Friendship or networking?
Sunday 28 October, 10.00am until 10.45am, Cafe Breakfast Banter

The proliferation of ‘social networking’ websites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo was initially greeted with widespread enthusiasm. After all, friendships are now able to transcend limitations of geography and social particularity. But excitement surrounding the web and social networking appears to have given way to fears that technology is actually damaging children’s ability to socialise, often leaving them lonely, disruptive and prone to bullying. And concerns about the state of modern friendship aren’t limited to children. A recent study found that the average American’s ‘core discussion network’ had diminished significantly in the last 20 years, with the use of the internet cited as one of the contributing factors. Surveys in the UK have pointed to a similar downward trend.

With ever-growing contact lists on Facebook contrasting with dwindling numbers of confidants cited in surveys, some have suggested that it is time to get back to basics. Many argue for a reappraisal of friendship as a relationship worthy of study and serious thought, often looking back to antiquity for inspiration. It is argued that real, quality friendships not only benefit individuals, but also act as a strong but relatively untapped social glue. Government is increasingly interested in the wider social benefits of friendship, and seeks to foster it through education and other means.

Whilst there is clearly widespread concern about social relationships, particularly in relation to children, others argue the authorities already intervene too much, undermining the freedom young people need to make their own choices about who they like and why. Can friendship really be taught or learned? Does a deliberate focus on friendship, whether through the prism of technology or more explicitly as tool of social cohesion and well-being, threaten to do more harm than good?


Mark Vernon
journalist; author, God: all that matters and The Big Questions: God
Dr Stuart Waiton
lecturer in sociology and criminology, Abertay University; author, Snobs' Law: criminalising football fans in an age of intolerance
MT Rainey
founder/chairwoman of social networking site,
Helen Birtwistle
history and politics teacher, South London school

 Produced by

Helen Birtwistle history and politics teacher, South London school

Are friends electric? The promise and perils of online social networking, Mark Vernon

 Recommended readings

Virtual friendship and the new narcissism
The impulse to collect as many "friends" as possible on a MySpace page is not an expression of the human need for companionship, but of a different need no less profound and pressing: the need for status
Christine Rosen, The New Atlantis, Summer, 2006

What's in a friendship?
If social networking sites offer the opportunity for connections not based on geographical ease or social fit, and develop the kind of socialisation skills that are bound to be necessary for this generation, then shouldn't we be glad?
Libby Brookes, Guardian, 10 May 2007

The High Priestess of friendship
Social networking sites offer a few lessons in tolerance. "One of the best things you can do is get people to learn about people who are not like them" says social networkers and academic Dana Boyd
Graham Bowley, Financial Times, 26 October 2006

Modern life 'has turned children into loners'
More than 70 per cent of teachers said that increased use of games consoles, mobile phones, the internet and MP3 players has harmed children's ability to interact with their peers
various, Telegraph, 4 May 2007

recommended by spiked

Get a First Life
Robin Walsh, 18 January 2007

Shaddup your facebook
Amol Rajan, 19 March 2007

 Festival Buzz

Fora TV logo Particle Physics is Sexy

Particle Physics is Sexy [Opens in new window]

"Exactly what debate and diatribe should be about in these challenging days."
Prof Phillipe Sands QC, author, Lawless World