Has COVID cost friendships? Technology may have helped people stay connected during the pandemic


Shane Rogers, Edith Cowan University

If you leave your car sitting the garage for too long, the battery can go flat. Similarly, if we don’t maintain our friendships, they can go a bit flat too.

So just as it’s good practice to drive your car every so often and have it serviced regularly, friendships are easier to maintain with some semblance of regular contact.

What has this meant for our friendships during 2020, a year of social distancing and lockdowns? My research suggests physical separation wasn’t necessarily associated with psychological separation or the breakdown of friendships.

And that appears to be thanks mostly to communication technologies.

Mental health, friendships and COVID

Consistent with research from other parts of the world, lockdown experiences in Australia have been associated with diminished emotional well-being for many people.

My colleague Travis Cruickshank and I surveyed 1,599 Australians from various age groups during the national lockdown in April. Our study is still at the preprint stage, which means it hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A substantial proportion of participants reported a deterioration in their mental health due to COVID-19 (10% deteriorated a lot, 44% deteriorated somewhat, 40% reported no change, and 6% improved somewhat).

We also asked how their friendships had been affected, and surprisingly, most respondents reported no change (66%). This was despite 72% noting they were interacting face-to-face with friends a lot less (and a further 14% somewhat less) during the pandemic.

Read more:
It’s hard to admit we’re lonely, even to ourselves. Here are the signs and how to manage them

Communication technologies to the rescue

At first glance our results seem strange, as even the best communication technologies are arguably not an adequate substitute for face-to-face interaction. It’s difficult to make eye contact — an important social cue — through a screen. And if you’ve ever tried to catch up with a group of friends over Zoom or a similar platform, you’ll know it can become a little chaotic.

However, 56% of participants in our study reported spending more time interacting with friends using technology during the pandemic (for example, phone, email, or online chat). So it seems most people used communication technologies to stay connected with their friends during lockdown — even if it wasn’t quite the same as catching up in person.

A group of young people socialising in someone's home.
Technology can’t entirely replicate the benefits of socialising face-to-face.

Social media sometimes gets a bad rap. For example, excessive social media use has been associated with negative outcomes such as lower self-esteem and narcissistic tendencies. It can also be a vehicle for spreading misinformation.

However, having a raft of options for communicating digitally, of which social media platforms are a big part, has arguably been a good thing overall.

People have been able to share jokes with a wide audience to keep spirits up. For example, a Facebook group encouraging people to dress up in costumes to take their bins out, and then post pictures, went viral around the world.

Read more:
Say what? How to improve virtual catch-ups, book groups and wine nights

More importantly, people could stay connected with friends and family during a stressful time. We know social support is important for managing anxiety, especially during fraught times.

Our results are consistent with other Australian research and US research which found people didn’t perceive their social support to be negatively affected during the pandemic.

But not everybody made use of technology

In our study, while most people reported no impact on their friendships, 27% of people reported a deterioration in their relationships with friends. These people were more likely to also report not increasing their level of communication via technological means.

Author provided

These people were also more likely to report their mental health had deteriorated.

It’s important to note we collected our data fairly early in the pandemic. So it’s possible more people, particularly those in Victoria who endured a prolonged second lockdown, may have experienced deterioration in their friendships since we collected our data.

But our results highlight the important role communication technologies can play during a pandemic, and the value of using such technologies to maintain relationships and social support, for the benefit of our mental health.

A woman hunched over on the couch at home, appearing lonely or depressed.
Some participants in our study reported their social relationships had deteriorated.

Interestingly, 7% of people reported an improvement in friendship quality. Perhaps connecting over difficult times brought some people closer. Alternatively, with various communication technologies and apps gaining traction, some people may have started interacting with friends during lockdown who they wouldn’t normally see or speak to.

New communication technologies on the horizon

Video chat platforms (such as Zoom) saw a dramatic increase in use during the pandemic. While serviceable, video chat is still lacking compared with face-to-face interaction.

The pandemic has heightened interest in the development of new digital communication technologies. One prospect is communication in virtual reality (VR).

During the pandemic, a host of start-up companies have appeared selling VR meeting platforms. There was also an increase in usage of social VR programs, although these remain on the fringe.

A current issue with social interaction in VR is that the avatars generally have minimal expression and therefore only represent a shell of a character that transmits your voice. As summed up in this article on The Conversation, “VR technologies perhaps only offer a pale imitation of the multi-sensory experiences of life”.

However, new developments in motion tracking technology and touch-stimulating devices are set to significantly improve the social interaction experience in VR within the next few years.

New VR headsets are in development that include inbuilt facial motion tracking, such as those by Facebook, and also the DecaGear 1. In the coming years, we may be interacting in VR at work and at the weekend with our friends.

