Relationships have had a significant impact on people since long ago. Due to the development of various functions, it is now possible to make people and become friends in diverse ways without meeting them in person. However, more and more people feel light in these relationships. This shows that the meaning of friend has dynamically changed compared to the past. For example, the term index relationship was coined to refer to a relationship that can be easily attached and detached. ST hope Soongsilians will also think about their valuable friendships and their other relationships with the people they interact with. ......Ed
George Washington, the first President of the United States, once said, “True friendship is like a slowly growing tree.” Do you have a friend worth of the so-called true friendship? Who comes to your mind first? Friends have existed in our society long before the word friend was coined. In other words, the history of friendship is as old as human history itself, and a friend is an indispensable adjective in life. We call someone a friend when we have a close and enduring bond, sometimes even stronger than family ties, despite not sharing a single drop of blood.
Various entities in our daily lives bring happiness. In a ranking of associated words with the term happiness, friends landed in 3rd place. The 1st place, children, is followed by mothers. After that, we have friends, husbands, fathers, and so on. However, in 2022, friends surpassed mothers and rose to 2nd place. Thus, friends have become an essential component of happiness in modern society. It seems that we have developed deeper relationships with our friends. However, the allure of friendship in contemporary society comes from the opposite of depth.
Friends go by various names. They can be called Instagram friends, class friends, or club friends, depending on the place where we meet. Moreover, depending on the depth of intimacy, they may be referred to as best or close friends. In recent times, the names of friends have changed in terms of place, subject, and depth. Let’s examine the aspect of friendship that extends to places, such as blog friends or fandom friends. Where do our friendships form? Previously, friendships were primarily formed in places like schools or workplaces. However, things have changed nowadays. In addition to schools or workplaces, people actively establish friendships in online spaces like Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, and more. These new friends are sustained based on common interests rather than age groups.
Non-human entities such as companion friends and animal friends also play a significant role in friendships. If we consider a robotic vacuum cleaner as a companion friend, we may not be able to engage in conversations, but it can provide healing and convenience in our weary daily lives. The resulting intimacy from such friendships arises from the desire to share our everyday lives with a friend. In other words, the criteria for friendship in today’s world lies in the ability to accompany and align with my lifestyle, rather than being solely based on long-established history. The value of terms like ‘lifelong friend’ and ‘close friend,’ which emphasize the preciousness of friendship, still holds. However, it is essential to note that the perceived value of these friendships is based not only on the total duration of shared time but also on the potential for shared interests and lifestyles discussed earlier.
Friendships expanded through these three criteria possess a characteristic of choice. When interests change or when my lifestyle is compromised, friendships can be severed. Why has the importance of friendships increased in modern society, while the sense of intimacy has decreased? Let’s explore this through the concept of index relationships.
Unlike the past when the names in the phonebook were the only connections we had, today’s plethora of platforms such as KakaoTalk, Facebook, Instagram, and Metaverse offer various types and degrees in human relationships. Modern human relationships are not simply divided into ‘close’ or ‘not close’ but are much more complex. Indexing refers to recording data by indicating names, sizes, attributes, storage locations, and more. Modern individuals have adopted ‘index relationships’ to manage these intricate human connections. The Consumer Trend Analysis Center at Seoul National University defines this approach to relationship management as ‘index relationships.’ It involves attaching and detaching various indexes to the numerous relationships created with a purpose, maximizing efficiency in relationship management.
Has Soongsilian ever used the multi-profile feature on KakaoTalk or the Close Friends feature on Instagram? KakaoTalk’s multi-profile feature allows you to display different profiles to specific friends. If you have a picture with your significant other that you feel hesitant to show to everyone, you can set it as a multi-profile image, visible only to the people you want to show it to. Instagram’s Close Friends feature works similarly. In addition to the Feed, which is always visible, some Stories disappear after a certain time. By adding desired individuals to the Close Friends List and selecting the Close Friends option when posting a story, only those classified as close friends can view it. This means that you can share where you are, what you’re doing, or your thoughts through Stories, but only with the friends you want to show them to. The ability to communicate with selected individuals in the manner of your choosing is a common characteristic of the multi-profile and Close Friends features, representing prominent examples of index relationships.
