The other day MPR posted a story about some new research out of the UK that states what many of us would say is obvious. Most of our online “friends” aren’t really friends in the grand scheme of things. The study found that even when people have hundreds or thousands of online “friends”, they still only have 4-5 quality online relationships. Quote from the study:
What Dunbar found was consistent with previous studies into the size of typical individuals’ relationship networks – five very close individuals, 15 close individuals, and additional layers of friends and acquaintances of up to 1,500 individuals.
I was actually thinking about this a bit recently myself. After my divorce my world changed quite a bit, and a lot of my physical friendships disappeared. However, I still had a large cadre of online friends, both on social media and online gaming. Yet, only a handful of these relationships would I consider close friends.
Interestingly, the closest online friends I have are actually not even local to my area, and so our relationships have developed over long distances, with large gaps of time between meeting in meatspace. Most of my online gaming friends disappeared when we all stopped playing the same games. I’m only in touch with a handful of those folks anymore.
Watching the meta narrative around internet based relationships is interesting. The methods by which people connect online have changed multiple times over the decades. Many studies are showing that younger people aren’t as interested in platforms like Facebook anymore, and so perhaps another shift is coming as well. It still feels like, as a society, we’re still trying to figure out this whole virtual relationships thing, and perhaps the new reality is that how we meet and connect with people will never be static again. Perhaps a new challenge for humanity, as we seek relationship, will be to continue to grow and adapt to changes to virtual community as thing ebb and flow from one paradigm to another.
I don’t think any of us can know the answer, but I am grateful for the relationships that I do have, both virtual and physical.