The digital prompts the face-to-face

One of my most important research findings is that digital tech use prompts, rather than deters, face-to-face interaction. It provides us with tools that we employ to make it more likely to occur, not less. This contradicts early fears and worries that the digital would somehow supplant the face-to-face — worries that many still hold. But a large body of research now indicates that the more people use the internet and digital media, the more social contact they have with their existing friends (see Chapter 7 in Superconnected for citations and more on this).

As this chapter details and makes clear, email, social media, and mobile phones provide easy, convenient, cost-effective means for people to remain in contact and to arrange dates to get together physically. Internet users’ social networks tend to be more diverse than those of non-internet users, allowing them to remain in contact with multiple social circles. Users of social media sites tend to have more close relationships than non-users, with Facebook users in particular (and especially frequent Facebook users) more likely to have close connections and core confidants than those who do not use the site. And such relationships are generally sustained through a combination of online and offline interactions, each of which can complement the other and even occur simultaneously.

Research also indicates that people most often select their online friends from their face-to-face social circles. Internet users tend to stay in better touch with their neighbors than non-internet users and to form more local ties. People who use social network sites to learn more about people they know offline often feel more a part of their offline communities and are more likely to bring those whom they know face-to-face onto their online social networking sites.

At the same time, long-distance friends and family use social media and text messaging to stay in touch. This makes it more likely that they will remain socially tied over time and get together face-to-face in the future. And it permits a community to persist when its members can no longer meet face-to-face or when the community no longer exists geographically.

There’s lots more on this topic that goes against the grain of conventional wisdom in Chapter 7 of Superconnected.

 

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