When you’re interacting with your friends, you should be thinking about your side of it. Am I contributing to that? Have I been helpful lately? When was the last time I said something nice or told somebody why I appreciated them or did something nice for someone? Am I a reliable presence in that person’s life? You can think about the way you interact with your friends as needed to fall into those buckets, at a minimum.
The same thing goes for the online, as well: being positive, being helpful, showing up from a distance, whether that’s just checking in by text or sending a funny joke or forwarding an article or calling—making time. People have been stressed and anxious lately, so we need to be there and provide an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, even virtually.
KN: Right now, people in many places haven’t seen their friends for months. What do we miss out on when we can’t be around our friends in person?
LD: There’s a richness to being with your friends in person, and it hits all your senses. So, we’re not getting any of the tactile sense of being with our friends, and there’s a difference when you see them on a screen vs. when you see them in person, although we don’t entirely know in neuroscientific terms what those differences are yet.
One of the things our brains do automatically when we’re having a conversation with someone in person is this natural sense of “call and response,” that I’m talking, and then you respond, and then you talk and I respond. We are reading each other’s cues in a way that makes it easier to do that.
When you’re online, sometimes not only is there a little bit of an artificialness to the interaction but there’s literally a lag that’s built-in from the technology, and that is quite off-putting for our brains. Our brains recognize that as a different kind of interaction, and they don’t like it very much. I think that’s one reason why some people are being driven crazy by Zoom. And if you have a group on Zoom, it’s very hard figuring out who’s going to speak next. There’s a way that we handle that with nonverbal cues in person that is harder to pull off virtually.
When you’re in person, you can have a much more natural conversation. There’s an ease and a warmth and a naturalness that we get when we’re with our friends, and I think we really are missing the ability to hug them and high five—that’s big stuff that matters a lot. So, it’s a loss.
That said, people are reporting a lot of positive experiences, even remotely. We’re being forced to interact virtually, but we’re getting a lot of benefits out of it. It’s not the same, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing. Limited though it is, technology has been a lifesaver in this moment. I can’t imagine what this would have been like if we didn’t have it.
KN: What do you most hope people will take away from the book?
LD: That they will make friendship a priority, that they will call a friend and work harder on thinking about the importance of being a good friend, that parents will think about talking to kids about the importance of friendship and modeling being a good friend and prioritizing it. Parents are full of messages about achievement, and not as many messages about what it means to be a good friend, but I think it’s one of the most important skills that a child can develop. Through all our lives, the importance of friendship has been hiding in plain sight.
Are you ready to put more time and energy into friendships in your life?
Watch this video to know and recognize toxic friends so that you can avoid them:
Written by: Kira M. Newman
This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.