Castiel McIntosh is 18 and doesn’t always find it easy to make friends.
“I don’t go out much. I don’t have a lot of friends I guess,” he said.
This is an experience many young people share. As Castiel explains, you can’t just talk to random people on the train, in class you barely have the chance to introduce yourself, and meeting people online comes with all kinds of risks and challenges.
In the age of social media, it seems it may be harder than ever to connect with people face to face.
Luckily Castiel is among some young people to have found a solution, but it’s a little more retro than you may expect.
Borrowing from the speed dating trend, people are meeting in halls, club rooms and parks around Melbourne to have few minutes of conversation with strangers, all in the hopes of finding a pal.
Known as “speed friending”, the events are gaining momentum in the city.
In a huge hall in Melbourne University, a hundred or so people sit at long rows of tables. They have a question sheet in hand and chat animatedly with the person opposite, talking about things from work, sports or horrible share-house experiences.
Every four minutes a bell rings and those sitting on one side of the table shuffle down to meet the next potential new friend.
“It’s perfect,” Sharia Afrida said. An international student from Bangladesh, she has only been in Australia for two weeks and wants to make friends fast. “Just look around. Everyone has this kind of nice and positive energy. Here we know we both share an interest in making friends.”
But with Facebook, Twitter and a hundred other ways to meet people online, surely there is no need for these events? Speed dating faded in popularity when sites such as Match.com and Tinder came along, so why is speed friending taking off?
Dr Shanton Chang from the University of Melbourne is an expert in online behaviour and social media. He believes that speed friending speaks to the limitations of online interactions.
“Perhaps at the end of the day, no matter how much you talk about the ability of social media to enable human relationships, ultimately people still want to see each other face to face,” Dr Chang said.
“We have been doing this for a few hundred years, just the nature of it, from debutant balls, then to speed dating, then to this speed friendship. It’s just a new, modern take on how people really want to make social connections.”
These events are also particularly useful for LGBTQI young people, for whom it’s often difficult to find accepting environments.
Rory Blundell runs Euphoria Youth, a council program for LGBTQI young people. He has organised several speed friending events in the past year. “It’s quite difficult for queer young people to find a place meet that’s not a bar or a club, which [are] both kind of sexual environments,” Mr Blundell said.
These events can also help people with anxiety. Theo, 20, said speed friending was far less stressful than attempting to approach people in public or online.
“I’m obviously an anxious person and the speed friending often is really structured. It makes the whole ‘talking to people bit’ easier,” Theo said.
The events seem to be working – Castiel said they have been integral to building his social circle.
“It’s probably the most social I’ve been in a while. I think most of my current friends are from speed friendship,” he said.