Digital friendships have become indispensable. Every day, countless friendships are made on social media. A friend request on Facebook, a swipe to the right on Tinder - it has never been easier to make contacts. But how important are digital friendships? Will it soon be possible to make friends in the app store? And how can smartphones help people overcome their loneliness?
Keep scrolling to learn more about digital friendship and digital loneliness on your own. You can find instructions here.
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WHAT IS FRIENDSHIP?
The yearning for true friendship is as old as mankind itself. But what makes a true friendship? And how many real friends do you have? We asked serveral people these questions. Read their answers below.
"To me, true friends are the people I like to spend my time with and who I meet regularly."
"I think, true friends are the people that stand by you, even when nobody else does."
"If I count Facebook and Instagram friends, I have more than 900 friends. Most of them are not true friends, though. A true friend is there for you anywhere, anytime. You could ring their doorbell even in the dead of night and they would embrace you with open arms."
WHEN IS A FRIEND A FRIEND?
Everyone defines friendship differently. Science has the following definition for friendship:
Some researchers see friendship “as a voluntary and personal relationship based not only on support and trust, but also on sympathy.”
ANALOG AND DIGITAL FRIENDSHIPS
A recent study on friendship has revealed that: a person has, on average, three true friends. For some, true friends are only the people they meet personally and regularly. Others are however, also cultivating more and more digital friendships. These are contacts that are mainly made and maintained in social media.
WHAT IS DIGITAL FRIENDSHIP?
Digital friendship is a special kind of friendship that allows us to feel very connected to others without actually, personally, knowing them. Such friendships arise for example, when a connection is made exclusively through a common interest and the subsequent exchange is very intense (for example, a fan club on Facebook). Sometimes the people around us have trouble understanding why we want to interact with digital friends so often. It is easier to exchange ideas about certain topics with strangers. This gives a digital friendship a whole new quality.
DIGITAL FRIENDS = TRUE FRIENDS?
Lisa (21) and Marie (19) met each other via social media. They both share common hobbies: sports, fitness and healthy food. The two are inseparable, chatting and telephoning at least once a day.
“At the beginning, we were skeptical: a smartphone friendship? This cannot go well”, remembers Marie. “But we proved all of our critics wrong.”, laughs Lisa. “For six years now, we've been supporting each other in all kinds of situations. It feels so good to get a like for new recipes or ideas. Now we tell each other everything. Marie has really become a great friend.” says Lisa.
FRIENDS ON THE INTERNET
CAN YOU DOWNLOAD FRIENDS?
Lisa and Marie are not isolated cases. Today, many contacts are made by smartphone.
In this chapter, you will learn how to make digital friends. The possibilities are vast and range from digital “fake friends” to real contacts. Digital fake friends are friends who are not human and yet seem to be.
A LOVE SUBSCRIPTION?
“And where is your boyfriend/girlfriend?” This question annoys many singles. To avoid it, there are apps that fake real relationships.
Examples for such digital fake friends are apps such as the “Invisible Girlfriend” and “Invisible Boyfriend”. The user gets to select a name, age, appearance and personality for their fake partner.
Depending on the subscription, users receive SMS, voicemails, greeting cards, flowers or even small gifts from their virtual partner. Even if they do not really exist, the digital fake friends look deceptively real to the outside world.
REPLIKA – MY FRIEND FROM THE APP STORE
Replika is a chatbot, an artificial intelligence (AI) that tries to create a digital copy of your personality. The principle behind it: Replika asks questions that you answer. This helps Replika to get to know you better. Its goal: to be your partner, friend and therapist all in one. The more the bot learns from you, the more familiar the conversations seem.
“HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY?”
The “Woebot” is, similar to Replika, a chatbot. He was developed for people with depression and anxiety. Users can talk to the virtual therapist per Facebook chat. In contrast to a real therapist, the Chatbot is always available and its goal, among other things, is to promote positive thinking.
“SHARE YOUR WORRIES!”
If you want to share your worries with real people you can do that by calling mental health helplines. Here, users can anonymously confide in an expert and share their fears and worries with him.
FRIENDSHIP AT FIRST CLICK?
Every fourth German has looked for a partner on the Internet. Dating apps and platforms play an important role in this. The selection is huge. On the following pages you will find an overview of apps, platforms and forums for making contacts. No matter if you are looking for friendships, partnerships or like-minded people - with the right apps and platforms you will find what you are looking for.
MEETING NEW PEOPLE SAFELY
Do you already have experience with online dating? If, like Michelle and Josh, you want to make contact online, you should follow some safety tips.
Find out more on the next page!
REFUGEES, SMARTPHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Without smartphones, escape would hardly be possible for refugees. Smartphones support refugees on their long journey from crisis areas to safe countries.
