Social Media And Human Contact Thrive Together

According to Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Jeffrey Hal, his new study, published in the journal Information, Communication & Society, shows no evidence for the proposition that social media crowds out face-to-face communication with those who ought to matter most, our close friends and family members.

Echoing concerns that grew with the Internet itself, the rise of social media has stoked fears of “social displacement… the alienation of people from friends and family in favor of Facebook and Twitter...” A new study co-authored by a University of Kansas researcher goes a fair distance toward debunking that notion.

In their paper “Two tests of social displacement through social media use,” Hall and then-KU doctoral students Michael Kearney and Chong Xing performed two unique studies.

In the first study, they compared data sets from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth from 2009 and 2011 to see whether there was any decrease in interpersonal contact that could be correlated with increased use of social media, no such relationship was found.

  • The report shows that the young adults, chosen to be representative of Americans of their age as a whole, “…are squarely in the middle of Generation X. What was really convenient was the questions about social media use were asked right when Facebook was hitting its inflection point of adoption, and the main adopters in that period were Gen Xers.”
  • However, Hall said, “It was not the case at all that social media adoption or use had a consistent effect on their direct social interactions with people.”
  • Direct interactions were defined as getting out of one’s house, visiting friends, talking on the phone and attending meetings of groups and organizations (apart from religious groups).
  • Hall said “What was interesting was that, during a time of really rapid adoption of social media, and really powerful changes in use, you didn’t see sudden declines in people’s direct social contact.”

The second study was one the authors designed and executed themselves in 2015. They recruited 116 people, half of them adults and half college students, and texted them five times a day for five consecutive days, querying them each time about their use of social media and direct social contacts in the previous 10 minutes.

  • “…What we found,” says the report,  “was that people’s use of social media had no relationship to who they were talking to later that day and what medium they were using to talk to people later that day… social media users were not experiencing social displacement. If they used social media earlier in the day, they were not more likely to be alone later. It’s also not the case that because they were using social media now, they were not interacting face to face later… It doesn’t seem that, either within the same time period or projecting the future, that social media use indicates people not having close relationship partners in face-to-face or telephone conversation…”

Hall notes that several studies have questioned the displacement effect, and yet the theory seems stubbornly resistant to debunking. Hall suspects that time spent pursuing social media has displaced older forms of media, e.g., reading the newspaper, browsing the Internet or watching television. For now, Hall is pleased to be able to challenge conventional wisdom using an old theory applied to new media, concludes the report.

For additional information about the studies, please visit KU news here.



2 comments about "Social Media And Human Contact Thrive Together".
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  1. Ellie C from FMM, February 28, 2018 at 7:43 a.m.

    thrive? far from it. Communication via device is actually a very small percentage of its use. Younger users are using devices more for entertainment purposes. They hunker down in their apartments and surf the web. It has unquestionably hampered face to face interaction. Why are most teens saying they feel isolated, anxious and depressed and lack real friendships?  Devices will never replace human interaction, no matter how hard we try to fit a square ped into a round hole.

  2. Jo-Ann Osipow from GfK, March 26, 2018 at 8:01 a.m.

    I'd like to see more relevant research.  The first study cited was among Gen X -- that's not the generation we're concerend about.  Second study had adults and college students, again not optimal.  What we need to understand is the impact of web surfing (not soley social media) on human contact?

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