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Are My Friends Really My Friends?

Are My Friends Really My Friends? (nytimes.com)
The quantity of human interactions has increased, but the quality is arguably diminished.
More examination and reflection of the role and substance of social media connections in society.

But in 2011, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania headed by Keith N. Hampton found evidence that “close social relations do not attrite with internet use and that internet users tend to have larger personal networks,” and that social isolation was actually lower in 2008 than in 1985.

The researchers also determined that the network size of “core discussion confidants” is most strongly associated with two popular social media activities: instant messaging and uploading photos. People who have a mobile phone and engage in these activities have a network 34 percent larger than those who don’t.

Other papers by Dr. Hampton argue that the internet and social media can facilitate offline social connections. One states that “internet use may be associated with higher levels of participation in traditional settings that support the formation of diverse networks,” such as visiting public spaces or knowing more people in the neighborhood. Another suggests that frequent Facebook users have more close and more diverse social ties than the average American — though roughly the same number of overall connections.

The article examines this lower threshold for maintaining friendships, and indicates that some people strongly favor mediated interactions over in-person interactions, especially millennials accustomed to constant communication via devices.

Because members of Generation X such as Ms. Flora based the passionate friendships of their youth primarily on in-person interactions or “rambling” phone calls, when they “make the transfer” to digital friendships they “can take advantage of the benefits of it,” she said. “But for younger people, I would worry about them compromising that precious face-to-face time, not sensing or adjusting to what their friends are really thinking or feeling.”

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  1. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, especially as it pertains to the quality of relationships forged in online gaming communities vs. those forged face-to-face. It seems disingenuous to call online/digital relationships less “real” than face-to-face relationships if the basis for a high-quality relationship rests on our willingness to open up and trust one another. I have family that I know virtually nothing about because they are unwilling or unable to discuss the issues that matter to them in any depth. Likewise, they are uninterested in the issues that matter most to me. If the only thing connecting us is our shared bloodline and face-to-face interaction, is it fair to say those relationships are inherently higher-quality than those I’ve formed online with guildmates in World of Wacraft (who, by and large, have a much deeper understanding of my personal life)?

  2. Agreed. I also think that we see affinity groups in online spaces raised to a level beyond what we know, or the connections that we have to the people we live next door to in the “real world.” Yet, I have been thinking a lot lately about these interconnections…and what we really gain/lose in these social networks. Put simply…do those tweets, shares, and likes really matter? I think it calls for a writing project and sending it out for feedback/critique to a place like Hybrid Ped or DML.

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