Friendships seen evolving in face of social networking, technology.
Is companionship-light a fad, or a new staple in our emotional diet?
Laura Bellingkamp has no time. This 33 year old New York marketing consultant has met over a hundred cool new acquaintances on services like Friendster and J-date. She goes out every night, but at parties she meets more people, not less. And in addition to her work and social schedule, Laura must leave time to process all the content captured on her TIVO, iPod and four voice mail accounts. She’s exhibit one of what techno-sociologist Linda Stone calls “the continuous partial attention generation.”
Academics say the problem faced by Laura and those like her is how to deal with all those budding friendships. A hundred years ago a person was lucky to meet 15 new acquaintances a year. Now thanks to technology, people often meet that many in an hour. “Our species was never programmed to adapt to such an onslaught of potential intimacy” says Harvard biologist Irving Bockman. “ Yet we still have an innate need to meet people. So you can see the frightening implication of this codependent cycle. We now believe Traumatic Friendship Stress Disorder is rapidly emerging as the premier psychological ailment of our era.”
A new startup thinks it has the answer and it will require no lengthy FDA approvals. Friendini Worldwide will soon offer people like Laura an alternative to friendships with all their commitments, expectations, and overhead. Launching later this year, Friendini.com promises its users a patented commitment-free, friendship-light form relationship. Says founder Hailey Throckmorton, “We’ve found that most people can handle hundreds of Friendinis annually, but they freak out after just a dozen or so regular friends in just a few weeks”
Critics question whether Friendinis are a fad, or an enduring part of our social fabric. “We’ve had lo-cal cola, lo-cal chips, and now comes lo-cal friendships,” says Terence Loughton of Cambridge University. “What’s next, lo-cal pets? I think its just passing fancy, like push technology” But in that Throckmortin sees truth and affirmation. “The pet analogy rings true to our customers. Pets don’t cause their owners any grief, and neither do friendinis. And you don’t even have to walk a friendini. I tell you, that gets investors awfully excited!”