Social media and social relationships: How the internet is changing friendships

Today, social relationships are also cultivated through social media. This represents a natural evolution, due to the massive use of new technologies in our life.

How many times have you already opened Facebook today? Read the new status “posted” by that school friend of yours from many years ago? Or put “like” the photo just posted on Instagram by the last Influencer who caught your attention?

Social relationships today necessarily pass through social media. Like it or not it is something we have to deal with.

It is a natural evolution, the result of the increasingly massive entry of new technologies into our life and from which social relations have not remained immune.

What does it mean to “be friends”?

This is how the very concept of “friendship” has evolved over time.

In a world of constant communication, no matter where our friends are in the world or what was the last time we spoke, the important thing is that they are on social media.

The contribution of various scholars of social relations helps us to better understand this phenomenon .

First of all, Robin Dunbar, anthropologist at the University of Oxford, among the first to describe our social world as the result of a redefinition operated by social networks . According to the scholar, these sites, in addition to having broken the constraints of geography that limited social dynamics, also seem to have given rise to a strange competition on the number of friends who can be counted on their personal page, with figures that can also reach the tens of thousands.

From his research, it would also emerge that the largest number of people with whom it is possible to maintain a meaningful relationship at one time varies from 100 to 200, depending on how “social” you are. Finally, with his research team he came to identify the maximum number of friends that you can have 150, a figure also known as the Dunbar Number.

Active, dormant and commemorative: the 3 types of friendship

William Rawlins instead proposes a classification of friendships into three categories: active, dormant and commemorative.

  • A friendship is active if you are in regular contact with that person, if you feel that you can count on them for emotional support and if you are aware of what is going on in their life;
  • A sleeping friend is someone you have a history with but haven’t talked to for some time; however, contacts would be quickly resumed if they were in the same place, at the same time;
  • A memorial friend , finally, is someone who was important at a previous time in your life but who is not really expected to see or resent, perhaps never again. These people are fondly remembered but remain firmly in the past.

What has changed in social relationships due to social media?

Compared to Rawlins’ classification of social relationships , this is what one should expect, with a general tendency, as we age, to transform more and more active friendships into dormant or commemorative friendships, the result of a natural process of growth of people.

This is not exactly true, however, since social media has imposed itself massively in regulating our social relationships.

Social media offers us a way to extend the lifespan of dormant and memorial friendships, which otherwise we would never have carried over into our present.

Writing on someone’s Facebook wall or commenting on their Instagram allows in a sense to “keep alive” these friendships with a minimum of effort.

On the one hand this can be perceived as moving towards increasingly superficial social relations , on the other, however, it also offers the possibility, if desired, to resume friendships right from the point where they left them. In a series of interviews, Rawlins found that many people still considered themselves friends with people they hadn’t been in contact with for a long time precisely because they felt able to pick up where they left off.

It is also good not to forget that the use of social media can bring great added value even in maintaining those friendships that are defined as active, helping to deepen one’s social relationships . The more platforms friends use to communicate, as well as see each other in person, the stronger their relationship is.

Perhaps this is the greatest gift that the Internet and social media can offer us: a place to find our friends and the possibility of resuming dormant relationships even for a long time right from where we left them. The effort has to come by itself and the liking of a status won’t be enough, but when you’re ready, our friends are there, in your pocket, waiting to reconnect.