There are many reasons for using smartphones: refugees use the GPS function on their smartphones to orient themselves in foreign countries and regions and to find one another. They inform themselves in Facebook groups about dangers along the way and stay in contact with the family members they left behind. Smartphones are also used by refugees to learn languages. In addition, they often use their phones to visit the "Handbook Germany" information platform, which is supported by the Deutsche Telekom AG.
FALSE DIGITAL FRIENDS
False friends exist in both worlds - the analog and the digital. The are many different kinds of false friends on the Internet: they range from cyberbullies to cyberstalkers. In this chapter you will learn how to protect yourself from false friends on the Internet.
Cyberbullying is a special kind of bullying. Cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly bullies or harasses others on social media. For the perpetrators, the decisive advantage is anonymity. They can insult their victims without revealing their own identity.
Like cyberbullying, cyberstalking is a crime in which perpetrators stalk and persecute their victims via the Internet. Unlike cyberbullying, cyberstalkers are primarily concerned with being close to their victim. There are many reasons for cyberstalking: They range from unfulfilled love to hate.
In the video on the next page, people affected by cyberstalking tell their story.
CYBER STALKING – WHO CAN HELP?
Whether you are moving or changing jobs: everyone has experienced moments of loneliness. How exactly is loneliness defined? And what role do our digital friends play in this?
WHAT IS LONELINESS?
Loneliness - what is it anyways? According to the Psychology Today, loneliness is the negative feeling of being separated and isolated from other people. People who are lonely often feel excluded, isolated and unloved.
Today, people often use their smartphones to escape the feeling of loneliness. Therefore, a distinction has to be made between analog and digital loneliness. You can find out more about the difference on the next page.
ANALOG AND DIGITAL LONELINESS
Whether at the bus stop or in our own bedrooms - smartphones are our constant companions. We use them to make contact with other people and feel close to them despite being separated. This is also called “ambient awareness”. Critics are skeptical of this intimacy. Thanks to social media, we are constantly connected and never alone - and yet sometimes we feel lonely. Maximilian Dorner calls this “digital loneliness”.
Digital loneliness or digitally connected? Read the case studies on the following pages.
Case 1: WHATSAPP AND RELATIONSHIPS
Carolin (27) and Jonas (29) have been together for almost two years. A tiresome, controversial issue in their relationship is WhatsApp. Jonas is often online and active in many group chats. That is why his smartphone rings almost every minute. Caroline is annoyed and feels neglected by Jonas. She wants him to leave some of the group chats.
What do you think about leaving groups? What can Jonas do to improve the situation? And how can he leave the groups without hurting his friends’ feelings?
LEAVING GROUP CHATS
Leaving a group chat
If you want to leave a group chat, you can do this in WhatsApp via the function “Leave group”. The problem: the remaining group members will be informed that you have left. This is often perceived as rude. It may signal disinterest to the remaining chat participants.
Announce that you are leaving beforehand and explain your reasons. Say goodbye to your digital friends politely. Keep in mind that leaving group chats can still have a negative impact on your relationships.
Case 2: READING EMOTIONS DIGITALLY
Daniel (9) suffers from Asperger syndrome. It is a form of autism. People like Daniel have problems reading and understanding the feelings of others. It is therefore difficult for them to make and maintain friendships. The “Zirkus Empathico" app consists of many different training games. With them, Daniel learns to recognize and name his own feelings and those of others by means of short videos. Thanks to the app, Daniel succeeds in interpreting his own emotions and those of others better and better. This has allowed him to make his first real friends.
With apps like these, autistic people can participate more in social life.
The average smartphone user looks at their smartphone more than 200 times a day. For Tom (42), this figure is probably much higher. Even when having dinner with friends, he cannot part with his digital companion. This behavior is called “phubbing”. The term is composed of “phone” (short for smartphone) and “snubbing”. By paying more attention to his smartphone than to his friends, Tom is offending them with his behavior.
Tom’s girlfriend often tells him: “Put down your smartphone so you have more time for your offline friendships again.” She specifically suggests a “digital diet” (“digital detox”).
What do you think about her suggestion? What can Tom do to improve the situation?
ALONE OR TOGETHER?
Do our digital companions make us lonely despite being constantly connected? Or are they a bridge for interpersonal relationships? You can find the answers to these questions on the next pages.
I AM NOT LONELY!
The Internet and social media can be a bridge for friendships and social relationships. Digital connectivity has many advantages. In social media, moments can be shared with people who are very far away from us. Sharing, liking and commenting can transform loneliness into happiness. In this module, you learned about the many ways that digital media connects people. And if you follow our tips, you do not have to fear false friends on the Internet.
You can find a summary of this module in the download section.