Social People More Likely to Socialize

Pew-Annenberg has a new bit of research suggesting that folks who regularly use the internet and social networks are less isolated and more social (in the real world) than their offline counterparts.

Fears that the Internet and other personal technologies are making Americans socially isolated are unfounded, according to a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday.

The study comes to the opposite conclusion: that people who use the Internet, instant messaging, mobile phones, photo sharing sites and social networks benefit from being more likely to have a larger, more diverse core of close confidants.

Social people are more likely to be social. Got that?

The first line of this article sets up a false straw man argument with the suggestion that we have “fears” that new technologies are isolating us from our social group. I don’t see that as a major concern and it makes perfect sense (with or without a major study) that people who have a more active social life are also those with an active social network life.

There are more important aspects to consider when we examine the role of social networks.

First, as quoted above, heavy social networkers are likely to have a larger group of close confidants. But is that a good thing? In the age of oversharing, do we mistake casual aquaintances for close confidants and does the blurring of that line have repercussions?

Second, how are these social networks affecting our home lives? Of course we’re growing and spending more time with our social groups. They’re always on our desk or in our pocket. But are we spending less quality time engaging with the people who live in our house (on the other side of our screens?). Earlier this year, another study found that a decline in family time mirrors the rise of social network use.

The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California is reporting this week that 28 percent of Americans it interviewed last year said they have been spending less time with members of their households. That’s nearly triple the 11 percent who said that in 2006.

Third, we need to examine the quality of our real life social interactions. Are we spending some of that increased face time checking our iPhones and Blackberries? Do you remember what it was like to have a conversation not interrupted by a vibrating in your pocket?
Fourth, what about alone time and privacy. If I am spending more time online and more time socializing with friends, am I spending any solo time when I am truly disconnected from my social life? And if not, is that necessarily a good thing?

Is there a benefit to online social interactions? Clearly. And a lot of the stats in this study are quite promising. But if we want to really assess the pros and cons of increased time online, we need to start asking the right questions.

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