Relationships can endure time-outs


How has Covid-19 changed our social networks? Associate Professor for Social Networks at ETH Zurich Christoph Stadtfeld answers this question in a video interview conducted in the run-up to the GDI Trend Day on 10 March, at which he spoke.

Closed shops, empty schools, limited group sizes: throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and especially during the periods of lockdown, business and private contacts have been and continue to be severely restricted. But these restrictions don’t have to mean bad news for relationships, according to ETH professor Christoph Stadtfeld. He says, "What we generally know from research is that relationships can endure time-outs." We’re all familiar with the situation: you meet school friends again after years, and, straight away, it’s as if you’d seen each other only yesterday. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has changed how we experience our networks and how we maintain our contacts. Relationships have moved into the digital sphere, as Christoph Stadtfeld explains in the interview: (enable English subtitles)

At the moment, concessions only need to be made when building new relationships. According to Stadtfeld, however, "it is more difficult to build a relationship via online media. But there are exceptions, like online dating or online interest groups." Of course, many contacts are still made in real life, which is why ETH Zurich, for example, offers a hybrid model for its first-semester students. While there is no big freshers’ party, the students can get to know each other personally, in small groups, when they first arrive to begin their studies and then attend digital courses later.

This is a promising model, says Stadtfeld, particularly as contact initiation and long-term relationship maintenance on a purely digital basis have not yet been extensively researched.