Read more:
Why FaceTime can’t replace face-to-face time during social distancing

The Conversation

Shane Rogers, Lecturer in Psychology, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Social activity can be good for mental health, but whether you benefit depends on how many friends you have


Ziggi Ivan Santini, University of Southern Denmark; Paul E. Jose, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Robin Dunbar, University of Oxford, and Vibeke Jenny Koushede, University of Copenhagen

We know having friends is generally good for your happiness and mental well-being. Likewise, keeping socially active and engaging in formal social activities like volunteering has been linked to better mental health.

But it is also possible to have (or do) too much of a good thing. In a recent study, we tracked people aged 50 and older from 13 European countries over a two-year period to explore how volunteering, education, involvement in religious or political groups, or participating in sport or social clubs influenced their mental health.

We also looked at how many close social relationships people had — the kind of relationships in which they would discuss important personal matters. We found social activities especially benefited individuals who were relatively socially isolated (with three or fewer close relationships).

For people with a higher number of close relationships, engaging in social activities did not appear to enhance mental health. It could even be detrimental for some.

Who benefits from social activities

Social isolation is a major health issue. Apart from compromising the mental health of isolated individuals, it is linked to many other adverse health outcomes, including dementia, heart disease and stroke and premature death. But people who experience social isolation can take steps to improve their situation – for example, by engaging in formal social activities.

Read more:
Here’s a mental health workout that’s as simple as ABC

Among individuals who were relatively socially isolated (people with three or fewer close relationships), we found more engagement in social activities was linked to improved quality of life and fewer symptoms of depression.

On a population level, our estimates suggest if such people were to engage regularly in social activities, we would see a 5-12% increase in people reporting better quality of life and a 4-8% reduction in people experiencing symptoms of depression. This would be a substantial change to population mental health, given more than 70% of people in our sample (aged 50+, in Europe) have three or fewer close relationships.

There are many reasons being socially active is linked to better mental health and well-being. Social activities can be a way to establish new relationships, provide opportunities for social support and foster a sense of belonging within a community.

People clearing weeds
Social activities can increase a sense of belonging within a group.
Shutterstock/Syda Productions

‘Too much’ social activity

While research so far has suggested having more social relationships is always better, our study indicates this may not be the case. Just like too much physical activity can compromise mental health, too much social activity can also backfire.

When we looked at how the study variables (quality of life, symptoms of depression) mapped against our two variables of interest (number of social activities, number of close relationships), we found U-shaped curves. That is, poor mental health at low levels of social activity, good mental health at moderate levels of social activity, and again poor mental health at high levels of social activity.

Read more:
Five activities that can protect your mental and physical health as you age

Depression appeared to be minimised when people reported having four to five close relationships and being engaged in social activities on a weekly basis. Any more social activity than this, and the benefits started to decline, disappear or turn negative.

This downturn was particularly clear among individuals reporting seven or more close relationships. For these very busy people, engaging in social activities was linked to an increase in depressive symptoms.

Woman under stress.
Too much social activity can backfire and lead to exhaustion.
Shutterstock/Maksim Shmeljov

People typically report having an average of five close friends. Extroverts tend to report having more friends, but pay the price of having weaker friendships.

Because our social capital (essentially the time we have to devote to social interactions) is limited and roughly the same for everyone, extroverts in effect prefer to spread their social efforts thinly among many people. This is in contrast to introverts who prefer to focus their social efforts on fewer people to ensure those friendships really work well.

This trade-off is at the core of our capacity to engage in social activities. If you engage in too many, your social time is spread thinly among them. That thin investment might result in you becoming a peripheral member of numerous groups in the community rather than being embedded in the social centre where you can benefit from the support of your connections.

Another possibility is that too much social activity becomes a stress factor. This can lead to negative outcomes, such as social over-commitment, emotional and cognitive exhaustion, fatigue or feelings of guilt when social relationships are not properly nurtured because of limited time.

This raises another important consideration, albeit one we were not able to investigate empirically in our study. Family is an important part of our social world, not least in terms of the emotional and other support it provides. Devoting too much time to community activities means less time for family. That bottleneck might well prove to be detrimental to well-being because of the strain it could impose on family relationships.

So what’s the take-home message? Perhaps just this: if you want to live a happy and fulfilled life, be actively social — but do so in moderation.The Conversation

Ziggi Ivan Santini, Postdoctoral associate, University of Southern Denmark; Paul E. Jose, Professor of Psychology, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology, Department of Experimental Psycology, University of Oxford, and Vibeke Jenny Koushede, Head of the Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Article: Why Do People Unfriend Others On Facebook?

OK, I know you all want to know the answer to this question, ‘why did _____________ (enter name) unfriend me on Facebook?’ Well, the answer to that question may lie in the article linked to below. And I thought it was simply because they weren’t really your friend.


