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Five myths about friendship today

Tuesday December 2 2014

Five myths about friendship today

Last week I wrote about imaginary friends, and this week I’m continuing the friendship theme. The Washington Post has a wonderful “five myths” series: Five Myths about Ebola, Five Myths about Billionaries, etc. So I wrote a similar post based on what I learned in dozens of interviews of people age 12 to 85 for my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual Age.

Myth: The biggest friendship challenges of our time come from the many impersonal ways to communicate.

I heard three major friendship challenges expressed over and over in interviews: mobility, busyness and new ways to communicate. Many people see the new ways to communicate as helpful aids in the light of all the mobility and busyness, even while being concerned about them.

Myth: Younger people don’t value face-to-face contact with their friends.

Almost everyone I interviewed, across the span of ages, affirmed that they prefer to see their friends face-to-face. Many people said they view electronic communication as a way to stay in touch with friends, so that in face-to-face encounters, they can begin from a point of connection rather than having to catch up on all the details of life.

Myth: Younger people are oblivious to the way they are impacted by the new communication technologies.

Teenagers and young adults talked to me about going on Facebook fasts and leaving online gaming communities. They talked about their longing that their relationships not be impersonal and technology-driven, and about not wanting to be mindless consumers of information about people. They talked about all the things they do to try to be faithful to their friends. The careful thinking about healthy relationships I heard was inspiring and uplifting.

Myth: Facebook always nurtures impersonal friendships.

Teenagers talked about staying in constant contact with their friends on Facebook as a way to show love. People of all ages talked about reconnecting with old friends through Facebook, being able to pray for friends because of news posted on Facebook and being able to give and receive support through Facebook. Others talked about their frustrations with Facebook, saying that it’s too easy to be superficial in your relationships if you rely on Facebook too much. I heard about a wide variety of friendship experiences from people who use Facebook, and some of those patterns seemed to have many healthy components.

Myth: Your age will determine the forms of communication you are comfortable with.

I did hear generational patterns in the way people talked about communication with friends, but I was also surprised by the variation within generations. For example, consider two people in their mid-thirties. One of them told me that she loves to write and receive long emails from friends. The other thirty-something won’t read more than the first three sentences of an email. People ranging in age from teenagers to sixties use Facebook and texting enthusiastically, and other people across that same age range told me they hate Facebook and texting (yes, including teenagers!). One real challenge with friendships today is that in any circle of friends at any age, there will be wide variation in the forms of communication people use. I think this is one of the biggest friendship challenges of our time that is not being discussed very much.

(If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column of this webpage under “subscribe.” This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)