Although people have often dismissed online social media as the domain of the lonely, or an escape from the deep connections made in the “real” world, our most recent data over at the Science of Friendship project pokes holes in that assumption. People are not only making friends online, they are making deep and meaningful friendships. Over 68% of those surveyed* made a friend they considered a close friend in the last year, and over 80% of those close friendships were made online. That’s over 54% of people who made a close friend online in the last year.
Think about that. This was barely an available option merely 10 years ago. To us at the Science of Friendship that is a staggering finding and begs a number of questions. Is social media enabling people to form friendships faster? Does this mean that people have more friends than they used to? Are these friendships different from those formed in the real world? and how so? Are the lonely people still lonely? These are questions we’ll be answering down the road. For now, we’ll be tackling what our most recent data can answer.
While 63.7% of our respondents reported being single, and 12.1% divorced, many of them are far from lonely. You may notice from those last two numbers that this places the majority of our respondents in a “not romantically attached” category. What is surprising to note about this group, however, is that for them, creating new and deeper friendships is a more important driver for using social media over romantic relationships or hooking up. In fact, 89.1%, cited making new friends as their chief motivation for using this social networking site.
Surprising? It was to us. What is motivating this change in how we connect and build friendships? In one way it is completely logical. Online we can explore many personal and behavioral aspects of potential friends before reaching out to one another, making it more likely that we will get along. In our paper on The Mechanics of Friendship “Like Meets Like: Sameness in Friend Formation” we already illuminated that contrary to popular opinion it is sameness, not opposites that attract.
A Friend on the Move
In addition our respondents are highly transient. Over 50.4% have moved over 5 times, and 19.2% over 10 times in their lifetime. This level of mobility almost necessitates using various digital communication mediums to keep up former friendships, as well as help make new connections. However, not all of that moving is very far. Over 60% live in the state where they were born.
Of our respondents, 43% of people live within 10 miles of the person they consider their Best-Friend. This does not mean, however, that digital media is not used to bolster that relationship. When asked how they keep in touch with their best friend, in-person visits were at 53.3% and online social networks 51.3%. Texting, with an incidence of 68% was the most prevalent way they kept in touch with each other. This gives credence to the number of apps that are being designed to capitalize on Social, Mobile & Local (SoLoMo).
Why online works for Friendships
Perhaps the most telling sign that social media, with its ability to self-select who we connect with based on similar attributes, helps foster deep friendships is that 78.6% reported having met at least 1 close friend online and 29.5% reported making 4 or more close friends online. It is truly being used for social discovery and making new friendships, not just bolstering old ones and finding long-lost friends.
Never before have we had such a powerful tool for peering into the day-to-day lives of people we know or want to meet. Our online interactions and exploring new connections help fill in the gaps to ease creating new friendships. It tells us a lot about people we are interested in, and when it tells us something that we personally relate with, we grow more attached. This is the Science of Friendship at work.
2 Feet of Fate
Many people believe friendship is almost random circumstance, the result of physical proximity, combined with common interests and good timing. The common interests portion is correct, but we are no longer beholden to being within 2 feet of someone to connect, and that is all the traditional mode of making friends has been; 2 feet. All of the stories of fated friendships, and most of the people you currently consider friends are based on being within 2 feet at a particular place at a particular time. It is no wonder that we turned to the idea of “fate” to explain it.
Social media is not just about connecting us across vast distances, it also enables connecting with someone down the street who you’ve never met. Who knows? They could be your next best friend.
What would you like to know about how friendship is changing? Have you met a close friend online in the last year? And how did it differ from initially meeting someone in the real world? Comment below and we’ll seek to answer your questions. We are The Science of Friendship project.
*Survey of 1,842 people conducted online in March-April 2013 on Tagged.com