The advent of social media has long been touted as a means for connecting the world — bringing people together, allowing for the maintenance of old friendships and relationships, and the proliferation of new ones. But now, in a rather surprising turn of events, it appears that with the increased capacity for digital connectivity, in-person interactions may in fact be diminishing. Rather than serving as a catalyst for actual meetings, social media and technology have become alternate realities of sorts, where friends are met, made, and kept. As per a new Pew Research Center study entitled “Teens, Technology, and Friendships,” today’s adolescents actually prefer to make friends online, and keep their relationship to the confines of the Internet.
According to study results, “Fully 57 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 have made a new friend online,with 29 percent of teens indicating that they have made more than five new friends in online venues. Most of these friendships stay in the digital space; only 20 percent of all teens have met an online friend in person.” Moreover, even within friendships that were made offline: “Just 25 percent of teens spend time with friends in person (outside of school) on a daily basis.” Otherwise, generally speaking, the vast majority of communication and interaction is done via text, Facebook, or some other social media platform.
This new trend raises a number of provocative questions — have the requirements for friendship and being a good friend changed over the last few years with the rise of the digital age? Whereas “being there” for a friend generally seems to mean being physically present at certain crucial points, perhaps this is no longer necessary — maybe now, feeling connected to another human being doesn’t require any sort of physical closeness. But along the same vein, how well can you really get to know a person based purely on online interactions? Is it perhaps possible that the lack of an in-person meeting actually makes for a more meaningful, authentic relationship, unadulterated by the pitfalls that can accompany physicality?
As the very definition of friendship continues to evolve with the increasing prevalence of social media and the Internet, it seems more and more likely that the way in which we interact and perhaps even relate to one another will soon begin to change as well. Whereas before, being someone’s Facebook friend was lower on the totem pole than being someone’s “real” friend, we may have to re-examine that hierarchy very soon.