Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace do not help you make more genuine close friends, according to a survey by researchers who studied how the websites are changing the nature of friendship networks. Although social networking on the internet helps people to collect hundreds or even thousands of acquaintances, the researchers believe that face to face contact is nearly always necessary to form truly close friendships.
"Although the numbers of friends people have on these sites can be massive, the actual number of close friends is approximately the same in the face to face real world," said psychologist Will Reader, from Sheffield Hallam University.
Social networking websites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace have taken off rapidly in recent years. Facebook was launched initially in 2004 for Harvard University members but has since expanded to more than 34 million users worldwide. MySpace, which was set up in 2003, has more than 200 million users and was bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in 2005 for $580m (£285m).
Previous research has suggested that a person's conventional friendship group consists of around 150 people, with five very close friends but larger numbers of people whom we keep in touch with less regularly.
This figure is so consistent that scientists have suggested it is determined by the cognitive constraints of keeping up with large numbers of people.
But Dr Reader and his team have found that social networking sites do allow people to stretch this figure.
The team asked more than 200 people to fill in questionnaires about their online networking, asking for example how many online friends they had, how many of these were close friends and how many they had met face to face. The team found that although the sites allowed contact with hundreds of acquaintances, as with conventional friendship networks, people tend to have around five close friends.
Ninety per cent of contacts whom the subjects regarded as close friends were people they had met face to face.
"People see face to face contact as being absolutely imperative in forming close friendships," added Dr Reader. He told the British Association Festival of Science in York that social networking sites allow people to broaden their list of nodding acquaintances because staying in touch online is easy. "What social network sites can do is decrease the cost of maintaining and forming these social networks because we can post information to multiple people," he said.
But to develop a real friendship we need to see that the other person is trustworthy, said Dr Reader. "What we need is to be absolutely sure that a person is really going to invest in us, is really going to be there for us when we need them ... It's very easy to be deceptive on the internet."
made in imitation; artificial, not genuine; fake or false
If you are a blogger, a Facebook page Admin, an avid reader of your friends' Status Updates, belong to any Facebook Group or happen to engage with people on any social media platform -- you've heard it before. "Those people are NOT real! They are not real friends, they don't even know you and God knows, you don't know them. Why do you spend so much time on that damn thing? Why don't you go out with ACTUAL LIVE PEOPLE?"
Have you ever tried to explain to someone who has absolutely no clue that cyber relationships are where you have connected with what are now some of your very best and most cherished friends? Yeah, good luck with that. I gave up years ago when my boyfriend at the time would end up in a jealous temper tantrum because I was in an AOL chatroom.
After rolling over and finding my side of the bed cold and vacant, he would stagger out, bleary eyed and still in a semi slumbered state only to find me in the wee hours of the morning laughing so hard my shoulders were quaking. He would then admonish me. "It's 2 o'clock in the morning, Mary, what the hell are you doing on the computer?" I finally realized he was jealous! I happened to be attending the community college at the time and would just out and out lie and blame my late nights spent on my laptop, or as he viewed it, his competition, studying for an "oh so important" exam I had to take in a few hours. Eventually, I confessed my guilty pleasure to him, my AOL chatroom and the hysterically funny people I shared my insomnia with. Why I felt I had to defend myself, I don't know. Would he have had the same reaction if three or four of my best girlfriend's were sitting in our living room sharing some late night laughs over a bottle of wine? Of course not, they would be "real" people.
I wandered into this magical place by mistake. I had no idea what a chatroom was at the time, I was bored and exploring the nooks and crannies of AOL. After passing rigorous interrogation by the three or four scary women in "a room", I was accepted into this place that accepted me sight unseen. They had no idea if I was white, black, fat, skinny, Republican or Democrat, old or young and none of that mattered. We just hit it off right away! It was there we met to share our twisted stories about things that happened in the "real" world that day. To be accepted, sight unseen, where there can be no physical judgement passed seems more legit to me than many of the "real" people I meet who are vapid, condescending nitwits. In the virtual world, either you fit into a place right away or you just move on somewhere else that loves your brand of insanity. No one cares what you are wearing or how much it costs. No one cares what time it is, day or night there's an ear there waiting. No one cares if you are tipsy or sober, happy or depressed you are welcome with no judgement. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these "not real" people will jump in to support you in any way they can. It's quite lovely.
