Where would we be without friends? Friends can help piece together a broken heart and get us through all the twists and turns that life throws our way. We share fun-filled memories, secrets, and inside jokes with our friends. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”
Family, romance, and work relationships can leave little room for our other friendships. We have so many important connections in our lives that many friendships often get placed on the backburner. For many of us today, friendships are based on convenience and prove to be fleeting with time. We find ourselves spending time with acquaintances such as co-workers, who are present until one of you gets a new job. As soon as the friendship is no longer convenient, it disappears. Where are the intimate, long-lasting friendships we see on television like Lucy and Ethel, Bill and Ted, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, or Cory Matthews and Shawn Hunter?
It’s obvious that friendship is taking on a new meaning for people today. Perhaps our changing environment has given way to a new way of relating to one another. If so, what does this emerging social landscape look like?
What has happened in the last decade is a social trend called cocooning. Faith Popcorn, the trend observer and writer who coined the term, predicted a major set of cultural changes that describe our withdrawal into the home. As a culture, we are spending more and more time inside on our homes. Americans are hibernating. This trend of cocooning continues to be proven correct over time. Many people prefer to work out of their homes on the Internet which has made this aspiration a viable option.
Instead of making a trip to the store, many consumers opt to make purchases online. Some folks also choose to mingle through social media sites on the Internet. With the domestication of personal computers and the development of social media sites like Facebook, people have the ability to establish and maintain relationships with limited face-to-face contact. Facebook and other social media sites can be great tools to get in touch with classmates and old friends.
Many of us have hundreds of people labeled as friends on these social media sites. Because of this new kind of social experience, the word friend has taken on a radically different meaning than it held twenty years ago.
Are we losing touch with friendship or is this a new kind of friendship? Do we place any value on friendship or is the very definition of the word changing with the times? According to the American Sociological Review, friendship is on the decline. Their data shows that the average number of friends of the average American has plummeted from four to two since 1985. Even more disheartening is that one in four Americans evidently has no close friends. I am talking no one.
Are we becoming more atomized as a culture as we cocoon ourselves? Yes. Does that mean we are entirely isolated? Not necessarily. While we’ve collectively lost half of our close friends in the last two decades, social media sites have allowed people to create a rich array of meaningful online experiences. For many, online relationships via social media have been a substitute for real-life (i.e. face to face) friendships. Though many argue that this is unhealthy or odd, younger generations probably don’t find it peculiar in the least. Because of social media sites like Tumblr, many people are able to harbor quasi-intimate friendships with people they may not even recognize walking down the street.
Social media has created a space that allows people to connect with others who have similar interests and life circumstances. They can share their deepest feelings without the kind of anxiety that can come with real-life relationships. As we withdraw into our homes, we gravitate towards this new kind of social life.
Friendships are being redefined. Get over it. Please be my friend.
John Bradley Jackson
Entrepreneur, Professor, Author
Deja New Marketing
© Copyright 2012