Digital Friendship

WORKSHOP 90 MIN

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’s never been easier to make contacts. But how important are digital friendships? Will it soon be possible to make friends in an app store? And how can smartphones help people overcome their loneliness?

Are you planning a 90-minute workshop on the subject “Digital friendships”? Scroll down to find helpful ideas.

You will find specific ideas and example excercises for your workshop participants.

WHAT IS FRIENDSHIP?

The yearning for true friendship is as old as humankind itself. But what makes up a true friendship? And how many real friends do you have? We asked several 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.”

WHAT IS DIGITAL FRIENDSHIP?

Digital friendship is a special kind of friendship that allows us to feel very connected to others without actually knowing them personally. 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 talk about certain topics with strangers. This gives a digital friendship a whole new quality.

A SUBSCRIPTION FOR LOVE?

“And where is your boyfriend/girlfriend?” This question annoys many singles. To avoid it, they use apps that fake real relationships.

Examples for such digital fake friends are apps like “Invisible Girlfriend” and “Invisible Boyfriend”. The user chooses a name, age, appearance, and personality for their fake partner.

Depending on the subscription, users receive short texts, voice mails, greeting cards, flowers, and even small gifts from their virtual partner. Even if they don’t really exist, the digital fake friends look deceptively real to the outside world.

“HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY?”

The “Woebot” is a chatbot, similar to Replika. It was developed for people with depression and anxiety. Users can talk to the virtual therapist via Facebook chat. In contrast to a real therapist, the chatbot is always available to promote positive thinking, among other goals.

“SHARE YOUR WORRIES!”

If you want to share your worries with real people you can do so by calling mental health helplines. Here, users can confide in an expert anonymously and share their fears and worries.

FRIENDSHIP AT FIRST CLICK?

One in four Germans has looked for a partner on the Internet. Dating apps and platforms play an important role here. The selection is huge. On the following pages, you will find an overview of apps, platforms, and forums for making contacts. No matter whether you’re looking for friendships, a life partner, or like-minded people – with the right apps and platforms, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

<strong>25friends</strong> <br> Do you want to get to know new people from the comfort of your own home? “25friends” makes it possible. First, you answer questions about yourself and your interests. You then receive personalized contact suggestions. You can also organize meetups and joint “Get2gethers”. There are some encounters you just can’t forget. “Spotted“ makes it possible to make contact with people you have already met in passing in real life. Thanks to its GPS function, it is easy to find passing encounters. If there is mutual interest, users can contact each other with the chat function. <strong>Yellow</strong> <br> “Yellow” is an app for children age 13 and up. Although its only goal is to help children make new friends, its principle is similar to the Tinder dating app. Like Tinder, “Yellow” also gives children friendship suggestions that match their interests. The children then decide by swiping to the left or right: “Do I want to accept or reject this friendship request?” So far, the app is only available in Australia, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Switzerland. <strong>lebensfreunde.de</strong> <br> “lebensfreunde.de“ gives people age 50 and up the opportunity to meet people for friendships, travel, sports, or romantic moments.
<strong>Tinder</strong> <br> “Tinder” is now one of the most well-known dating apps. After registering, the users receive suggested contacts. They swipe right to express their interest in a suggested person. A swipe left means: “I am not interested.” If both people swipe right, they’re considered a “match” and they can then contact each other. <strong>Gleichklang.de</strong> <br> On “gleichklang.de”, people with alternative lifestyles look for new acquaintances or life partners. A special feature of gleichklang.de is the personality test, which contains questions about one’s own convictions, such as environmental awareness, spirituality, or animal protection. Members then receive suggestions for partners tailored to them, based on their similar traits. <strong>Unverblümt.de</strong> <br> Unlike on “Tinder” and others, singles introduce themselves on “unverblümt.de” with a video. The advantage over photos: photos are often retouched, which is not as easy with videos. As such, unpleasant surprises during the first encounter can be avoided. <strong>Schatzkiste</strong> <br> “Schatzkiste” (“Treasure Chest”) is a dating service for people with disabilities. The special thing about it: People are not left alone in their search for a partner, but instead are supported by “Schatzkiste” employees. Initial meetings always take place on the premises of “Schatzkiste”. There are now forty regional “Schatzkistes” in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

MEETING NEW PEOPLE SAFELY

Have you had your own experiences with online dating? If you want to make contact online, like Michelle and Josh, you should follow some safety tips.

Find out more on the next page!

