Friendship: Just a Social Bond? It’s Healthy, Too!

February 25, 2013

By: Wayne Baker

Originally posted on Our Values

This week, columnist Terry Gallagher is writing the OurValues series …

Making friends might be making a come-back in the last few years, and not just on Facebook.

I love this Google tool: the n-gram viewer, shown above today. The n-gram charts how frequently any word is used in the entire body of books Google has in its library over any period of time you select. In this chart, I plugged in “friend” in American English from 1800 to 2008—and you can see how the word goes through a century-and-a-half decline from 1830 to 1980. But since 1980? The use of “friend” is on an upward trend.

What about other forms of the word? I charted an n-gram of the word “friendship,” but that line is static, making me wonder whether this is a Facebook phenomenon—where “friend” is a much more popular word. Or, something else might be at work. The 1980s saw the hit Thomas & Friends TV series for children—and the 1990s saw the Friends TV series for adults. Both series generated related books.

But, what can you envision in this n-gram chart, above?
Add a comment below.
AND, FACEBOOK? What about Facebook’s impact on “friend,” “friending”—and actual friendship—since its debut in 2004? Despite all the hand-wringing out there about how people are using technology to avoid real social connections, research shows otherwise. In 2011, a Pew Research Center report (cited in an Our Values column in June 2011) found that Facebook users have more close relationships and stronger social connections. Instead of undermining real friendship, social networking tools apparently help users deepen their ties with each other.

Friendship is not a trivial matter. The Mayo Clinic says friendship can help reduce stress, boost happiness, promote recovery from trauma and encourage healthier lifestyles.

So how about it? Why can’t we be friends?

How has friendship changed for you over the decades?