With International Friendship Day around the corner, we took a look at what being a friend actually means in this age of multiple friend requests.
Technology and the rise of social media have without a doubt changed the way we live and the way we make and maintain friendships. Just a few years ago, our social networks were very much local; our day-to-day interactions were mainly with our neighbors and nearby friends and family members. Now, we can truly say our friendships are international.
This is not to say that technology has de-valued our social connections, though it certainly has impacted them. Facebook has streamlined friendship and made it more convenient. Now, we can communicate with friends and family without even budging from the couch.
So what does this all mean for the future of friendship?
1. The paradox of too many “friends”
The average Facebook user now has about 338 friends (Pew Research Center), but how close are we to these friends really? According to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, any social circle larger than about 150 people starts to strain the cognitive capacity of our brains. Essentially, the more friends we gather, the looser these connections become. As a result, we diversify so that we can maintain all of these connections. In the Truth About Privacy we found that we maintain contact with our online friends, but we go offline to maintain intimacy.
2. Fostering cultural connections
Despite the technology-driven shifts we’ve seen in our inter-personal relationships, our base need for connection has never changed. In the Truth About Global Brands we found that connection is a universal truth, but the way that it is expressed differs by market. If we explore connection in the context of close friends, we see that the sociable Indonesians have the greatest number of close friends in our survey at 11, because they consider everyone to be their friend from co-workers to the people in their local grocery store! Meanwhile, to be selected as one of a Russian’s 4 close friends you’d need to be willing to pick up the phone at 4am. Americans fall on the low end with 5 close friends in their circle, stuck somewhere in the middle of the online-offline friend paradox.
3. Social fitness is central to our overall wellness
In the past, our wellness was defined by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Now, we’re seeing that people are becoming much more aware of their social wellness—they understand that our individual well-being very much depends on the overall wellness of our community. It is much harder for us to be well when we are surrounded by people who are not. In the Truth About Wellness we saw that 43% feel that wellness is a community and social issue and not merely an individual issue. Moreover, 39% globally say ‘I am only as healthy as the people around me.‘
Belonging to a group or community helps us understand who we are and feel like we are a part of something larger than ourselves. Globally, nearly 50% agree with the statement, ‘Being healthy is about who you’re with and where you are.’ Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people is critical to our very sense of wellness. Friends and family can encourage and support us in healthy lifestyle habits, but they are also there for us when we’re feeling down.
4. Find your tribe
In the Truth About Fans we talk about the shifting of extreme fans from Neighborhood Experts to Global Gurus. Fundamentally, this shift has to do with the extreme interconnectedness of our world. While once upon a time an individual may have been considered an outcast, they can now easily find their tribe online.
The following quote from Cindy in Orange Is The New Black sums it up perfectly: “That’s the thing with the internet—nobody’s a freak no more. It used to be all these weirdos sitting alone in their houses…Now, all they got to do is log on…and like BAM! Suddenly shit be totally normal. You can be into cannibalism or like being tickled. It don’t matter—somebody out there is gonna like what you like.” (Season 3, Episode 7)
5. Brands have a role to play, too
The tools with which we connect with people today have, of course, changed dramatically with 58% of consumers globally agreeing that social media is the ultimate tool for connecting (Truth About Connected You). However, there are fundamental human truths that still govern our motivation to connect with others. In the Truth About Global Brands we saw that 6 in 10 globally feel that no one wants to be alone, and furthermore, 6 in 10 feel that everyone wants to fall in love.
Even beyond just our personal relationships, 89% globally agree that it is important for a global brand to be able to help the world to become more connected ( Truth About Global Brands). Brands have the opportunity to become valuable conduits that help fuel personal connections in a more meaningful way, starting with truly understanding the key ways in which the notion of friendship is evolving into the future.