Plinky Prompt – My Best Friend Rebecca: Why She is My Best Friend

My best friend is not around anymore. I would probably have not written about her tonight, except I have been thinking about her throughout the day. I have just felt a need to write something about her tonight.

My friend Rebecca died over two years ago now, but the memory of her continues fresh in my mind and in my heart. I miss her so, so much. I think of her often – there may be a smile, sometimes a quiet laugh, often there will be tears. Her place has never been taken by another & her place will always be her place.

I think this far down the track I am yet to say goodbye… I don’t want to say goodbye. I still hope that she is just around the corner and that we can continue where we left off. One more conversation, one more embrace, one more look – one more so much. But that would still not be enough.

I knew her – she knew me. We could talk with openness. We just went together so well. Her thoughtfulness, her heart, her being – Rebecca. That is why she was my best friend. She was Rebecca – she is Rebecca. There is no one like Rebecca to me.

I miss her so.

Powered by Plinky

What's My Favorite Summer Memory?

Summer is a great time of the year – I love it. Summer has generally been the best time for getting into the Great Outdoors and exploring Australia. Summer has brought me many great memories – so many that it is hard to place one as being THE favorite summer memory. However, there is one summer memory that means more to me now than a lot of others, for one particular reason. It was in a November (summer in Australia) a few years ago now, that I traveled to Gloucester Tops with Bec and we enjoyed the bush, the river and the waterfalls together. It was a special time. It is even more special to me now because Bec died 2 years ago (June 25) and this is one of the greatest memories I have and times I spent with her. It was a great day I will never forget.


With the passing of the year 2008 and the beginning of 2009, I am looking forward to what I hope is a much better year than the one just finished. It would be very easy for me to simply look on 2008 as a year to forget (if I could), given the many difficulties that I had to pass through during the year.

Among the most difficult events of the year was my near fatal car accident in February 2008. I have been recovering from that accident for the entire year and still have a way to travel until I can again be confident that I am as fully fit as I can expect to be. Yet even here, I can be thankful that I wasn’t killed and that I have been able to return to work, am approaching a condition in which I should not be affected to greatly in the long term as a result of the accident, etc.

My greatest loss in 2008 was that of my dear friend Rebecca in June. She was my dearest friend whom I loved greatly. I have missed her every day since she died and will never forget her. This was the tragedy of 2008 for me, far surpassing the car accident and anything else that happened. Her death left me shattered and it is a blow from which I will never fully recover. Yet it was a tremendous privilege to have been given the opportunity to know her at all and to count her as my dearest friend for as long as I was able to do so is something I will forever be thankful for. Thank you Rebecca for giving me a place in your heart and in your life – I was blessed for knowing you.

There have been financial difficulties also from which I am beginning to emerge and I think this has been for the good, even through the immediate hardships that resulted. They will be for my good for the rest of my life and I look forward to the continuing recovery ahead.

2009 has the promise of a rebuilt life and that of continuing personal reformation which excites me as much as it will challenge me. When I left my previous employment in 2007 I thought the rest of my life was about to begin and a second chance presented itself. However, 2008 has been a continuance of that transition period and 2009 may well be the beginning of my second chance at life – so to speak.

I know I ended 2007 feeling very relaxed and contented with where I was at that exact moment and the ride ahead is something I look forward to. I have an agenda of personal reform, life changes and interests to pursue throughout 2009 – I now go ahead seeking to fulfil them as best I can.

Unlike New Years’ resolutions, I can have the confidence that progress can be made in these areas without the fear of simply failing to achieve what I have set out to do. With the Spirit of God operational in my life I have a living force that is more powerful than any of the obstacles that I can foresee and that I will in time confront. By the grace of God I can go on. Praise be to Him – I know my Redeemer lives!!!


For anyone interested in ‘online fellowship’ and/or friendship with other Particular and Reformed Baptists there is a social networking site just for you at:



Yesterday (September 25, 2008) marked three months since the tragic death of my dearest friend – Rebecca.

I still miss you Rebecca and always will.

My tribute to Rebecca can be found below:



I received an email in the last week or so from a friend and in it was one of those ‘chain mail’ like quizzes that you get in emails from time to time. Anyhow, for a change, I thought I might actually do the quiz and post it on my Blog as well. So here it is:


Getting to Know You 2008

Welcome to the 2008 edition of getting to know your friends. Change all the answers so they apply to you, send it on to your friends and reply to the friend who sent it to you, and then you will learn a lot of little things about your friends that you might not have known… and what they might like for Christmas.


1. What time did you get up this morning?

I got up at about 8.30 am – like to have a sleep in on a Saturday because I usually get up at 5.00 am for work.


