An article on the difficulty of making good friends after age 30 highlights the conditions sociologists say lead to friendship:
As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.
It is interesting to consider how well this compares with online friendship. Let’s look at Facebook:
1. Proximity. This is virtual proximity where your friends are easy to access and Facebook helpfully tells you what they are up to. It is interesting to note that most friends of Facebook users are people they know from the offline world – there is a lot of overlap between these two realms.
2. Repeated, unplanned interactions. This could happen through wall posts, messages, tagging, and chatting. However, users of Facebook can choose when and how they do this as opposed to consistently running into someone in the offline world. This choice of interaction allows users to participate when and with whom they want in a way that wasn’t possible before.
3. Setting that allows people to let down their guard. Maybe the privacy settings in Facebook allow this but not in the same way as proximity and face-to-face interactions. Facebook is full of impression management where users create the image they want to project to others (this is also true of face-to-face interactions).
All together, Facebook capitalizes on the some of the advantages and difficulties of the early 21st century but it doesn’t replicate the experience of developing friendships in-person.