Let’s go back in time for a second – it’s the early 2000’s and you’re watching a classic romantic comedy movie, which inevitably includes a young single, looking to meet his or her soulmate. The next scene shows the protagonist speed dating at a local bar – the quintessential way to meet a mate about a decade or two ago. Fast forward to today, and the dating world has shifted remarkably to an online focus, with 40% of heterosexual couples and almost 70% of same-sex couples meeting virtually; a truly remarkable shift made possible by an interconnected world and the utilization of digital technology.
In the ‘Professional’ relationship and development world, the progression to virtual is no different – with almost 80% of jobs openings shared on LinkedIn, a quite significant portion. Further, we know recruiters heavily depend on LinkedIn for lead generation to fill open positions (source noted below).
This begs the question…are our friendships headed for a major transition into the virtual world as well? And will the pandemic catapult us into this virtual environment prematurely? As such, I’d like to poll the group:
No doubt, the largest hesitation with making friends online is likely the conception that online friends are unusual, and there is major suspicion that online relationships don’t lead to ‘real friendships’. This common thought begs the question: in this virtual environment, can friendships which are chartered through virtual settings replicate, and even replace, in person friendships?
My answer is: well, yes, haven’t the success of online dating apps and LinkedIn shown us this is not only possible, but inevitable? One could even argue that the virtual friendship seeking applications like Bumble BFF or Hey! Vina can lead to a more prosperous friendship due to the advancements of digital technology. Here’s why:
Friendship applications like Bumble BFF utilize an algorithm to match you to potential friends with similar interests, location, and other elements of your profile. This dramatically lowers the risk that a friendship seeker won’t have any similar interests to their new friend. Further, the application swiping mechanism learns likes and dislikes over time through the user’s activity, meaning that matches are always improving.
Hey! Vina takes the matching a step further, utilizing data from the user’s interaction with quizzes to match users to friends with similar style, interests, and life stage. Under their more content driven approach, they also created an online magazine called the Vinazine. The Vinazine includes articles and quizzes with catchy titling to grab the user’s eye, and even allows consumers to target relationships with likeminded individuals by joining community groups. This user interaction with the application further informs Hey! Vina’s algorithm of relevant interests for each friendship seeker leading to more effective friendship matches.
Now I know what you’re thinking…yes, these apps might help to match me with likeminded people, but can they really lead to a long and prosperous friendship? Let’s dive into some of the statistics surrounding the first online friendship forum: video games. Video gaming has been around for quite a while, and technology has dramatically improved offerings to provide a community of players around the world and solicit real time interaction. Here’s some 2020 statistics on what gamers have to say about their so-called ‘online’ friends (source noted below):
- 75% of respondents said that they consider their gamer buds to be “real friends” despite never meeting in the real world
- The average gamer has 12 (gamer) friends, 4 real-life friends, and 8 which they hadn’t met in real life
- 40% of respondents said an online gaming session was just as good as real-life socializing
The evidence is clear: though gaming relationships are predominantly online, the vast majority of these are considered “real friends”, and almost half consider online gaming sessions as a potential replacement for in person socialization.
As with any digital technology advancement, we know there are limitations to such a drastic change in human behavior. While I believe prosperous friendships can start online in the applications noted above, there are some shortfalls to be learned from the use of dating applications and LinkedIn networks. Although relationships in here begin with online matching and some initial conversation, many of these relationships transition to offline or in person interaction. Believe there are a few reasons for this in which the digital technology has not yet overcome:
- In online relationships, the individuals themselves curate all information shared in the relationship. In contrast, offline relationships allow individual to see interactions between their friends and others and read body language, important cues into their personality. Digital platforms for friendships have not yet figured out how to replace these unspoken elements of relationships, and often rely heavily on the honesty of participants in sharing their interests and personality traits.
- Secondly, the element of ‘trust’ – it’s no secret that online relationships have an easier likelihood of being deceptive. When a relationship transitions to an in person one, that potential for deception narrows. We are seeing digital technology improve in this area , as many of these dating and friendship applications begin to use artificial intelligence to verify that pictures uploaded by users are actually, in fact, the user.
About halfway through writing this blog post, I was convinced – meeting new friends online was going to be the way of the future, and a big part of the post-Covid-19 world. And alas, I signed up for Hey! Vina. The application opened up, and I was able to link my profile directly to my facebook. The next screen gave me a 6 question quiz about whether I prefer to meet up for coffee or a glass of wine, city or nature, morning or night, and so on. Next, I was able to select communities I’d like to be a part of – of course the ‘dog mom’ group was a no brainer for me, but I decided to hold off on joining the ‘bloggers’ community until I have a few more blog posts under my belt! I’m off to test my own theory, can I make friends virtually that replicate in person friendships?
Incase you’re interested in reading more…
Sources for two charts showing how couple have met in past years: https://web.stanford.edu/~mrosenfe/Rosenfeld_et_al_
Disintermediating_Friends.pdf & https://bunow.com/tinder-and-bumble-the-online-dating-era/
LinkedIn statistics: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bullhorn-reach-us-social-recruiting-report-linkedin-is-1-social-site-for-jobs-with-77-percent-of-openings-posted-there-twitter-ahead-of-facebook-157211695.html