Sunday, 9 September 2007

Friendship or networking?

Friendship or networking?
Sunday 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, The Philosophy of Friendship
Dr Stuart Waiton
lecturer in sociology and criminology, University of Abertay, Dundee; director, Generation Youth Issues
MT Rainey
founder/chairwoman, Horsesmouth
Helen Birtwistle
press officer, Institute of Ideas and Pfizer Debating Matters Competition

Produced by

Helen Birtwistle
press officer, Institute of Ideas and Pfizer Debating Matters Competition
Recommended readings

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Get a First Life
Robin Walsh, 18 January 2007

Shaddup your facebook
Amol Rajan, 19 March 2007

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