The conventional ways of communicating with other people, contacting acquaintances by phone or text messages, meeting and talking with them, and/or continuing their relationship are gone. It is the new era in communication with an unspecified number of people through various kinds of social media. In addition, the number of relationships between people we have to manage has also increased exponentially. The basic cause can be found in the COVID-19 Pandemic. With no one meeting and life at home repeating, the only relationship we could rely on was a relationship that had already been formed. In a situation where we could not meet new friends in person, the method we chose was SNS (Social Network Service) space and an online community platform. This is because human relationships are created without meeting separately while building intimacy through talking to an unspecified number of people. As a result, several index relationships are formed in SNS or online communities. The second cause is the limitations of existing relationships. The COVID-19 pandemic has led us to looking back on the question of ‘What is a relationship?’ Due to the limitations of existing relationships, index relationships, a new method of establishing relationships, have emerged. Human relationships with unspecified people gathered on a single topic have surpassed the limitations of existing human relationships that lead to ‘school ties’ and ‘region ties.’
For the third reason, we emphasize self-centeredness. We classify important relationships and non-important relationships based on the criteria that only we have. In modern people’s lives, ‘I’ comes first, and ‘I’ doesn’t cling to the trivialities of human relationships. Rather than aligning with people who don’t fit with ‘me,’ ‘I’ maintains friendship through strategic relationships that maintain relationships with people who fit. In other words, SNS, which occupies the core of the index relationship, is self-centered in terms of relationship management. For we can follow and unfollow when we want.
@Index_Relationship_Formation_Process Step 1: Form_Realtionships
Index relationships maintain relationships through three processes. The first step is relationship forming. When people have relationships today, they are connected in a different way than in the past. Relationships are not naturally formed by chance opportunities such as school ties and regional ties. It is formed in a ‘random way’ that is intentionally made with a clear ‘purpose’ or is completely ‘accidental.’ In other words, modern relationships require ‘efforts’ to establish intentional relationships, not by chance. If you have a relationship with added effort, you should also try to create a deeper relationship. The first type of index relationship forming is the objective relationship. It is a case in which human relationships are formed in a state with a clear purpose. It is not to meet new people and promote new jobs but to expand human relationships in the promoting new jobs. Human relationships expand when they seek new jobs focusing on topics of interest, such as building specifications, dating, and starting a business. Here is an example; studying Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) with people you met at a TOEIC study group and continuing your relationship afterward. In addition, the popular ‘crew’ is also an index relationship. This is because they meet with new people around a single theme of exercise like ‘running crew’ to continue human relationships.
The second type is a random relationship. It is a way to expand the relationship by intentionally creating a random meeting with a strange and unspecified person who has no intersection with me. It focuses on enjoying the moment. For example, there is KakaoTalk Open Chat. An anonymous majority is linked to a single concern and communicates with others. Recently, it can be said that the open chat ‘Geo-ji-bang,’ which has gathered a large number of people who communicate to reduce spending due to rising prices, is also a random relationship among one index relationship. Another example is ‘airdrop play’. Airdrop is a function created to send photos and videos between Apple devices at once without complicated procedures. People use it as a kind of ‘play’. Using the airdrop function, random relationships are created by exchanging popular photos on the Internet. The characteristics of random relationships have the characteristics of not showing any regret or willingness to continue even for a one-off relationship.
