Listen: Youth friendship expert Dana Kerford speaks about how Australians have valued their digital connections in 2020
How we form and maintain relationships has had to adapt in a year where much of our communication and connection with friends has turned digital-first.
The world of online communication has always been a murky one that raises questions about the authenticity of virtual friendships, so the challenge is whether or not true community is formed through this way of connection.
Interestingly, a new Friendship Report from Snap Inc has found many Australians feel their friendships have deepened over 2020, and social media has played an important role in keeping them going.
Youth friendship expert and founder of friendship development organisation URStrong Dana Kerford told Hope 103.2 that people have “realised how important friendships are in our lives, and how important they are to our wellbeing”.
“[This year] we absolutely leaned on technology to connect with the people that we love the most and 79 per cent of Australians felt that online platforms helped them maintain – and in some cases even improve – their friendships,” she said.
Given conversations about social media often comes with concerns about its impact on our mental health and feelings of loneliness, it’s surprising to learn most users have found it to be an uplifting tool in a year of forced quarantine.
“I think there’s some misconceptions around social media and loneliness,” Dana said.
“We know that your network online mirrors your network in person: we’re friends with people online that we’ve met in real life first. And so the digital communication platforms are really just a tool to enhance those relationships.
“When we look at loneliness, typically those people who go to social media and feel lonely we’re already lonely before. And so [social media] exacerbates those feelings.”
It can also be part of the cure though Dana said – no matter the size of your network.
“The most powerful antidote to loneliness is friendship, is deep, meaningful connections. And you don’t have to have a huge network. It can just be even one close friend who you feel like they get you, they see you, they understand you and you can be open and vulnerable with them. That’s really what we need in our relationships,” she said.
When we form friendships be they online or in person, there’s one trait Dana said the majority of Australians are looking for and that’s “trust”.
“We teach kids that trust and respect are two of the most important qualities in a friendship.”
One of the biggest takeaways of the Friendship Report is that the friends we make value our input in their lives and would, in fact, want to hear more from us.
“Sixty-six per cent of Australians wished their friends reached out more,” Dana said,
“I think that’s a really important thing for us to hold on to: our friends really want to hear from us.
“A high quality connection doesn’t have to be a long conversation… little moments of connection [like sending a funny meme or ‘thinking of you’] really have a big impact on our wellbeing and can really boost and elevate our mood.”
You can read the full Friendship Report Snap Inc’s website.