September 10, 2007 |
How many people online do you count as friends? Is your network on LinkedIn or Facebook extensive? As we become more and more connected perhaps we need to evaluate our digital self in relation to our physical one. Researchers are claiming that online ties, while often extensive, do not reflect any increase at all in people's close friendships. Is the digital world really as shallow as all that and do human beings have to have “face to face” contact to bond closely? Perhaps human interaction on the Web is too deep to disect with MySpace analysis – maybe we should be evaluating those 400 emails and IM's you have with your friends.
According to evolutionary psychologist Will Reader of Sheffield Hallam University close friendships require face-to-face contact. In a meeting sponsored by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Reader revealed research on Facebook and MySpace where people answered questions their attitudes toward friendships. According to their findings 90 percent of all those surveyed said that face to face associations are imperative to forming close bonds. One of the biggest variables according to the study is the interpretation of body language as a method of establishing credibility and trust.
This news is not exactly a “flash” to any of us who have inhabited this space for any time. Somehow evaluating the most clinical of networks like MySpace does not seem like science to me. Extended social networks certainly do not mean that a person has more true close friends, but establishing a median increase in real friendships could not possibly be accomplished with “fly by” science directed at just popular forums. Everyone seems to marvel at the vast numbers of people on these networks while failing to understand that interactions outside these places is more extensive and often more personal.
Research actual friend interactions in relation to Internet usage a study at Carnegie Mellon University conducted from 1995 – 2003 revealed that Internet usage may actually increase user interaction with friends. This study used several methodologies to measure the impact of the Internet on friends and family, and while it is not directed specifically at online relationships it does reflect that measuring systems reveal diverse results. The point is, one cannot use huge social networking sites to gauge anything but huge networking sites.
Friends and Acquaintances
If a person is online looking for a shortcut to making friends and gaining influence they may be in for a rude awakening. However, in my experience people on the Web more or less mirror their non-digital selves all be it somewhat less inhibited. A lesson I learned a long time ago is that there is a huge difference between an acquaintance and a friend. This is something we all tend to forget in both the physical and digital worlds. So, a surfer can easily make an acquaintance at MySpace or any other social network, but the friendship aspect is virtually the same as offline – it takes time and effort to be friends.
Web 2.0 and Friends
The emergence of fantastic innovation and communication in the last couple of years has opened doors no one could dream of back in “the day”. Here at Profy and across my wide wanderings on the Net the single overwhelming aspect of Web 2.0 is connectivity. We are here to be connected, to collaborate, inform, help, enjoy and be acquaintances and friends. I consider so many people close friends and occasionally as close as many non-digital ones. A friend I played online games with for a couple of years once sent me $1500 because I was in a bind. I have never seen this person's face, yet I know him as well as if we lived next door, in fact my neighbors at that time would not have given me CPR if I needed it. I have dozens of stories like this as I am sure many of you do. Close friends are cultivated and nurtured here as they are in any domain.
Analysis is great but it should be carried out in an appropriate way so that blanket statements don't taint evidence. Certainly face-to-face interactions are preferable and much richer, but in the absence of physical contact this is the next best thing.Outside body language there is textual inflection and also a heightened sense of human intent from other stimuli. Human beings are imminently adaptable creatures and Internet social skills are just another coping hurdle for many. In the end a human being can make lifelong friends from inside a bottle. Web 2.0 has reunited me with long lost friends, taken me into the offices and thoughts of some of the most brilliant and charming people on the planet. I hope to see all my online friends on the beach soon, but until then I will be their true friend here on the Web – another part of the world made up of you.