Friendship: What does it mean in the digital age?

Imagine the time when you were a child. Think about the people you interacted with, the places you visited, and the activities you did. When your parents enrolled you in kindergarten, you were surprised by the number of classmates you had. During recess, you interacted with all of them and found out, which you defined back then, the ‘nicest’ classmate who would then become a ‘friend’. When it was the last day of school, you perhaps gave your phone number to your companion and told them to ‘call you.’

As you grew older and made more friends, you noticed that your methods of communication began to change.  Technology started to become an integral part of your life as well. The school introduced laptops, your parents bought the family a computer, and you started to play games on new devices.  Whether that would be Dragonfable, Moshi Monsters, or Neopets, the games brought you joy and a way to escape from homework.

When schoolwork became more crucial to your academic success, technology evolved as well. At this point, you already have a smartphone and laptop for tedious assignments. Multiple friends and acquaintances are now connected with you through Instagram, Facebook, or Skype. The internet became a ‘want’ and a ‘need’ as you used it to finish tasks and communicate with others daily.

The growth from childhood to adulthood was adventurous in terms of friendships.  Nowadays, the value of friendships has alternated from an active approach into a technological form. But is it changing for the better?

Teenagers and Virtual Friendships

(Lopes, 2017)

Think about the time when you made a friend by playing a game during your teenage years. The friend may not live in same country or be the same age.  However, your willingness to work as a team and beat the game is the reason why you befriended a stranger online. Many teenagers are on the same boat, as 57% of them have made friends online with 78% of them saying that they felt connected with others when playing games. 

Now, remember the time when you created your first social media account. Perhaps you wanted to interact with different people around the same age group in your city. You scroll through Instagram, find a person to connect with, follow them and then they proceed to follow you back.  After commenting and viewing their posts, you finally decide to start a conversation with them.  The conversation turns into a friendship and a real life meet up.  According to Pew research, around 64% of teenagers share this experience.  Meeting a stranger from social media at first is daunting, but after your first conversation, you start to realize how relatable and understanding your new friend can be.

Keeping real-life friendships

(Prado, 2019)

After a long day from school, you proceed to check social media.  Suddenly, you notice that your friend Bella has sent you a message.  You were surprised since Bella lives around 100 kilometres away and has never talked to you for six months. You open the message and in disbelief, read that Bella broke up with her boyfriend and unfriended him on Facebook.

Interesting enough, unfriending others on social media is quick as a click.  Just by selecting the ‘Unfriend’ or ‘Block’ button, one can delete a person from their friend’s list. Although the process may be poorly detailed and vain, the potential to disassociate from a person lies within seconds. However, keeping in contact with Bella was tough for you since she lives very far, and you hardly ever see her. Having a place to chat with her really brings you at ease by knowing how your friend is doing.

Drama and Social Media

(Mikoto.raw, 2019)

Being in school has really taken a toll.  Despite the numerous assignments, tests, and exams, dealing with frustrating people is the most difficult challenge ever. It is around noon and after working on a group project, you decide to check twitter before grabbing lunch. 

At the top of your home page, you see that a girl named Rebecca tweeted about how she and her friend, Cheryl had fought.  Before you know it, some random student nudges you, and asks if you know what happened to Rebecca.

You shrug.

You then notice that this scenario happens frequently on social media. Since social media networks are public, any situation addressed online can potentially make its way to offline environments. Sharing situations and scenarios virtually in public can create drama and conflict between individuals. Rebecca’s tweet has allowed many students to know about her situation, which may lead to rumours, gossip, and speculation.

So can we keep friendships safe on social media?

(energepic, 2016)

Think about the friends you made online and the long-distance friendships you kept.

These results were most likely due to social media.  Despite its shortcomings, social media is borderless, vocal, and convenient.  So many teenagers and adults nowadays use social media to connect with their friends and share their opinions worldwide.  However, with the increase in drama and publicity, we must learn how to use social media smartly and effectively.  Some solutions are to only share personal information with close friends, be aware of suspicious accounts, and keep a safe distance when interacting with strangers. Although these solutions are not guaranteed to solve every situation, they can help when identifying a person’s intentions on social networks.

When contacting friends and thinking about previous friendships, social media makes us ask ourselves: Are our friends all really gone? Since most of the populace nowadays uses social media, we can search for our companions easily and send a friend request.

But will they remember the moments we shared before the increase of technology?