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We Are Wired for Friendship

All evidence suggests that we are Wired for Friendship. From evolutionary biology, to neurosciences and social networks, our existence in part is defined by how we relate to others. It has been shown to affect how physically healthy we are as individuals, and it shapes our psychological outlook on the world and how satisfied we are with our lives. Is the glass half-full, half-empty, or do we even have a glass? Friendship helps decide that for us.

So when our society is changing in a way that affects Friendship, what are the implications? Our increasingly mobile (as in moving somewhere else) and live-alone society has caused difficulty in maintaining the types of deep, long-lasting Friendships that act as stabilizing forces in our lives. It is no wonder that some view that we are devolving socially.

One could argue that online social networks were a natural evolutionary need for connection in a country that is increasingly on-the-go; that our desire to explore and individuate is mitigated by our need for connection. So Facebook, Tagged, MeetMe, and all their brethren are filling a vital need for…society; to repair the damage caused by our increased mobility.

Ok, maybe I just went a little too far, however, most social interaction is a learned behavior. The group, our Friends, regulate how we relate to each other, and ourselves. What is socially acceptable, and what is permissible, is bilaterally regulated between our small group, and the larger society.

But what are the changes when the nuances of communication gained in face-to-face interactions are replaced with an online “equivalent.” I am finger-quoting that in my mind. The word “equivalent” does not do justice to the degree to which current online interaction pales in comparison to real-world relations when it comes to our ability to connect with the other person. Without an in-person meeting we do not have the benefit of 30,000 years of passed down social cues; the way they tilt their head, the tone of their voice, the fidgeting in their hands, the sparkle in their eyes, the licking of their lips, their proximity to us, and maybe the heat they give off. All of these minute subtle cues assemble in face-to-face meetings to form a more complete picture of the communication; it provides the “context” to the “content” that is delivered… and context is vital. Without it, we do not have, in essence, a moderator for truth. If you have ever been in an argument with someone who picked up on some of your clues and ended up in a “That’s-not-what-I-said! … But-that’s-what-you-meant!” argument you know what I am talking about.

We pick up on a lot of nuanced communication in-person that is lost virtually.  As such we are increasingly creating a fantasy friendship in our heads when we relate digitally; one based on our own projection of reality, that of our desires, and aspirations… or in some cases neurosis. In essence we “read into” things too much. We fill in all of those blanks, the cues we are missing, not with real observation, but from what we know previously… what we think. With a lack of multi-model sensory input we substitute, like filling in a puzzle with pieces we draw ourselves, to complete the picture. The relationship, the Friendship, becomes what we “think” it is, and not a truthful reciprocal interaction.

But remember we are but at the forefront of virtual living compensating for geographic isolation in Friendship. We are adding increasingly nuanced clues for us to regulate our expectations the more that technology becomes innate. In some ways we have more advanced tools for filling in who someone is than we ever had before. We have more information, we just lack the social context for it.

I believe in the future and the ability to make our most optimistic ideas of the future a reality. We created the schism between content and context, but it will slowly repair itself in time as technologies enable us to do so; and the gaps and limitations of how we perceive each other, how we engage with people we call Friends, will evaporate.

Until then… my Friend.

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