A topic that doesn’t get discussed enough is the digitalization of friendship. I’m a ’90s kid. Growing up, making friends meant meeting people in class and getting to know your neighbors. At the same time, it was hard for me to make friends. I was 12, weird, quirky, and I had really protective parents. I interacted with a small pool of kids who really didn’t get me. Now I’m 28, I’m weird, quirky, and I still have protective parents. I’m just a bigger version of my 12-year-old self, and with all things remaining the same, the only other changes I have seen have been with technology.
Technology made making friends significantly easier, especially once I got into college, where a lot of special interest groups seemed to congregate in virtual spaces such as Facebook. There’s greater access to a larger pool of prospective friends, mechanisms to include or exclude others, and the power and benefit of anonymity. At the same time, those who earn less are also less likely to have access to the Internet. For example, one study showed that those who have a family income of $15,000 or less have a broadband Internet adoption rate of 32 percent. Yet families earning $150,000 or more have a 90 percent adoption rate. Nonetheless, with the right resources, those who lack access can find ways to gain access to the fruits of technology, making the creation of friendships easier.
People can make friends with those across national boundaries, various demographics, different religions and different interests. Imagine the population of your neighborhood or the classroom you grew up in, then multiply it by an absurdly high number. With a larger pool of prospective friends available, you are likely to find yourself making more friends more easily. Like many trends and phenomena, befriending others is a numbers game, and probability is on your side.
Another advantage seen in the digital age is social filtering. That means people get to choose who they want to include or exclude as a potential friend. Users on sites such as Facebook and Instagram get to choose to stop following or receiving notifications from other users, while honing in on the notifications they do wish to see. Or people can go ahead and join a forum, where they can talk and discuss common interest topics whether it be about religion, politics or hobbies. A lot of these websites end up being social hubs for real life get-togethers.
The digital world provides a platform that is more conducive for establishing healthy bonds with others. Still, where does that leave those who struggle to gain Internet access? As far as the city of Seattle goes, all public libraries provide free Internet. In addition to the availability of free Internet, affordable Internet programs have been introduced by companies such as Comcast and Century Link running at about $10 per month. As technology becomes more widespread, so does its affordability. With affordability accompanying the digital age, all socio-economic groups get the opportunity to make friends more easily.