The PEW Research Center just released new findings based on a representative sample of Americans on “Social networking sites and our lives.” Let’s focus on a conclusion that speaks directly to the foundation of this blog: that our social media networks are dominated by physical-world connections and our face-to-face socialization is increasingly influenced by what happens on social media.
Movies like The Social Network, books like Turkle’s Alone Together and television shows like South Park (especially this episode) just love the supposed irony of social media being at once about accumulating lots of “friends” while at the same time creating a loss of “real”, deep, human connection. They, and so many others, suffer from the fallacy I like to call “digital dualism.” There are too many posts on this blog combating the digital dualism propagated by these people who don’t use/understand social media to even link to all of them all here.
Further, our physical-world networks are increasignly being infiltrated by Facebook. The report states that,
we find that the average user has friended 48% of his/her total network on Facebook.
This is just more evidence towards what social media users already know: that the digital and physical are increasingly enmeshed into an augmented reality. The report goes further to illuistrate that not only are digital and physical networks enmeshed, social media tends to increase connections, even close friendships, both on and offline. Connection is not a zero-sum game where time spent on Facebook is time not spent socializing face-to-face.
Controlling for other factors we found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users.
Internet users in general score 3 points higher in total support, 6 points higher in companionship, and 4 points higher in instrumental support. A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional 5 points higher in total support, 5 points higher in emotional support, and 5 points higher in companionship, than internet users of similar demographic characteristics. For Facebook users, the additional boost is equivalent to about half the total support that the average American receives as a result of being married or cohabitating with a partner.
These findings are not unexpected and have been found before. But given its persistence in spite of data, how can we better use data to put digital dualism to bed?