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Does Social Media Make You More Social?

I know this isn’t a new subject, but I’ve been thinking about it lately.

Social media and social networks like Twitter, Facebook and the like are great for keeping in touch at a distance, bringing people together for causes and crises, and maintaining a kind of loose thread between friends and acquaintances.

I’m wondering if the ease of communication social networks allow has made people less likely to connect with one another in more direct ways when possible, like over the telephone or in person. It’s convenient, after all, to reply to a tweet or a Facebook status or note… but I wonder if it makes us less likely to make the effort when it comes to less convenient but more personal contact?

I know I’ve been guilty of responding to an e-mail instead of making a phone call, or being satisfied with trading comments on Facebook instead of driving to actually see someone. And I readily admit that my recent desire to reach out to people (and, ideally, have them reach out to me) has probably colored my perception on this… but it’s made me wonder: does social media make us lazy social creatures?

What do you think?

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  • When I look back on my previous life (before social media) and I wasn’t social at all. The only people I spoke with on the phone was my immediate family. I didn’t have many friends or go out at all. I’ve also never been much a letter writer. Homebody, housewife, loner, etc.

    Now? I go out every Friday night with 30-odd people I mostly met online. There’s a once-a-month breakfast meetup with another group. I’ve socialized with people all over the country when we gathered at Dragon*Con, people I may never have met otherwise and keep now track of their lives through twitter and facebook. I may never see some of them physically, but can remain in contact. Who needs a long catch up letter when I can see day-to-day how their lives are going? With twitter, I can see person-X is planning on lunching nearby and invites company and instantly I can decide to hang out with them.

    So no, in my opinion social media does not make us less social. It’s actually given me a social life.

    • Dani in NC

      I consider myself a semi-loner. In my offline life I don’t socialize much. Using sites like Twitter doesn’t stop me from picking up the phone or going to visit someone because I didn’t do it much before and if the internet disappeared tomorrow I wouldn’t start doing those things. As a matter of fact, I don’t use sites like MySpace and Facebook because they feel too much like letting someone into my house.

      I also agree with Andrea. There are different levels of connection. I learned that painful lesson a long time ago when I mistook the difference between a work friend and a personal friend. I think of the people I communicate with online the same way I think of parents whose kids go to the same school. We recognize each other because we hang out in the same places but that doesn’t make us friends enough to eat dinner together or call on each other in a time of crisis. I would never presume that you would welcome a phone call from me even though we have exchanged a few conversations via Twitter and I’ve commented on your blog a few times.

      • A

        I’m seeing a lot of that — that online relationships are viewed differently than “real life” relationships by many people. I guess I’m the exception — I try to look at all these forms of communication the same.

        There are people I’ve never met in person that I would willingly take a phone call from, meet for coffee, support in a time of crisis… and there are people I’ve never met in person, just like some people in real life, with whom I don’t have that level of friendship.

        Tricky thing is, the on line tools we have can be a gateway to greater friendships, if we let them. That, for me, is the challenge.

  • At this stage of my adult life, I am more active on social media (Twitter, email, and replying to blog posts) than I have ever been. I’m also much more real-life social than I’ve ever been.

    I don’t think social media replaces my real life friendships. I only see one Twitter friend regularly. He owns a comic book store in my town, and I stop in several times a week to chat about movies and whatnot. We follow each other on Twitter, but have few online exchanges.

    • A

      Question is, Chris, does social media keep your on-line friendships from transforming into real-life ones?

      • I don’t think so. Any time I try to email or instant message someone rather than calling, I end up frustrated at the limitations of text, and call.

  • Since joining the Twitter/FB world, I have come to view phone calls, and to a lesser extant email, as a more intimate form of communication. Does the relationship I have with the person I’m communicating with entitle me to make a personal phone or use their personal email? Does the particular communication require more formal methods or casual? For example, I have a few clients that I’m also “friends” with on FB. When discussing an appointment, I’ll use the phone or email. When exchanging a recipe or talking about last night’s episode of whatever, I’ll use FB. Then, there is the added layer of DMs or private messages on Twitter or FB. These are used specifically for people who require a non-public communication but whom I don’t know well enough for private email or a phone call. All of these things have allowed us to connect with so many people but I think we think we are more connected than we actually are.

    • A

      The context of the relationship is a factor to be considered, to be sure. I just wonder if sometimes the use of Twitter or Facebook to interact might make it too easy to not become closer with people?

      • Yes, but on the other hand, how healthy would it be to develop strong relationships with people you’ve never met face to face and probably never will? These people are all, essentially, penpals. There is a big difference between trying to keep in touch with long distance friends and tweeting to random people who follow you or “friend” you on FB just so you can join their MafiaWar clan or whatever.

        • A

          I dunno… I try (try) to live as if my friends are my friends, regardless of whether or not we’ll ever meet in person. Who knows if we will or not, y’know?

          And yeah, I’m not talking about random people — I mean the people you find affinity with, make a connection with, etc.

  • Chris Miller

    I guess it depends on how you define “social.” Where do you draw the line between “social” behavior and non-social behavior?

    Example: you and I have been trading tweets for years now. And it was social, sure, but it wasn’t very meaningful or very deep communication. It was more like waving our hands at one another and shouting, “Still alive! You?”

    When I’m able to call you and talk, using more that 140 characters, we actually connect in a way that is impossible via Twitter or Facebook. The latter are better than nothing at all, but not by much.

    Email is a slightly different beast, or rather, it has the potential to be. Many folks use email as if it was twitter or IM: rattle off a quick response, cover the basics, and move on. Unlike Twitter, this isn’t a limit imposed by the software, it’s deficit of our attention. WE CHOOSE not to respond with more information or more feeling because we’re rushed, or we have something else we need to do and this person just needs a quick prod, or because we’re lazy.

    (And yes, I’m as guilty as the next person. So hush.)

    I’ve made a vow this year that I’ll choose to talk to people either in person or over the phone wires/waves because I make a deeper, more meaningful connection that way. I feel far more fulfilled when I can connect with a friend that way. I hope they do, too.

    • A

      I think it does come down to choice and laziness. Like you, Chris, I’d like to make deeper, more meaningful connections with the people I care about.

      What’s disconcerting to discover is that I often find myself taking the online, time-shifted, less personal path because that fits in with everything else we do online — zip, web search executed; zap, blog post read; zing, message sent.

      Gotta work on that, and hope that folks don’t get tired of me in their voicemails..!

  • I don’t think so. We’ve organized 3 parties in the last 2 months using Facebook exclusively for invites. Then again, it depends on how social your social network likes to get.

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