The evolution of friendship in a digital age

Published: October 27, 2007 | Last Updated: October 28, 2007 By | Reply Continue Reading

Some people worry that digital technology is eroding the face of friendship as we now know it—that time spent in virtual relationships detracts from real ones. A new report provides evidence to the contrary. Among Americans:

  • 48 percent of those interviewed said that social networking sites help them build new relationships
  • 44 percent said that social networking sites help them maintain current relationships


This social effect cuts across age groups:…

“The internet has come of age. It is not only the habitat of the digital natives who grew up with a mouse, a joystick, a laptop, a cell phone, texting and and iPod or two, but for all of us,” write the authors of the report, Sharing Privacy and Trust in our Networked World.* The report points out that two worlds that once were considered discrete—that of digital natives (people born after 1980 and raised with greater internet access) and that of digital immigrants (everybody else)—are now converging.

Some other findings from the report:

  • 90 percent of the general public have used the internet for four or more years; 50 percent have used the internet for seven or more years

  • Among younger people between the ages of 14-21, 75 percent have been on line for four years or more, nearly a quarter of their lives

  • Among those between the ages of 22 and 49, 25 percent have been online for more than a decade; 2/3 for seven or more years, and 91 percent for four years or more

What are some of the ways that growing participation in a digital world creates and nurtures friendships? Let me count (some of) the ways:

  • Email communication
  • Instant messaging
  • Social networking (both personal and business)
  • Chat rooms
  • Online dating
  • Sharing photos or medias on a social media site
  • Locating people on search engines
  • Participating in online support groups

Some of my female friendships are offline; some are online. Those that overlap seem to offer the best opportunities for communication and mutual caring.

*The report was prepared by Harris Interactive on behalf of OCLC (a non-profit international library organization) based on a survey of the general public from six countries (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) and of library directors from across the US.

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