A significant subset of social media users are uncomfortable making new social connections online and view online socializing as less “real” than face-to-face interactions, according to
a new study by researchers at Cornell University and the University of North Carolina.
They are exploring a trait dubbed “cyberasociality,” or aversion to socializing via digital channels.
The study, titled “Are we all equally at home socializing online? Cyberasociality and evidence for an unequal distribution of disdain for digitally-mediated sociality,” surveyed 827 college students to determine the characteristics of “cyberasocials,” who stand in contrast to the rest of the “cybersocial” (with no “a” in the middle) population.
Importantly, these people aren’t necessarily antisocial, introverted, or neurotic -- they just prefer “real world” interactions to online channels. According to the authors, “this mode of connectivity appears fulfilling and engaging to some, while it appears hollow and vacant to others, due to variations in a personality disposition, which we dub ‘cyberasociality,’” defined as “the inability or unwillingness of some people to relate to others via social media as they do when physically present.”
Nor is it correlated with an aversion to technology, digital media or even most forms of digital communication.
“Cyberasocials” are “equally likely to use digital channels for utilitarian purposes, such as coordinating plans or finding out about class assignments.” Rather, according to the researchers, the key characteristic of “cyberasociality” is a specific unwillingness or dislike for meeting new people and making new social connections online.
Thus, “cyberasocials” are more likely to agree with statements such as: “I need face-to-face interaction before I can decide someone is trustworthy,” while “cybersocials” are more likely to agree with statements such as: “I prefer to communicate online when discussing important or deep issues.”
While gender doesn’t appear to be correlated with cyberasociality, there were some other interesting variations correlated with ethnicity. For example, African-American students were twice as likely as white students to report having made friends online, “perhaps indicating that racial boundaries are easier to cross through online interaction.”
Is it bad to be cyberasocial? On one hand, the researchers compare it to dyslexia as a “disorder,” which
only emerges when society adopts a new technology. “Whatever the cause of dyslexia may be, it would not have been detectable in a pre-literate population as among such people, words are always
and only just sounds."
Dyslexia emerges as a disadvantage only as a society incorporates the ease of use with the written word into the portfolio of expected competencies. Similarly, the increasing incorporation of online socializing may expose a segment of the population that is similarly disadvantaged in terms of using these technologies as effectively for social purposes.”
“On the other hand, less social interaction online may protect them from digital surveillance, and perhaps even emerge as an advantage in reputation management.” And, of course, there are a host of other reasons to avoid social media.