Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How Technology Makes Us Better Social Beings

So what is the harm in fewer neighborhood
poker nights? Well, Putnam feared that fewer get-togethers, formal or informal, meant fewer opportunities for people to talk about community issues. More than urban sprawl or the fact that more women were working outside the home, he attributed Americans’ increasingly isolated lifestyle to television. Putnam’s concern, articulated by Richard Flacks in a Los Angeles Times book review, was with “the degree to which we have become passive consumers of virtual life rather than active bonders with others.”
Then, in 2006, sociologists from the University of Arizona and Duke University sent out another distress signal—a study titled “Social Isolation in America.” In comparing the 1985 and 2004 responses to the General Social Survey, used to assess attitudes in the United States, they found that the average American’s support system—or the people he or she discussed important matters with—had shrunk by one-third and consisted primarily of family. This time, the Internet and cellphones were allegedly to blame.
Keith Hampton, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is starting to poke holes in this theory that technology has weakened our relationships. Partnered with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, he turned his gaze, most recently, to users of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
“There has been a great deal of speculation about the impact of social networking site use on people’s social lives, and much of it has centered on the possibility that these sites are hurting users’ relationships and pushing them away from participating in the world,” Hampton said in a recent press release. He surveyed 2,255 American adults this past fall and published his results in a study last month. “We’ve found the exact opposite—that people who use sites like Facebook actually have more close relationships and are more likely to be involved in civic and political activities.”
Hampton’s study paints one of the fullest portraits of today’s social networking site user. His data shows that 47 percent of adults, averaging 38 years old, use at least one site. Every day, 15 percent of Facebook users update their status and 22 percent comment on another’s post. In the 18- to 22-year-old demographic, 13 percent post status updates several times a day. At those frequencies, “user” seems fitting. Social networking starts to sound like an addiction, but Hampton’s results suggest perhaps it is a good addiction to have. After all, he found that people who use Facebook multiple times a day are 43 percent more likely than other Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted. They have about 9 percent more close relationships and are 43 percent more likely to have said they would vote.

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