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Does the internet only create the illusion of friendship?

Funny the things you ponder as a way of distracting yourself from the fact you are freezing cold, have no electricity (hence no blog today, sorry) and the men replacing the electricity pylon appear to have managed to cut through your phone line…


But anyway, that is now done and we have internet and power restored which is a good thing so at least I can blog about this.


It struck me that the internet seems to be creating an illusion of friendship rather than actual real friendships.
When I first left University, back in the day*, friendships were sustained by phone calls, letters, meeting up and talking.  Today it seems different, you pop onto Facebook for 5 minutes, ‘like’ the odd thing here and that is ‘friendship’.
Except it isn’t really friendship, it’s just an illusion.


I mean, how do you actually define friendship?  Surely it’s more than just checking what someone has posted recently and clicking a virtual button?  Surely it has more to do with a willingness to put yourself out?  To spend time chatting on the phone, to drop everything to pop over when something goes wrong, to understand, to empathise, to care?


But actually, how many people are there that would do that for you?   How many would you do that for?


I’m sure I read somewhere that historically, an adult human would only have close friendships with a handful of people – more was just not sustainable.  And thinking about it, it isn’t sustainable from either the supporting or the receiving end.


So does the fact that we have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook or Twitter actually disguise that perhaps we don’t have proper friends any more?  Are we actually an incredibly lonely generation despite the illusion of immense social networks?  Have we been lulled into a false sense of friendship when few actually exist?  And more importantly, are we failing to nurture the friendships that count because of all these acquaintances we are interacting with?  Have social networks actually killed off real life social networks?


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15 comments to Does the internet only create the illusion of friendship?

  • Weirdly, I blogged about the same thing today. Historically, adults have had three close friends on average – since the rise of Facebook and social networks, that’s dropped to two.

    I remember debating quite fiercely and being mocked last summer when I said I would never consider anyone a friend until I’d met them and looked them in the eye, but I stand by that – I wouldn’t consider I “know” anyone based on a virtual relationship, much less consider them a friend.

  • Sorry have been offline so haven’t seen that (great minds etc, hey?) I hadn’t seen the stat that had said it has dropped since social networks – interesting

    This was triggered by realising that friendships do seem to need real life interaction to sustain them but everyone keeps banging on about how great FB etc are (I really do not get FB)

  • Sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree!

    Some of my closest, dearest Real Life friends have become RL friends through an initial “web friendship”. I think it’s entirely dependant on whether you’re talking about old friends – who would have drifted from your life before the internet, never to be seen again – and new, fresh relationships, made through the medium of the internet where you can get to “know” each other, share your humour and then take that into RL (or not) as the case may be – it’s two very different scenarios IME.

    • Good point – I have made some great friends through the internet but they are friends that have moved over into being offline friends – so perhaps there is a requirement for some offline contact to deepen a friendship?

  • I think it is just a different kind of friendship. Nothing better than proper face time (and besides, you can’t share a bottle of wine over the internet, well not properly anyway) but there is something about the internet that allows you to forge friendships quickly and I’m sure that’s largely down to sharing the same sense of humour. How’s the kitchen coming along?

    • I don’t know, your Twitter wine tasting was a bonding experience – but I do prefer actual talking to people (interestingly I find I now phone people more, perhaps a reaction to the internet)

      Kitchen still not done… probably time for an update post!

  • As usual, I’m going to have to do one of my fuzzy “kind of agree” things… I tend to agree with Knackered mother that there is something about the internet that lets you forge what seem like friendships very quickly. In a lot of ways, I compare this to my teenage years, when I had a large number of pen friends – friends I shared some of my most intimate thoughts with, yet met once every couple of years (if that, in some cases).
    The idea of circles of friendship is an interesting one – I do think the internet fosters a lot of what I would probably call good acquaintances. Having said this, I do have one or two people that I have met in the past that I would say have made it into my closest circle.

    • I think the internet can be a great way to meet people, especially if by virtue of work we can be quite isolated from people in real life but I think that there is a difference between a drop everything and help them friend and someone you just see what they’ve been up to on Facebook

  • Amy

    I kind of agree with you. I have found the concept of facebook a bit weird in the respect that people can lose sight of things. There are a few ex school “friends” who have found me on Facebook, to start with I be-friended them but having read some of their status comments soon remembered that actually I didn’t really like them at school so then I started to question why I had made them a FB friend.

    I sometimes miss writing and receiving handwritten letters & notes however it is easier to sit down front of the computer.

    • I’ve done that recently – unfriended someone because it was clear that we actually had nothing in common and actually friend was far too strong a word for it

      Perhaps I need to be more ruthless in who I have as friends?

  • I think the majority of them would be very superficial and not real friendships, but I’ve made a few real friends online as well (one I see in person, the others live too far away) and I’m glad I’ve met them this way. You’re right about the Facebook thing, though – very weird sometimes, “liking” things school friends do, but never meeting up. I got so fed up with the weirdness, it’s been ages since I’ve been online properly.

  • But – thinking about it – even the more superficial ones have value for me. I’ve learned a lot, and I do feel there is some connection. Maybe they’re just acquaintances? I mean, we’ve never met, right, but I do like visiting here and I’m genuinely interested in what you have to say. We may not be bosom buddies, but I’m glad you’re out there. (Sorry – mushy.)

    • Actually I see what you mean – without Twitter and the chat I get to have during the day I would feel horribly isolated and no, there is no way those friendships at work would ever bridge that gap

      And there is a connection with people you wouldn’t have otherwise met which is fab – perhaps it is a good way to meet people and then it’s up to us to deepen into friendships by working at the relationship rather than just clicking like in Facebook?

      And thanks for the mushy *squeeze*

  • I definitely miss the effort that goes into letters. but overall i really embrace the social media thing – the world has changed to embrace convenience so i suppose modes of communication are the same. A letter here or there, when something big is on the horizon, is still precious though.


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