Friendship in the age of social networks

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A gamer who immerses himself with a controller in hand in the experience of a video game Firewatch (2016), for some time, may be considered a classic study that proposes to embody the role of a wildfire observer posted in a Wyoming nature park. But it’s the walkie-talkie relationship with Delilah, the park’s other scout, too physically distant for any face-to-face meeting, that seems to be the real theme of this piece. By the end of the four-hour adventure, Delilah had almost imperceptibly become a close friend.

Also read: “Friendships on social networks are closely related to offline social life”

By dedicating the essence of the game to the patient development of friendship over radio waves, the developers Firewatch offered a fresh look at an old question: are friendships made and maintained through distance communication (especially digital) really different from friendships made and maintained “in person”? And do these remote or online links harm other links?

“This fear of digital technology-induced desocialization took hold in the late 1990s, when still inconclusive research was published.”, recalls Antonio Casilli, professor at Télécom Paris. These studies aimed to show that people who frequently used online shopping technologies (ie, at that time in online chats, discussion forums, or video game parlors) tended to not interested in face-to-face relationships. “Despite the poor quality of the results, they have been consistently used by political and media figures to justify the idea that ‘online’ relationships necessarily translate into the loss of face-to-face relationships.”– explains the sociologist, author of the book Digital links. Towards a new communication? (Threshold, 2010).

“Remote Communication Platform”

However, it was in this context that the first digital social media such as Friendster, Myspace or Facebook appeared. If the idea that new technologies do not affect our sociality is already well established, it becomes even more significant because these networks themselves use an ambiguous vocabulary. At the time, Myspace or Facebook was primarily aimed at older teenagers and young Western adults from the affluent classes: “In order to appeal to these social groups, companies used a friendship-oriented vocabulary and a vision of social relationships to build their platforms, because friendship was central to these young people’s lives.”notes Antonio Casilli.

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Hubert Gildon

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