I’ve written about Internet friendships before after I joined Facebook back in June. I ran across a post on Smart Mobs yesterday that featured highlights of a current ongoing research study by Dr. Will Reader of Sheffield Hallam University about how blogs and texts could affect relationships. The study is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The SmartMobs post references a summary by Reuters of Dr. Reader’s talk yesterday at a meeting sponsored by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Not so surprising tidbits from Dr. Reader, an evolutionary psychologist….
- More online friends does not mean more ‘close’ friends. The key (to close friendship), Dr. Reader said, is face-to-face interaction where “people can interpret social clues such as laughs and smiles that help determine if others are friends to be counted on.” (‘counted on’ probably means they show up at your house to help load the truck on moving day.)
- Nearly all ‘close’ friends require f2f (face-to-face) contact.
- Making friends is costly (time, energy) so…one of the possibilities is that changing the nature of networks can decrease the cost of maintaining friendships.
The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) also summarized some of Dr. Reader’s research…
While online social networks are very unlikely to ever replace real-life social networks, it is possible that their ability to aid communication may bring about a change in the size and structure of real-life social networks in the future.
I would say that, with Facebook anyway, the size and structure of my RL social network is growing. The ability to connect with people I haven’t seen in awhile, people in my community with similar interests, etc. grows my RL network. The RL connections/reconnections would not have happened without the online social network (at least for me).
Some personal virtual/real friendship experiences…
- I was introduced to Joan Vinall-Cox by her blog. I then had the pleasure of meeting her while I was in Toronto. She blogged about it here. I felt (as Joan characterized) a richer presence after meeting f2f. I think much of that richness came from the opportunity to talk about the stuff we blog about – the kind of stuff others may not have much interest in talking about. But that richer presence, that closeness, came from our online relationship prior to meeting f2f. If I had just met Joan at a workshop in Toronto, we would not have had that connection. (digression alert…I bored my family to death when explaining online social networks [they ASKED first]…not only did they see me as a cyclops, they wouldn’t/couldn’t make the leap. One of my sisters said the Internet was a fad. I know, right?? New name: Dino-sister.) Anyway…
- I was an online learner at Capella Univeristy. I never met my classmates f2f but knew a lot about them based on our online conversations and felt sad when our classes ended. I think meeting f2f would have made the relationships richer.
- I am a f2f learner at Syracuse University. I haven’t met everyone in my class yet. It takes 3-4 meetings to actually meet everyone f2fÂ during our 10 minute breaks. I have a greater connection with the two classmates that IÂ met on Facebook before I started class. (We joined in the break out group in class last night because we kind of ‘knew each other’ already via Facebook).
- New Hire Orientation at a company I worked for was f2f. When learners who met as new hires later attended live online learning classes together, they interacted more with each other than people who had never met f2f. Richer, closer.
I mostly agree with the research (not sure about the cost factor) and it supports research around the effectiveness of blended learning experiences (at least by the most common definition of blended – f2f + e-learning). Online learning (even just introductions) should precede (and follow) f2f learning to develop richer, closer relationships and richer learning experiences. I’m not sure any of my online friends will show up at my house though when it comes time to move. That’s a job for dino-sister.