Are Internet friendships as healthy as real ones?

Do those relationships help us live longer? Will today’s 20-somethings ever age into the kind of 60- and 70-somethings who meet for a brisk morning hike and then throw their arms in the air? Or will they leave that to their avatars? Moreover, if the avatar enjoys a healthy social network of other avatars, will its user live longer?

I put these questions to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young and lead author of the longevity analysis. She explained, unsurprisingly, that data were not yet available for post-Internet generations because most of the studies in the analysis looked at subjects who were already at least middle-age. But she did point out that sociology research has lately pointed to an uptick in the number of people who identity themselves as lonely.

“In spite of these social technologies, people are reporting more isolation,” said Holt-Lunstat. “So you have to think about quality rather than quantity when you think of relationships in terms of health. Plus, people with ambivalent relationships — some people call these ‘frenemies’ — tend to have more depression, higher blood pressure and more cardiovascular problems.”