Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Social Media Making You Lonelier?

Why Social Media Might Be Making You Lonelier

 (Originally Posted on WEBMD)

woman behind computer
People heavily steeped in the new phenomenon of social media have many more ‘friends’ than anyone ever could have imagined in years past. The number of people you can communicate with feels almost infinite. Communication is constant. While this buzz of activity sounds great on the surface, that’s not always the case.
The fact that social media is less complex than face-to-face interactions is one of its great benefits, but is also a potential problem. Email, texting, and Facebook are all great ways to communicate quickly. However, each one — albeit in differing ways — limits the amount of information that is being exchanged. For example, with all of them, many people like that they can say what they want without having to engage in further conversation. They can tell someone something upsetting without having to directly experience that person’s reaction of anger or disappointment. But they also can’t read tone of voice or body language or the earnestness in someone’s eyes. In these and other ways, social media provides a more limited (and sometimes ’safer’) form of communication than face-to-face interactions.
Different kinds of people use social media in different ways. Some recent research has shown that those who are confident and outgoing tend not to be as taken with social media. Even when they actively use it, they prefer communicating in ways that are more complex, like the telephone or face-to-face conversations. For them, social media is a way to enhance relationships they’ve developed in person; or to expand from a solid base of developed friendships.
By contrast, insecure people tend to prefer social media to richer forms of communication. For them, email provides a sense of safety from the anxiety they feel in face-to-face interactions. Whether their difficulty is based in poor social skills or social anxiety (despite having good social skills), they avoid discomfort by using less direct forms of communication. And, the more they avoid social situations, the more likely they will be to continue to avoid them. Thus, they have fewer complex and deeply connected social interactions — experiences that cannot occur solely through social media. As a result, they tend to feel lonely.
The best way for them to cope with this loneliness is to gently face the problem. Those with poor social skills must work on the skills needed for direct interactions. They can get training from an individual therapist, a social skills therapy group, or a self-help book (though improvement, of course, still requires live practice). Those who have good social skills, but are still highly anxious, need to practice slowly increasing the richness of the ways they communicate. They might be able to do this on their own, but also might need the help of a professional. In both cases, as people become more adept and comfortable in social situations, they will also begin to feel more connected — less lonely.
Like so many other things, social media is not a problem by itself. It’s just a tool. By using social media as an adjunct to relationships developed through direct, personal interactions, it can be wonderfully helpful and engaging.
(from Clinician’s Research Digest; 2009; “Are Shy people more likely to use e-mail to communicate to others?”)Posted by: 
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD (Originally Posted on WEBMD)

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