@Index_Realtionship_Formation_Process Step 2: Relationship_Classifiation
If an index relationship has been formed with a ‘purpose’ and ‘random’ relationship, it proceeds to the second step of classifying them according to their importance. It is to index according to importance. Interestingly, this ‘importance’ does not increase even though there are many offline meetings. According to data from the Seoul National University Consumer Trend Analysis Center, you can share your daily life with people who are very close to you via Zoom, or share your location on SNS in real-time. If you continue your relationship offline without meeting in person, you can say that you are a close friend. In other words, the era has come when face-to-face is only one of several ways to continue relationships. For example, the ‘close friends’ feature on Instagram earlier. Those who are set as ‘close friends’ define the relationship by adding an index of convenience enough to share my private life. The functions of ‘neighbors to each other’ and ‘neighbors’ are the same in Blog. Instead of ‘the public function’ that everyone can see when writing on a blog, it can be classified so that only neighbors who are the same as the concept of follow back in Instagram can see it. That’s how you index people.
@Index_Realtionship_Formation_Process Step3: Keep_Relationships
If the relationship is formed and classified, the relationship is strategically managed by attaching and removing the index attached to the classified relationship. To maintain numerous human relationships in the spectrum of complex relationships, a strategy of cleverly maintaining relationships is needed so that each other does not feel burdened. First of all, unnecessary relationships are organized periodically. This includes exploring and creating new SNS accounts, which were used as a means of communication, deleting all contact information on mobile phones, and changing jobs or moving without informing acquaintances. The second is to manage the remaining relationships strategically to better maintain them. It is to maintain friendship by keeping a distance from the person who is moderately close to you so that you don’t feel stressed. For example, there is communication on Instagram. It is to continue the relationship without any burden by replying to Instagram stories or commenting on posts. Another example is the ‘gift function’ in KakaoTalk to a birthday friend. You can naturally continue your relationship by taking care of gifts. However, if I send a gift and the other person passes my birthday, the relationship naturally stops.
Index relationships have become a method that has already been established among MZ generations. Why do people relate by index? The reasons are the expansion of human resources and social capital. Unlike in the past, now we can expand our relationships with little time and money. The relationship of the wider spectrum allows the opportunity to form various social capitals.
However, problems also arise due to index relationships. The first is a sense of separation due to differences in classification criteria. This is because it is not easy to establish a close human relationship. After all, each human relationship has a purpose and classification, and skepticism comes in the process. Since one’s own ‘friendliness’ is set, skepticism can come from changing standards for each person. For example, on Instagram, Soongsilian categorized the other person as ‘close friends,’ but Soongsilian has skepticism that comes from not being the other person’s close friend. The second is the formation of selective avoidance. In relationships characterized by weak relationships, selective avoidance appears a lot. When people are easily exposed to somewhat uncomfortable socio-political topics, there are cases in this situation where we intentionally try to communicate with people who are similar to our own thoughts. The opportunity to think about the opinions of people who have different opinions from me disappears. Third, it can lead to social problems. In human relations, the proportion of ‘transaction’ relationships, which are clearer to exchange than ‘sharing,’ is increasing. This will increase self-efficacy, while the phenomenon of easily breaking off relationships will also increase if it is a loss to oneself right away. As a result, social polarization will worsen and a communication structure with strengthened “birds of a feather flock together.” will be created. While generational integration has emerged as a major issue due to social polarization, if index relations are strengthened, it may become a separation, not an integration.
Human relationships are established differently from the past, and after considering the relationship, the idea of convenience followed. This is becausebonline relationships are easier than relationships with acquaintances. This has led us to emphasize self-centeredness in all relationships. The relationship that made me uncomfortable was no longer tolerated. Now I choose to have a relationship and cut it off. In addition, with the development of the Internet and communication technology through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, people, data, and objects are connected through networks. People refer to this as a hyperconnected society. For example, the advent of the metaverse has created a future communication space where people can communicate without prejudice regardless of borders, gender, or race. In addition, with the development of various media and communication functions, we can talk face to face on the screen without meeting in person. However, what Soongsilian should think about is that people’s human relationships are getting farther away even though they live in a hyperconnected society. Opportunities for communication have diversified, but human relationships have become thinner and wider. It has become a society where we can communicate regardless of borders, gender, or race, but people are still building relationships around me. What is a true relationship?
Lee Yun-so (ST Reporter)
Jun Eun-jin (ST Reporter)