People still value face-to-face time with close friends for the purpose of talking and understand the difference between using social media and having a genuine social interaction, new research has found.
“There is a tendency to equate what we do on social media as if it is social interaction, but that does not reflect people’s actual experience using it,” said Jeffrey Hall from University of Kansas in the US.
“All of this worry that we are seeking out more and more social interaction on Facebook is not true. Most interactions are face to face, and most of what we consider social interaction is face to face,” said Hall.
According to Hall, social media is more like old-fashioned people-watching. “Liking” something is similar to a head nod. It is not social interaction, but it is acknowledging you are sharing space with someone else.
“Keeping tabs on other people sharing our social spaces is normal and part of what it means to be human,” said Hall.
In his paper in the journal New Media & Society, Hall details three studies.
The first demonstrates that when using social media, most of us are engaged in passive behaviours that we do not consider social interaction, like browsing others’ profiles and reading news articles.
The second diary study demonstrates that most of what we consider social interaction with people in our close circle of friends happens face to face.
When interaction with these close others is through social media, it is not something passive like browsing or “liking” but rather using chat or instant message functions.
The first study found that chatting and commenting – things that we would even consider social interaction – are only 3.5 per cent of our time on social media.
The third study had participants contacted at random times throughout the day. This study drives home how adept we are at separating social media use with social interaction.
People reported 98 per cent of their social interactions took some other way than through social media.
“Although people often socially interact and use social media in the same time period, people understand they are different things,” said Hall.
“People feel a sense of relatedness when they are interacting face to face, but using social media does not make them feel connected,” he said.
According to Hall, all three studies circle around the idea that we still value face-to-face time with close others for the purpose of talking.
“If we want to have a conversation, we are not using social media to do it,” said Hall.
People use social media to people-watch and still seem to enjoy a good face-to-face conversation, he said.