<strong>Do not disclose your address!</strong> <br> Never give an online contact your exact address. Do not upload photos that reveal information about where you live. <strong>Tell others about your date!</strong> <br> Tell your good friends or family that you are going to meet an online contact. <strong>Use a pseudonym!</strong> <br> Do not reveal your real name in chat sessions at first. Instead, select a pseudonym. <strong>Get to know about your contact!</strong> <br> Make sure that your online contact is not a fake. Call or video-chat with him or her. <strong>Choose a public place for your meeting!</strong> <br> Make sure to only meet your online contact in public places.
<strong>Wege aus der Einsamkeit e.V.</strong> <br> “Wege aus der Einsamkeit” is a charitable association for senior citizens. Its goal is to inform them about the advantages of digitalization. At regular meetings, participants learn how to use tablet PCs, smartphones, and other electronic devices safely, which can then be used to establish social contacts. <strong>meetup</strong> <br> The “meetup” platform offers its users the opportunity to join a groups of people with similar interests, such as outdoor activities, family reunions, or educational opportunities. Those who have not yet found like-minded people can create their own network. <strong>50plus</strong> <br> ”50plus” is an app where people age 50 and over meet. They can make new friends or find a partner for life. In chats and forums, they can exchange information on various everyday topics. <strong>Senior Surfer</strong> <br> In the ”Senior Surfer” chat service, seniors can share and exchange their own experiences with digitization. In addition, video courses help them use Excel, mail programs, and the like. <strong>A Story Before Bed</strong> <br> Grandparents can use this app to keep in touch with their grandchildren. They read a digital children's book from the app's library and simultaneously create audio and video recordings of themselves. The app lets children listen to and watch the recordings of their grandparents – independently of time and location. <strong>KAMA</strong> <br> The “KAMA” app is a social network developed especially for senior citizens. Its goal is to unite all generations. “KAMA” is based on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. It is easy to use and self-explanatory.

FALSE DIGITAL FRIENDS

False friends exist in both the analog and the digital worlds. There are many different kinds of false friends on the Internet, ranging from cyberbullies to cyberstalkers. In this chapter, you will learn how to protect yourself from false friends on the Internet.

DIGITAL BULLYING

Cyberbullying is a special kind of bullying, when someone repeatedly bullies or harasses others on social media. For the perpetrators, anonymity is the decisive advantage. They can insult their victims without revealing their own identity.

CYBERBULLYING

Emma was also a victim of cyberbullying for some time. Take a look at this video.

DIGITAL STALKING

Like cyberbullying, cyberstalking is a crime in which perpetrators stalk and persecute their victims on the Internet. Unlike cyberbullying, the primary aim of a cyberstalker is to get close to their victim. There are many reasons for cyberstalking, ranging from unrequited love to sheer hate.

In the video on the next page, people affected by cyberstalking tell their stories.

CYBERSTALKING

WHAT IS LONELINESS?

Loneliness – what does it mean exactly? According to 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, we have to distinguish between analog and digital loneliness. You can find out more about the differences 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 physical separation – a phenomenon sociologists call “ambient awareness”. Critics are skeptical of this intimacy. Thanks to social media, we are constantly connected and never alone – yet we sometimes feel lonely anyway. Maximilian Dorner calls this “digital loneliness”.

Digital loneliness or digitally connected? Read the case studies on the following pages.

Case 1:

PHUBBING

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”, a portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing”. By paying more attention to his smartphone than to his friends, Tom offends 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?

Case 2:

READING EMOTIONS DIGITALLY

Daniel (9) suffers from Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. People like Daniel have problems reading and interpreting 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 that help Daniel learn to recognize and name his own feelings and those of others by watching short videos. Thanks to the app, Daniel is succeeding in interpreting his own emotions and those of others better and better, enabling him to make his first real friends.

Apps like these help autistic people to participate more in social life.

Case 3:

WHATSAPP AND RELATIONSHIPS

Carolin (27) and Jonas (29) have been together for almost two years. WhatsApp is a constant source of conflict in their relationship. Jonas is often online and active in many group chats, so smartphone pings 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 it in WhatsApp with the “Leave group” function. The problem: the remaining group members are notified that you have left, which is often perceived as rude. It may signal disinterest to the remaining chat participants.

Tip
Announce that you are leaving beforehand and explain your reasons. Say goodbye to your digital friends politely. Keep in mind, however, that leaving group chats can still have a negative impact on your relationships.

<strong>A Lack of Time</strong> <br> Those who spend a lot of time in social media do not have as much time for personal contacts. A quick coffee date to talk about the day? - Nowadays, this is often done conveniently by messenger or post. This can result in people neglecting their personal contacts. <strong>Feeling Left-Out</strong> <br> A picture of the party last night that you were not invited to - posted by a good friend. Some social media posts can trigger feelings of being excluded. Especially when many other friends can be seen on the pictures. This can even endanger long-lasting friendships. <strong>A Perfect World?</strong> <br> Social media usually only shows the good things in life: your last holiday or dinner with your friends. How many posts have you seen where someone talks about being fired? It is precisely because most posts always make such a perfect impression that some people feel under pressure.
<strong>Connected Worldwide</strong> <br> Digital media connects us. It has never been so easy to communicate with people all over the world. <strong>Accessible all the Time</strong> <br> Our smartphones make us accessible all the time. Whether early in the morning, in the afternoon or in the middle of the night - thanks to smartphones, we are never alone. <strong>Meeting New People</strong> <br> Through digital media, relationships often develop that would probably never have come about in the analog world. Digital tools offer many opportunities to meet new people, especially for people who are shy.

I’M NOT LONELY!

The Internet and social media can be a bridge for building friendships and social relationships. Digital connectivity has many advantages. On social media, we can share moments 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 won’t have to fear false friends on the Internet, either.