How COVID-19 Wrecked Our “Weak Ties”

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Clive Thompson
5 min readFeb 18, 2022


Via pxhere

Earlier this week, the comedian Sean Bair Flannery tweeted something that neatly described a side-effect of the pandemic.

As he wrote …

An under-discussed effect of COVID is how we kind of lost casual friends. The incidental buddies you ran into at a BBQ, holiday party or softball game- just rapture-like disappeared. Now everyone you talk to is either coworker or 1 of the 5 most important people you’ve ever known

This clearly resonated with people; there were 38,000 retweets only a day later. (Here’s a link to his original tweet.)

Several of the replies coined some fun terms for these “incidental buddies” that Flannery talked about; one of my favorites was this one …

I call them “satellite friends”. They come into my orbit now and again, but I would never think to hang out with them 1 on 1

“Satellite friends” is a great metaphor!

But it turns out there’s also a phrase from sociology that describes precisely these sorts of peripheral people:

They’re “weak ties”.

And it turns out they play surprisingly important roles in our lives.



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.