The Real “Friend Divide”

Posted on April 27, 2008
Filed Under Culture & Technology |

Recently, Robert Scoble lamented a “Friend Divide” that is keeping Internet users from taking full advantage of all the wonderful Web 2.0 services that have been promoted as tools for bringing us closer together and fostering better relationships with the people we care about.

Clearly, Scoble is out of touch with reality and I stated the obvious. That said, there is a “friendship problem” in modern society.

Studies have shown that Americans are increasingly isolated despite the fact that technology has made us more “interconnected.”

In one of my discussions about Twitter, I noted that “Friendship is about depth, meaning and shared experience” and I’ve also pointed out that “the tools which make communication so easy are failing us to a certain extent because they encourage and promote less meaningful communication.”

Obviously, this is lost on many in the Web 2.0 community who apparently believe that being “connected” to another person on Facebook or Twitter creates a “friendship” or relationship of some meaning.

Ironically, some of the people who have repeatedly promoted the notion that the tools of Web 2.0 add depth to our personal relationships are, in my opinion, socially inept. Take Mark Zuckerberg for instance. Even if you consider the Facebook CEO to be brilliant, it’s hard not to see the irony in the fact that the socially awkward Harvard drop-out of “individuals” as “nodes” and “connections” as “friendships” is telling the world that his creation can help us forge deeper relationships with the people around us. This gives new meaning to the phrase “the blind leading the blind.”

My interest was piqued when I read about a recent University of Chicago study on happiness published in the April issue of American Sociological Review. Considered one of the most “thorough examinations” of its kind, it came to an interesting conclusion: older people are the happiest people in the United States.

According to Yang Yang, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, “People in their 80s on average still reported higher happiness levels than people under 40.” Younger people were among the least happy.

Another study in the American Sociological Review , “contrary to popular thought, older people do stay social as they age, often volunteering, attending religious services, and spending time with their neighbors.”

This study “found that about 75 percent of people aged 57 to 85 engage in one or more social activities at least every week. Those include socializing with neighbors, attending religious services, volunteering or going to group meetings.”

by AP:

“People’s social circles do tend to shrink a little as they age — that is mainly where that stereotype comes from, but that image of the isolated elderly really falls apart when we broaden our definition of what social connection is,” said study co-author Benjamin Cornwell, also a University of Chicago researcher.

The research rings true for 81-year-old George O’Hare, a retired Sears manager in Willowbrook, Ill. He’s active with church and AARP and does motivational speaking, too. His wife is still living, and he’s close to his three sons and four grandchildren.

“I’m very happy because I’ve made friends that are still living,” O’Hare said. “I like to go out and speak in schools about motivation.”

“Happiness is getting out and being with people, and that’s why I recommend it,” he said.

This highlights the fact that “being social” is about having real and meaningful interactions with others. Older people may have fewer “connections” on the “social graph” but one of the many reasons they’re, on average, significantly happier than their younger counterparts is that the “connections” they do have are more likely to have depth and richness.

When one truly understands what constitutes a friendship and recognizes what meaningful human interactions look like, it’s no surprise that older people can lead very satisfying social lives while younger people, who may be “connected” to a large number of “friends” 24/7, are still generally less happy.

Friendship is about shared experience in the real world - not poking and syndicating your activities on FriendFeed. Meaningful human interaction is about deep, personal communication - not text messaging and tweets.

Unfortunately, the people who have so successfully convinced us that technology is a superior way to connect us and bring us closer together in all aspects of our life (from friendships to family to dating) are leading us down the wrong path.

For those who seek to satiate their social needs by substituting real friendships with online “connections” and meaningful human interactions with trite, shallow communications, the soothing light at the end of the tunnel is just a freight train and people like Mark Zuckerberg are the conductors.

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3 Responses to “The Real “Friend Divide””

  1. Moment of Zen on April 28th, 2008 9:40 am

    […] Courtesy of The Drama2.0 Show, which I recommend to the approximate three people who regularly visit this […]

  2. jro on April 28th, 2008 10:37 am

    I think the adage “you get out of it what you put into it” applies here. The word “communicate” is really being cheapened by these services. Communication implies back-and-forth and give-and-take, whereas most of the web too-dot-oh services are one-way, forward-only messaging. Communication extends relationships; messaging is only a tool to that end, and nothing more.

    Drama, I feel like a rubber-stamp for your posts. Great minds, alikeness, and all that.

  3. Inspiration Proves Increasingly Elusive for A VC : The Drama 2.0 Show on June 23rd, 2008 11:10 am

    […] networks isolate us. Communications tools like cell phones degrade our communication skills. Web 2.0 promotes […]

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