Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook

by Alex Lambert

A Critical Review by Valerie Robin


Photograph of author Alex Lambert

Alex Lambert is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Melbourne in the School of Culture and Communication where he studies social, mobile, and location-based media with a focus on Facebook.











Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook book cover A Critical Overview

To say that Facebook has altered ways in which connected humans interact is a rather obvious statement. The question concerning Facebook and its impact on human interaction is not "has it?" but "how has it?" In current rhetoric and composition scholarship, we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the complex world of social media. While Alex Lambert is a social scientist and not a rhetorician by training, his recent book Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook is a much-needed overview of the complex interactions that happen between users.

Lambert (2013) described his book as “a grounded ethnographic study of the influence of Facebook on everyday life” (p. 1). To accomplish his case study, Lambert friended six regular Facebook users, three male and three female, in order to examine how intimacies work across the varying features of the Facebook platform. From the beginning, Lambert rejected Christine Rosen’s (2007) claim that “the idea of public friendship is an oxymoron” (as cited in Lambert, 2013, p. 23). This rejection has implications for scholars interested in public spaces and the nature of surveillance on social media sites. Much of what Lambert does in his book serves to break ground for scholars concerned with how writing can work in scenarios where notions of public and private are skewed.

Social media is rapidly becoming the dominant mode of communication for many Internet users. As an avid Facebook user, I appreciate the insight Lambert gives about the nature of online intimacy and the ways in which we employ rhetoric to maintain online friendships. We do so from various places and spaces, and with varying levels of intimacy. Composition scholars interested in examining the effects online intimacy may have on the nuances of user communications, whether these communications are written or visual, may find Lambert’s case studies useful in getting started on their own social media studies track.

Lambert’s (2013) study provides several avenues into social-media-driven studies by way of examining problematic terms such as honesty, privacy, and his own term, intensive intimacy, which describes the calculated social labor users must undergo in order to maintain their online social ties (p. 3). He questions the negative approaches of many social media scholars such as Sherry Turkle (2011) and her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other and provides important background for any scholar looking to investigate how an interface like Facebook can affect both rhetoric and writing. Next Page