Social Media Makes Us More Social. Or Not.

There are social ties, and there are really social ties.  People who use social media, according to Pew’s New Networks and Community Survey, are actually more connected, to more diverse, geographically dispersed populations. They are involved in more political discussion, and their networks are more racially diverse.  And social media use hasn’t really replaced face to face sociability, either, as many people suspected it would.  In fact, social media in general, and mobile phone use in particular, has actually increased face time – “On average, a person spends 195 days of the year having mobile phone contact with others, but face-to-face interactions occur on about 210 days per year.” However, just as you may have feared, our “core networks”, those people in whom we confide, has shrunk.  Since 19185, there has been a minimization of that core network across much of the US population, although the decline is not as severe as it was thought to be. Still, the size of core networks has shrunk by about 1/3 in that time. Those core networks are less likely to consist of non-family members.  Social networkers tend not to turn to their neighbors for help, either for themselves or their family members, although the people who use the internet to connect to their neighbors as opposed to a loose social structure have a lot more contact with them. 12% of Americans have no confidants.  And 6% of us have no one that they consider to be “especially significant” in their lives.

That’s very sad.  But on the upside, most social networkers claim to have at least one “real” friend amongst the many people they have friended. And for 18-22 year olds, social networks are actually used to maintain their core networks.

It seems then, that while our social ties may be getting a bit weaker from stretching so far, technology might not be the culprit it has been made out to be.

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