College students are fully as engaged with online social networks and on mobile platfroms as one might expect, according to a new survey of 2,207 undergrads at 40 schools by Edison Research on behalf of MTVU in collaboration with the Associated Press and the Jed Foundation. But they are also ambivalent about its impact on their lives -- and positively confused by each other.
Overall 90% of students surveyed said they visit an online social network at least once a week, and the same proportion use text messages to arrange social gatherings. Rather creepily, 61% said they have tracked someone else's use of a social network site.
Indeed, technology seems to be substituting for interpersonal interactions or enabling types of interaction which might never have happened otherwise. For example, the survey found nearly 70% of the college students surveyed "have had an argument exclusively via text message" -- maybe because it's easier to cuss someone out from the other side of campus. Roughly 40% said they "ask for help with a serious personal issue or let a friend know they are upset via text message" and half that number have asked for emotional support by posting a message on Facebook.
At the same time, technology isn't necessarily bringing clarity to human relationships: "At least half of the time when college students read emails/text messages or posts on social networking sites, 48% report that they are unsure about whether the sender was serious or joking."
That may help explain the general ambivalence about all the new communication technologies. On one hand, 57% of respondents said being deprived of computers and cell phones would cause them to be more stressed. One third of survey respondents said they are online for more than six hours per day, and two-thirds said they watch movies or TV shows online.
However, reflecting the love-hate dynamic of our relationship with technology, 25% said that losing computers and cell phones would actually be a relief. Asked about social networks specifically, 85% said online networks helped them feel more connected to other people -- but the remaining 15% said "social networking sites increase feelings of isolation."