Study shows online networking could hurt social skills

Social networking can have its pros and cons.

People spend countless hours on cell phones and social networking Web Sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but do these digital technologies really satisfy people socially?

According to a study released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the size of the average American’s social circle is smaller today than 20 years ago.

The national sample of 2,512 adults found the use of digital technologies are not to blame, since people who regularly use cell phones and the Internet are more social than the average American.

“I think (the idea of) those using Facebook and the Internet (being) more social than those that don’t is based on these Internet users’ propensities to be social, both in the real world and in the virtual world,” said David Kinney, professor of sociology, anthropology and social work.

Why smaller?

Kinney, an expert in youth culture, said he thinks social circles are smaller today for two reasons, both of which are caused by the decline to the “old neighborhood” feeling of community.

“First is due to the dramatic increase in the number and types of structured activities for children after school in which parents are constantly shuttling children from soccer to dance to hockey, etc.,” he said. “This continuous cycle of back and forth reduces the amount of ‘quality time’ with neighbors and even parents of their children’s friends.”

Kinney said the second reason social circles are declining is because of parents overprotecting their children.

“The second issue seems to be parents increased fear, whether real or imagined, of adult predators therefore understandably limiting their children’s freedom,” he said.

The study confirmed people who use social networks are 30 percent less likely to know their neighbors and 26 percent less likely to provide their neighbors companionship.

The new social norm

The study also focused on the size of the average American’s social circle.

The group of close friends for cell phone users tends to be 12 percent larger than for nonusers of cell phones and Internet use contributes to having more diverse social networks.

“I think Facebook is hurting people’s real-life social skills,” Brighton freshman Brendan Murphy said. “Americans are using cell phones and Facebook as a comforting way to think they have many friends instead of going out and making real-life connections.”

Clinton Township sophomore Michelle Huffman said it is becoming the social norm to communicate via texting and social networking Web sites.

“Everyone has been using social networking sites and cell phones for some time now, especially in the college setting,” she said. “It can be a really fast and easy way to communicate and can even help reduce isolation for some people.”

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