2. Diamonds or pearls?

Neither do a great deal for me personally – though if I was buying for someone special it would more than likely be diamonds (if I could afford them).


3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?

I haven’t been too much lately, but I believe I saw the last Rocky movie with Kylie and Mark.


4. What is your favourite TV show at the moment?

Not watching much on the box at the moment – except the news. So the answer would be the news I guess.


5. What do you usually have for breakfast?

Don’t do breakfast – usually have something for Brunch, like a salad sandwich.


6. Favourite colour

Probably blue.


7. What food do you dislike?

Tomato and tuna/salmon – yuk!!!


8. Favourite CD at the moment?

Not been listening to much lately – though I do like the latest Coldplay song a lot (Viva la Vida).


9. What kind of car do you drive?

I don’t – the last one tried to kill me in a bad accident (hit a tree and then went over the edge of a mountain). It was a Magna.


10. Favourite sandwich?

Hi fibre white bread (soft) with salad and ham (usually just lettuce, beetroot, lite cheddar cheese and ham – occasionally with a fried egg and/or bacon).


11. What characteristic do you despise?



12. Favourite item of clothing?

At the moment it is fairly basic – a pair of shorts.


13. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

I’m very keen to visit the Daintree in Queensland, tour Tasmania’s wild places and go to Kakadu again.


14. Favourite brand of clothing?

None really.


15. Where would you retire to?

Probably to the mountains in a reasonably remote location.


16. What was your most recent memorable birthday?

I think I had an enjoyable birthday with Rebecca once.


17. Favourite sport to watch?

Probably cricket.


18. Furthest place you are sending this?

Probably the Internet I’d say – it could turn up anywhere.


19. Person you expect to send it back first?

Wouldn’t expect to get one back to be honest.


20. When is your birthday?

Next Year. April 22. Any guesses on the age I’ll be?


22. Are you a morning person or a Night person?

Doesn’t concern me a lot – though I get a bit done at night.


23.Shoe size?



24. Pets?

None at the moment – but I do like to keep tropical fish.


25. Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with us?

Not at the moment – still trying to recover from the car accident. Will hopefully move to Tea Gardens in the New Year.


26. What did you want to be when you were little?

School teacher – didn’t happen.


27. How old are you today?

39 and a few months.


28. What is your favourite candy?

Hard jubes.


29. What is your favourite flower?

Being a horticulturist I like a lot of them – orchids are good.


30. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?

None really – most are the same at the moment. I like weekends J


32. What is your full name?

Kevin William Matthews.


31. What are you listening to right now?

Cricket on TV in the background (Australia Vs Bangladesh in Darwin One Day International), Air Conditioner is going (warm), heavy rain and gale force winds outside, traffic on the Pacific Highway and my hitting the keyboard keys while I type.


34. What was the last thing you ate?

A cheese and bacon pie – not too healthy I’m afraid.


35. Do you wish on stars?



36. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?

Does it matter – I wouldn’t know about anything. I like the colour blue.


38. Last person you spoke to on the phone?

My mother.


39. Favourite soft drink?

Coke… though I’m refraining from drinking it at the moment – no good for me you see.


40. Favourite restaurant?

Haven’t been to any for a while – but I loved Sizzlers when it was around. I even went to Mt Isa to go to one.


41. Natural hair colour?

Brown – though there are quite a few greys these days.


42. What was your favourite toy as a child?

I have no idea – cricket bat perhaps.


43. Summer or winter?



44. Hugs or kisses?



45. Chocolate or Vanilla?



46. Coffee or tea?

Neither – I prefer hot chocolate here.


47. Do you want your friends to email you back?

I like them to get back to me – so yes.


48. When was the last time you cried?

Some time when I thought about Rebecca’s death.


49. What is under your bed?

Some shoes and magazines. I have limited storage here.


50. What did you do last night?

Slept – Played scrabble on the net and watched some ‘Chaser’s War on Everything (DVD).’


51. What are you afraid of?

Pain I suppose.


52. Salty or sweet?

Salty I think – though sweet is good too.


53. How many keys on your key ring?

A lot – though I’m not sure why.


54. How many years at your current job?

Coming up to 1 year.


55. Favourite day of the week?

One when I’m not at work J


56. How many towns have you lived in?

9 – Boolaroo, Stratford, Gloucester, Warners Bay, Charlestown, Argenton, Cardiff South, Bulahdelah and Croudace Bay (for a couple of months anyway).


57. Do you make friends easily?

Probably – but don’t have a lot.


58. How many people will you send this to?

A fair few – upwards of 20.


59. How many will respond?

None I would suspect.


60. What is your ideal Christmas Gift?

A car would be nice – but in reality, I don’t really expect much.