Changing Dynamics in Friendship: Musings from a Socially Connected World

By Aarti Sengupta

“Man is by nature a social animal" — said the renowned Greek philosopher Aristotle many centuries ago. I'm sure even Aristotle would have never imagined that the 21st century would take “being social" to exponential levels of imagination. Social media platforms are thriving industries worth billions.

I must admit, I have enjoyed analyzing the different facets of this quote and have also loved speaking for and against it over the years. I have always been fascinated by the way social connections affect our friendships and relationships. Until about a decade ago, the dynamics of social life were so different, we were all connected, but not as connected as we are today. Connections were real and not virtual.

By virtue of being born and raised between the 1960's — 2010, Gen X and Millennials have been fortunate to witness the paradigm shift to the term “being social". Until recently, if someone was a social butterfly, it meant they were meeting real people, going out, partying, socializing and talking to their family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Today, being social means that you are active and visible on all social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. You create content and are posting to keep your audience hooked. You are socially successful if you have your target audience mesmerized and asking for more of your content. The competition is very stiff, but it takes a lot more energy and effort than traditional socializing, where we made an effort to meet new people and keep up with existing relationships.

Gen Z is the new generation of kids who are born after 2012. These are kids who are born into social media. Unfortunately, they have not experienced traditional ways of relationships and friendships. Their virtual presence precedes their real identity.

That brings me to my favorite topic, how does this new virtual social era bring a twist to our relationships and friendships? I love discussing this with kids, teenagers & adults alike to get their perspectives.

'Til a few years back, when social media was non-existent, we did not have constant connection with over 500 friends and acquaintances. We did not feel the need to share our daily activities or get validation from every person we met daily. Honestly, since the social media platforms didn't exist (blessing in disguise), we never thought of social validations. Influence of others in matters of friendships, relationships, arguments, disagreements etc. was minimal. Our thoughts were not clouded by multiple opinions, and we did not have nagging inputs from acquaintances on matters that don't even concern them.

Now let's fast forward to the present. Most of us wake up with our smartphones. Every social media app that is available to us is filled with messages. Some may be directed to us, but most others would be random, unrelated and in some cases unnecessary. Knowingly or unknowingly each message creates a subconscious bias in our brain. Clouded with these messages, we start our day. As we continue chatting with our friends and acquaintances about the day's happenings, we get a ton of opinions (some warranted and some completely unwarranted). Some of these opinions and comments will trigger further conversations with a greater number of people.

The chain continues without an end. What may have started as an innocent conversation, has now snowballed into something huge. The conversation now has a face, opinion for and against, likes & dislikes, and many more facets. Conversations on social media and cross-pollination of information usually continues till late in the night. By the time we sleep, our brain is fogged and saturated by the various views and opinions. The next morning when we get up, we are blinded by all the information that was provided. We have not had a pause in our thought process to stop, think or analyze.

The inability to put a pause to our thoughts and opinions by indulging in excessive discussions about a particular person or situation consistently via virtual platforms may be the reason why friendships are so short lived nowadays, maybe everyone is just too close for comfort. The real + virtual connect is getting overwhelming. There is a constant sense of mistrust among friends and acquaintances due to the cross-pollination of personal information. Just like too many cooks spoil the broth, too many opinions are spoiling friendships and relationships.

While social media has made the world a smaller place and connected us with our loved ones from across the globe, we must constantly reassess to ensure that we strike the right balance. We have to give ourselves the necessary pause to think, analyze and make the right decisions. Opinions may be “dime a dozen," but our decisions are vital to the growth, trust, respect, happiness, health and longevity of our friendships and relationships.

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Aarti Sengupta is a Writer, Speaker, Travel enthusiast, Parenting, Teen and Lifestyle Coach. Contact: aartisengupta@gmail.com