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The Irony of Social Networking

Is social networking really social?  Larry Rosen, Ph.D. discusses this issue in an article written for The National Psychologist and notes that 61% of all online adults are Facebooking as compared to 35% two years ago.  He quotes some interesting statistics such as: the majority of teens prefer to contact their friends via text rather than talking on the phone or face to face, and the majority of Facebook users feel more connected to people than they did before Facebook.  Ultimately, we are all spending more time connecting socially and much of that involves virtual communication.  Another study found that people belonging to a social network had greater online empathy, but less real-world empathy, yet face to face connections increased both forms of empathy.  We now have a generation of people communicating electronically and seemingly gaining social support and empathy 24/7.  How productive and healthy is the advice, support, and feedback delivered electronically?  I worry about this form of communication replacing face to face interactions.  We miss out on the nonverbal cues and can easily misperceive, overreact, and overanalyze the written word.  Another concern is our children not learning the nuances of communication and feeling uncomfortable with face to face interactions with their peers or others because they rely so heavily on written communication.  So what do we do?  We attempt to limit their electronic interactions as best we can and encourage face to face interactions.  It is also important to model this behavior ourselves and not compete with them for technological supremacy.  Discuss openly the importance of tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact, body language, and inflection so they appreciate ways a message can be altered by the nonverbal cues.  Lastly, bring back the true meaning of “social” through your interactions with your family and friends around the kitchen table telling stories and sharing laughter.

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