Social Media May Not Replace Social Life

While many are fearful that individuals use social media as a substitute for a real social life, a University of Kansas study finds that the concern is probably unfounded.

In a new study, Dr. Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of communication studies, found that people are actually quite adept at discerning the difference between using social media and having an honest-to-goodness social interaction.

“There is a tendency to equate what we do on social media as if it is social interaction, but that does not reflect people’s actual experience using it,” Hall said.

“All of this worry that we’re seeking out more and more social interaction on Facebook is not true. Most interactions are face to face, and most of what we consider social interaction is face to face.”

According to Hall, social media is more like old-fashioned people-watching. “Liking” something is similar to a head nod. It’s not social interaction, but it’s acknowledging you are sharing space with someone else.

“Keeping tabs on other people sharing our social spaces is normal and part of what it means to be human,” Hall said.

The results of his studies appear in the journal New Media & Society.

Hall is no stranger to research on social media. New Media & Society published an earlier study of his that found people can accurately detect the personality traits of strangers through Facebook activity.

In the current paper, Hall details three studies. The first demonstrates that when using social media, most of us are engaged in passive behaviors that we don’t consider social interaction, like browsing others’ profiles and reading news articles.

The second diary study demonstrates that most of what we consider social interaction with people in our close circle of friends happens face to face. When interaction with these close others is through social media, it’s not something passive like browsing or “liking” but rather using chat or instant message functions.

However, Hall discovered that chatting and commenting — things that we would consider social interaction —¬†are but 3.5 percent of our time on social media.

A third study had participants contacted at random times throughout the day. This study found that people are adept at separating social media use with social interaction. In the study, people reported 98 percent of their social interactions were through channels other than social media.

“Although people often socially interact and use social media in the same time period, people understand they are different things,” Hall said.

“People feel a sense of relatedness when they’re interacting face to face, but using social media does not make them feel connected.”

All three studies, Hall said, circle around the idea that we still value face-to-face time with close others for the purpose of talking. “If we want to have a conversation, we’re not using social media to do it,” he said.

The findings speak to a broader anxiety that many still have regarding social media.

“There’s a worry that people are seeking out more and more social interactions on Facebook and that social media is taking over our face-to-face time,” Hall said. “I’m saying, ‘Not so fast.’ People use social media to people-watch and still seem to enjoy a good face-to-face conversation.”

Source: University of Kansas