Making friends in the real world in real-time is something that most of us learn very early in life, and was the basis for the Mechanics of Friendship paper (Brooks, 2012b). We have millennia of opinions, and decades of empirical research, about face-to-face friendship. In the last decade, however, we have just begun to understand our virtual friends—how we make and keep friends online, how we interact with them, and the benefits of an increased social network. While early research on social network sites (SNSs) suggested that we may more-regularly interact with existing, offline friends via SNSs (Ellison, Steinfeld, & Lampe, 2007), creating new connections online or solidifying tentative connections made offline, thereby increasing a person’s bonding and bridging social capital, is also important. Understanding the importance of social capital, or the resources a person can rely on for personal and social support, offers insights into the importance of social contact to maintain social ties. Higher levels of social capital have been linked to many benefits such as greater commitment to community and psychological well-being (Ellison et al., 2007).
Research related to the impact, effects, and benefits of making and maintaining friends via online social media, what we refer to as the Science of Online Friendship, in many ways, challenges three common cultural internet memes which have sprung up in the past several years, each of which are explored below.
Internet Meme #1
It Is Hard to Make Friends These Days, We Are Socially Isolated and Lonely
Major online media outlets, including the New York Times and the Huffington Post, consistently run opinion pieces and soft news features about the challenges faced by early to mid-life adults of making friendships with all of the pressures of modern life. In his piece, “Friends of a Certain Age” New York Times columnist Alex Williams (2012), cites lack of time as well as increased discernment about including new people in his life as factors in, what he perceives, as difficulty in making and thus maintaining new friendships after age 30. He put it bluntly with regard to making new friends: “life gets in the way” (para. 4). But this argument may be too simplistic. As self-proclaimed “friendship strategist” Shasta Nelson (2011) argues, friendships take work. Like much of the research on friendship (see Brooks 2012a; Brooks 2012b), Nelson reiterates that there are two elements crucial to friendship: chemistry and… Read more