The trouble with modern friendship

Posted on November 3, 2014

For centuries – and especially since the Industrial Revolution – we’ve been uprooting ourselves from the communities in which we were born. But until recently, on arriving in a new place, you'd inevitably lose your ties with the one you'd left; you'd be forced to invest fully in a new social circle. These days, thanks to motorways and airliners, email and Skype, you need never cut those ties. You never leave your old life behind, so your emotional investments are scattered. Ironically, it's precisely your continuing bonds with the people you’ve loved for longest that risk leaving you feeling alienated where you are.

One consequence is that the people in your circle of 150 are far less likely to know each other. Our social networks are no longer as densely interconnected as they once were. Yet it turns out that when close friends know each other, good things happen. For example, Dunbar's research shows that people are more altruistic towards each other in dense social networks.

Why are densely linked friends better friends? The motives involved aren’t necessarily all that virtuous. Maybe they just feel more social pressure, and worry that mutual friends will judge them if they’re not nice. Even so, the effect is that in a dense network, an act of friendship is two things at once: an expression of an individual bond, and another stitch in a bigger social fabric.

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Source material from The Guardian