That was 12 years ago. I am still friends with this group of incredible people I met in that AOL Chatroom, none of whom I have ever met. We are all on Facebook now but just a few weeks ago, we all downloaded AOL Desktop (remember that dinosaur?) and opened the long before locked doors of our Chatroom. We all went in and dusted, waxed, rearranged the furniture, mopped the filthy floor, cleared away the cobwebs, shined up those windows and once again and took our rightful places in our favorite old, overstuffed chairs. We resurrected our alias names we had given each other and haven't skipped a beat dishing out our snarky, judgmental comments for the inexperienced "room-less" wanderers who happen into "our" room. Like me, when I aimlessly wondered in by mistake, intense interrogations take place to determine if the wanderer is room worthy or just a psycho looking to stir up trouble. It doesn't take long for us to determine their fate, they are blessed or banished in a matter of seconds. Hilarity always ensues when one of the evicted trolls creates a new identity and tries to re-enter under false pretenses. We all feverishly private message comparing notes as to whether or not the intruder is in fact an impostor. Then the ruling. All judgements are final. Some stay, some are booted out the door. It is actually all done in fun and most are welcome in our small corner of the world. The only exceptions are those that are hateful or obviously not adults. It's our safe room.
How is this not real? How are these not comparable to the relationships we have with our real life friends? For people like me who do not have the finances to drop 10 bucks a drink, which let's face it, adds up quickly, or are stuck as I was 12 years ago, living in an extremely rural place surrounded by my boyfriend's very unwelcoming family, with no one to talk to, my Internet was my connection to sanity, the outside world and more importantly, to my friends, real and "not real" friends. I was a city girl living in a "stand by your man", ultra-conservative, area located 3,600 feet atop a mountain. I am about as far from a "mountain woman" as you can possibly get. Our relationship ended and until I could secure alternative living arrangements closer to my friends and family, I was sad, lonely and felt very isolated. No wonder I travelled the roadways of the Internet to find my rightful place in a room full of non judgmental people that made me laugh til my sides ached!! I left there not long after finding this group of amazing women, they supported me and encouraged me to leave "Green Acres". I packed up my laptop and all of them with it (another plus of "not real" friends, they are portable!) and when I finally returned to my world, they were right there with me.
I am fortunate that I have found this same comradery in a couple of Groups on Facebook who are now also among those I call friends. Real friends. It isn't all fun and games. We share our hardships and heartbreaks, our battles and break-ups, depression and discouragement and our melancholy and madness. I have no doubt in my mind that were I to need something or found myself in some kind of trouble, that these "not real" people would come to my aid, my rescue in any way shape or form. I have seen this play out numerous times when someone in the Group facing a serious but temporary hardship. Help is offered in many different ways, sometimes financial or sometimes a friend just needs emotional support and are unable to reach out to loved one's or family for myriad reasons.
Without them, I wouldn't be writing. Without them, I wouldn't have started this blog, a place for me to share myself, store myself and leave a little bit of myself here for my friends, family or children to come back to if they forget who their friend was, their sister was or their mom was should I leave before them. I spend more time here in this virtual world than I do with my life long friends I grew up with. I love them, too, more than words can say, for they have also encouraged, loved and laughed me through some of the worst times of my life. The difference is that I can't always go where they go and do what they do. What I can do is open this laptop, click a few buttons, walk through a door and enter a place filled with people who know me, who I am and greet me with a cheerful emoticon or comment making me feel welcome no matter how often I'm there or how long I've been gone. I am honored to be in their company, whether it's in my AOL chatroom or the Groups I am a part of on Facebook, I am proud to call them friends and would do anything for any one of them.
I am fully and painfully aware that some people in my life think that I'm addicted to my virtual world and perhaps that's true, perhaps they are right but hey, that's fine with me. To them I say, riddle me this? How is it that music you hear through ear buds or computer speakers moves you, stirs you, makes you weep tears of joy or sadness when you listen and yet no "real" physical person is singing it to you? How is it you can sit in a pew in your choice of religious or spiritual arena and believe so devoutly in something you cannot see or touch in front of you? My virtual friends are as important to me as my "real" friends. Both give me love and support, both make me laugh and cry and both are always there when I need them. So, what is it that makes these Internet friendships so real you can almost feel a hand reach through your screen and wipe your tears away or a hug so tight you don't want to let go?
It's the connection. The connection to that which makes us feel a part of something, a belonging, a comfortable place to put your feet up and sip on your drink. I thank my lucky stars every day for that connection -- my Internet Connection. It has led me to some of the most amazing people I could ever hope to know. I'm done defending myself to people who don't understand. I don't waste time on people that don't understand me or at least try to.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an "un-real" cocktail party to get to and guess what? I'm wearing my pajamas to it!!!
Faux? Made in imitation; artificial; not genuine; fake or false.
I prefer the antonyms...Authentic, genuine, real, natural and sincere.
Earlier on Huff/Post50:
7 Ways To Make Friends Post 50
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