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?
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
founder/chairwoman of social networking site, www.horsesmouth.co.uk
history and politics teacher, South London school
|Helen Birtwistle history and politics teacher, South London school|
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