Real Friends and Tweet Friends
The other day I read a story by Alex Williams in The New York Times, “Friends of a Certain Age,” about how it becomes harder to form friendships once we exit our twenties and (often) marry.
As Williams relates, research tells us we need three things in order to form real friendships (as opposed to friendly acquaintanceships):
- Proximity – How close do we live to a potential friend?
- Unplanned exposure – How likely is it that we can just drop in on a potential friend, or bump into them frequently in a social setting of some kind?
- Shared experience/activity – Do we do stuff together?
Basically, it’s easy to make new friends in college, for instance, because (1) we’re in a small community where we keep bumping into each other, and where dropping by is the norm, rather than an intrusion (2) we see the same people again and again in class, at parties, at the cafeteria, at parties, and at bars and parties, and (3) we have all sorts of shared experiences, from teams, fraternities, shared classes and dorm life, to, hell, the fact that we’re all in this big adventure together called college (or as I prefer to call it, “five-year sleep away camp”).
Another shared experience is being an expat: living in a foreign country. Think of the friendship-forming machine that can be! You’re on this big, new adventure, your old friends are thousands of miles away, and the other expats you meet are in this shared situation with you. That sounds like fun! (Although more fun to me is avoiding my fellow countrymen for a while to immerse myself in new friends from the new country. But I realize that’s just my style).
As I listened to this report, one thing struck me as interesting: the NYT failed to mention social media at all as modern ways we form new friendships. But as I thought about it, I came up with what – at least to me – is a big part of the draw of social. Submitted for your approval:
- Proximity – While physically, sure, my tweet-friends may be in Hong Kong, California, or Scotland, to me they’re right there in my phone, which I carry around with me almost as often as my wallet.
- Unplanned exposure – Are you kidding me? If you follow me on Twitter, you might notice that I jump into the stream all day every day, even if just for a minute here or there. I often see the same people, and over years, that has turned into a whole ton of exposure I’m getting to these folks.
- Shared experience/activity – We’re discovering social together! That is certainly a shared activity. But probably more important, we’re constantly sharing links and discussing things we find important, be that the future of business or the hilarity of the movie “Ted.” We’re also introducing each other to our friends, a key aspect of social that makes it an awful lot like a nonstop cocktail party with a fascinating guest list!
I get this one a lot: “Yeah, sure, but those aren’t real friends, they’re just Twitter friends.” Oh no? Let’s take just one example among a whole host: Shawn, my co-founder here at Switch and Shift. We first “met” a few years ago through mutual participation in the Lead Change Group (where we’ve each made quite a number of good friends, and which I highly recommend if modern leadership is your thing.) We “spoke” quite a bit via Twitter. We subscribed to each other’s blogs. I guest posted on Shawn’s previous blog, which was such a positive experience that it drew us closer. We finally spoke on the phone, after well over a year (or two?) of this online stuff. I respected his thinking so much that I approached him about creating a new co-blog. …He put me off for months and months, but he finally relented. Switch and Shift is the result.
Shawn and I have Skyped a bit and spoken on the phone plenty, but we have yet to meet face-to-face. And yet I consider him a very close friend.
Is it hard to make friends as an adult “of a certain age?” In my experience yes, as the link below explains. Does social media fill that need, in a way that few shared experiences did before? YES! That is one of the main reasons I find social so sticky. I’ll bet it’s why you do, too.
Do you have similar experiences, of friendships formed and cemented via social media? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!
The original article, from The New York Times: Friends of a Certain Age
Graphic by Vlad Gerasimov