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July 11, 2013

Is Social Media Damaging Interpersonal Communication?

More than half of all Americans have at least one social media profile, and it seems once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. According to StasticBrain.com, there are 1.2 billion people on Facebook alone — and they spend 15 hours logged in, on average, per month. But could logging on so frequently be damaging your interpersonal communication skills?

Digital Contact vs. Human Interaction on Special Occasions

Once upon a time we’d line our mantles with Christmas cards collected during December, and store treasured cards marking our birthdays in shoeboxes. However as Facebook and Twitter grow, greeting cards are suffering. A decade ago, America’s leading greeting card company Hallmark sold around six billion cards each year. Today those numbers have dropped to five billion, as Twitter updates wishing friend’s season’s greetings and birthday greetings left on Facebook walls take their place.

But it’s not just cards going the way of the dinosaur. Those same social network greetings tend to stand in for the face-to-face catch-ups and long phone calls that traditionally marked such occasions.

Digital Stalking Keeps Us in the Loop

Do you remember the days when you’d need to call your friends and catch up over coffee to get the skinny on their lives? These days Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites make sure we’re aware of the milestones and mundane happenings of everyone in our social circle. The tweets, status updates, and Instagram albums satisfy our natural curiosity, so we don’t feel such a strong desire to actually connect. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that a whopping 86 percent of people believe social media ironically makes our society less social.

Of course the argument could be made that we can easily interact online. The problem is that while we can, many of us don’t. Facebook users tend to ‘like’ their friends’ content 14 times a month and send nine personal messages. Considering that the average Facebook user has 229 friends to interact with, these numbers are staggeringly low.

Social Media Removes Us From Our Nearest and Dearest

While it makes sense that time on social media is cutting in to the hours we spend with our social circle, it’s frightening to realize it’s also encroaching on family and couple time. More than 29 percent of social media fans use the sites while they’re eating or drinking at home, and 19 percent don’t think twice about logging on when they’re out for a bite. It seems 18- to 34-year-olds are the worst offenders, with 47 percent of people in this age bracket using social media and SMSing during their meals.

Even the bedroom isn’t off limits, with 76 percent of Gen-Yers checking Facebook after they get into bed or before they rise each morning.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle says mobile technology allows us to only pay attention to the things we’re interested in. Once there’s a lull in the conversation we can easily disconnect from the people around us and find something more riveting on a social networking site.

She says this makes us, “expect more from technology and less from each other.”

While it’s great that internet providers help us stay connected, it’s important that we don’t become so consumed by the virtual world that we disconnect from the physical one


Abigail Clark is an upcoming freelance writer. She graduated from The University of South Florida with a Bachelors in marketing, minoring in journalism. When she isn’t up to her neck in coupons, she is enjoying the outdoors fishing. She loves doing reviews for technology, home products and beauty products. If you would like her to do a review for you look her up on Twitter.

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