictionless social media variants.

The most important of these mediated connections have been through email. Both sending it, like this, but also receiving it from the small minority of readers who because of the friction took the time to write thoughtful, polite replies of both encouragement and disagreement.

In 4000 Weeks Oliver Burkeman too puts social value on friction, though more in an offline than online sense. He points out that we try to increase our convenience and make things as easy as possible by cutting out people – but we’re realizing how important community and connection is, and that it’s worth the extra effort to interact with people and let ourselves be part of a community, even if that means giving up some control over how we spend our time. Giving ourselves over to what the community needs from us: Anne Helen Petersen wrote about learning to be part of her community last fall, how she let a friendly stranger in her new hometown help her deal with a flat tire instead of calling AAA, and now is starting to volunteer to help others. Our humanity may make us less efficient than using an app or self-checkout, but ultimately connecting with other people makes up for the “lost” time, enriching life for everyone. I’ve been reading a lot about friendship over the past year and one suggestion about expanding on your existing friendships that keeps coming up is inviting friends to join you in the day to day of life – errands, hanging out while you do chores, etc – recognizing that everything’s more fun with a friend, and also that this friction of the annoyances or needs of daily life *is* life.

Friction is a screener for caring. In the social media world of endless, effortless interactivity, adding friction gatekeeps your own time and mental health, raising the quality of the interactions you do have while limiting them to a reasonable number. I used to list things on Craigslist for $20, then give it to people for free once they showed up, because being willing to pay anything screened out the (worst of the) no-shows. Having a small hurdle cuts out dealing with people who don’t really care.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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