Friends Need to be Within Reach, Physically

kissing a shadow

Profiles are a handy thing on the web, as you usually can’t have direct (some would say “real”) contact with others: the internet lets you filter information at a probably unprecedented scale, which makes finding friends with the same or coresponding interests a lot easier.

What if shared interest actually don’t matter (so much)?

It’s a pretty common experience that staying in touch with distant friends is difficult, whether they are “web friends” or not, and even if you share a lot of common perspectives. Psychologists at the University of Leipzig report that (fresh) students, that got randomly seated for their first lesson, were more likely to be friends a year later when they sat next to each other back then (via Die Zeit).

Some basic requirements provided, physical proximity is the best predictor for actual friendships. Intrestingly enough, another group around Pentland, Eagle, et al. conducted a huge empirical research using mobile phone data and found out that the number of meetings in person and phone calls are very good indicators for friendship. While this behaviour might be considered as intentional, the new findings imply that proximity “causes” friendship even unintented!

On the one hand, we could conclude that our increasingly “remoted” social life still faces difficulties that we can’t overcome: Relationships need face to face meetings.

On the other hand, we could also think about whether this finding applies to the online world in a more abstract way: It might be more likely to stumble upon possible friends than actually finding them intentionally (i.e. using sophisticated search methods)–quite an argument for associative browsing support.