One Big Online Family
Facebook and Twitter may be keeping people closer rather than driving them apart.
Engaging in social media does not hinder face-to-face communication, says a new survey examining interpersonal relationships and the Internet. Despite critics’ concerns that teens stay glued to Facebook while shunning their families, or suspicions that mothers are addicted to Farmville, says the report, social media may enable greater real-life contact than previously thought.
While only seven percent of Twitter users who had recently increased their Twitter time admitted to seeing or speaking with their contacts less often, nearly half (46 percent) stated that they saw or spoke with their friends and family more often than before spending time on the site. The same number of users (46 percent) reported no change in interaction with their real-life peers. Moreover, more than half (55 percent) said they spent just as much time on the phone with friends as they did previously.
The majority of Facebook users (60 percent) stated that they see their contacts in person just as often as before they increased their Facebook time, with just over a quarter (27 percent) saying that they see their friends in person more often. Similarly, most Facebook users polled (63 percent) said that they call their friends on the phone just as often as before, with a minority of less than one-fifth (19 percent) admitting they chat less on the phone with friends since increasing Facebook time.
Writer and editor Leilani Haywood says that she is grateful for the opportunities that social media offers for her to stay in touch with faraway loved ones.
“I have family all over the world so now I can keep up them on Facebook,” she tells demodirt.com. "I have about sixty members on my ‘mi familia’ list that are from the Philippines and all over the United States.”
Haywood has even found long-lost relatives through Facebook, she adds. “I’ve discovered a lot of my family in the Philippines on Facebook.”
Staying connected with worldwide friends has actually facilitated phone conversations, Haywood notes.
“Offline I have more to talk about with my social media buddies because we’ve been talking all week through Facebook or Twitter,” she says.
K. Jason and Kelli Krafsky, co-authors of Facebook and Your Marriage agree.
“When you do have face time with Facebook friends, the conversations seem to go deeper, quicker,” they maintain. “The vague and elongated ‘how are you doing’ phase of a conversation is replaced with a mental recall of their last status update and jumps the two of you into real-time catching up. Knowing their information, photos, videos and postings creates a deeper level of genuine interest in their lives.”
Professionals from various fields attest to the benefits of social media.
”The interactions online and using tech don't diminish the need for in-person contact and especially in many instances they can be the catalyst for individuals and entities engaging more in person because of the increased level of communications,” Alexis A. Moore, president of national crime victim advocacy organization Survivors In Action adds. “It has made it easier because now we can stay more connected than ever before with those we love, work and play with and this keeps relationships on the front burner that may be left behind if it were not for the constant contact using tech to connect.”
Licensed clinical social worker Don Boice has observed that people tend to stick with what makes them comfortable.
“People who have done both face-to-face and social networking have one view,” he says. “People who have really only done the computer are more comfortable with computers. Those who grew up without computers and are new to them are less comfortable.”
Social media, he maintains, can “help and hurt communication and relationships. There are many people who need more connection and it simply does not matter which tool they use—phone, computer, [and so on].”
Despite the many testimonies to the merits of social networking, lingering doubts remain.
“I think the prevailing fear about heavy social media usage is that it may make us antisocial or that it may ultimately lead to loneliness and social isolation,” says Corinne Weisgerber, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at Austin, TX-based St. Edward's University.
While there is little fear that social media will replace face-to-face communication altogether, there are worries that it will adversely affect real-life human interaction.
“What some people are concerned about is the idea of displacement—that the time we spend communicating online is time we don’t spend building and maintaining relationships in real life,” Weisgerber explains. “And that this may lead to social isolation, which in turn may result in a myriad of mental and physical health problems.”
While social media has indeed made it easier than ever to stay in touch with others, it may not provide the tools to stay close with those that really matter most to us, she adds.
“What we are finding is that we often end up maintaining relationships with people that are available, not necessarily with people with whom we have the strongest ties,” Weisgerber explains. “New technologies may be allowing us to maintain more relationships but these relationships might also be of a less intimate nature.”
As a result, a Facebook user with 500 friends may still feel emotionally and socially unfulfilled.
“When you look at the interpersonal communication literature though, it is the quality of our social relationships and not the quantity that keeps us from feeling isolated and lonely,” she explains.
Another widely-discussed concern is that kids who spend too much time online may miss developing communication skills such as the ability to read someone’s mood and interpret nonverbal cues, Weisgerber says.
While there isn’t enough research to substantiate that claim, she adds, there are other issues to consider that emerge as young people develop online personals.
“What do kids learn about themselves when the majority of their identity performance work takes place online where selective self-presentation and embellishment are the norm?” Weisgerber says.
“In a recent survey, 74 percent of Girl Scouts agreed that ‘most girls my age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they really are’ and 41 percent said this behavior described themselves,” she explains. “Even more troubling, the survey suggested ‘that girls downplay positive characteristics about themselves online, particularly their intelligence and their kindness.’”
This is a major concern, Weisgerber says.“One can only wonder how negating their intelligence and kindness in their online self-presentations affects their self-image—an image that is created at least in part by how others react to us and to the identities we put forward,” she contends.
Communication expert Leslie Ungar, president of Electric Impulse Communications, Inc., maintains that the role of communication is to advance our agenda, which requires skill.
“I truly believe that any generation that uses social media or texting, is going to be challenged to use verbal communication,” she contends. “We get better at what we practice. When people don’t practice their verbal skills, whether it is presentation, negotiation, or persuasion, those skills don’t develop.”
Despite little research stating that Generation Y or others that engage in heavy social media use are or will suffer from inferior verbal skills, Ungar argues that it is just “common sense.”“I can’t see how any anyone can make an argument that what we do less of we’re better at,” she adds. “If you have not been using these skills, whether persuasive skills for what to do on Saturday night, or to negotiated for a raise, I don’t see how you can be as effective.”
Social media affects people of various generational cohorts differently, maintains Rev. Angela Chester, DDiv., of New Life Pastoral Counseling.
“I have found that teens through 20-year olds interact with their friends just as much as they did before Twitter,” she says. “In some instances they may socialize more, because now they are talking about what was sent viral that day.”
People in their thirties and forties, Chester adds, tend to have multiple uses for Facebook and Twitter, beyond merely socializing. They prefer to promote their brands and business along with peer bonding.
Older cohorts seem to be more interested in rediscovering old friendships.
“The 40 to 60 year-old crowd seems to use it to catch up on classmates and those they have not seen since high school,” she observes.
When it comes to social media and its role in interpersonal relationships, Chester recommends that people embrace change to enhance relationships.“Text your daughter,” she advises. “She might just text you back!”
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