NEWS30 October 2014

The Changing Face of Friendship

News UK

UK — In a more anxious world, friendship lies at the heart of what it means to be a human and is profound to our lives said Becky Rowe, managing director, ESRO.


Rowe was speaking about how the rise of digital and social networking is affecting our understanding of friendship at the Market Research Society’s Customers Exposed conference in London today.

“What do your best friends mean to you, how do you engage with them and what does that friendship mean to you?” asked Rowe.

She talked about how the digital world is changing friendship but also augmenting it – making it easier to stay in touch. The negative side of this is that it can also become a substitute and a distraction from reality.

“There is also a whole cohort of new mums who felt deeply alone. They were doing the right thing – they had lots of contact with new mums and opportunities to make friends but they couldn’t go that one step further to make those friendships meaningful. Are we learning the wrong skills around developing real world relationships?” said Rowe.

So while technology is empowering some it is isolating others. Rowe said as marketers and researchers we must work out what that means for us.

“Friendships needs to be a state of trust and enduring, mutually beneficial, an investment in each other; where we can be ourselves.  But the challenge is that reality is not always as pretty and easy to manage as our online selves. Online we can create an ideal that we don’t always live up to in the flesh,” she said.

A concern is that we have learnt to be great consumers of what friendship is, rather than invest in building those relationships.

“It’s very hard to see and observe the socially isolated. Not always the people you imagine: not necessarily old people,” she added.

And what are young people learning about the concept of friendship? Especially as they are increasingly shut in their houses as parental fear of outside risk grows.

“They are saving up for professional shoots for their social media profile pictures. With greater control of how you present yourself you also lose acceptance of who you really are.

“Young people are developing a tighter definition of what friendship means and what a good friend looks like,” she added.