Is Technology Making us Cocoon Away From Society?

I can still hear it ringing in my ear every time I sit behind a computer screen “Get off that thing and go interact with Real People!”. That was my father’s reaction whenever he noticed me spending too much time on the computer. It has been more than a decade since I started growing up with the internet, and up to this day, my parents still feel that the internet makes people withdraw from society and leads them to become anti-social. That idea is not only fostered by my parents but also by a lot of people. You know what is even worse than being an internet user? To be an internet user and avid gamer!

Personally, I never bought into that argument at all, and apparently the people at PEW set out to find the truth. The results of the research have been interesting, to say the least.

Social Interaction

Social Interaction

The numbers…

People who use the internet have been found to have a more diverse network of people whom they interact with. Internet users are 55% more likely to have a discussion partner that is not part of the family. Not surprisingly either is that internet users who blog and share photos are more likely to have a confidant (people whom they trust and confide in) of a different race and tend to interact with people from across races and political lines. That’s certainly an advantage since our comfort zone is constantly challenged and hopefully not by many trolls.

The research also found out that mobile phone and internet users not only have a larger group of people with whom they have strong relationships with, it is a much more diverse group as well. The diversity of their core groups tends to be 25% larger for mobile phone users and 15% larger for internet users in general. Certain activities on the internet, such as photo sharing and instant messaging, tend to increase the diversity of the core group as well.

On the other hand, up until this point, all that the research done was substantiate to the fact that the internet and mobile phones facilitate communication, and brings us closer to a larger and more diverse group of people. That doesn’t help me with proving to my father that my time on the internet doesn’t make me anti-social.

Convincing my father…

Interaction only from behind the screen?

Is interaction only from behind the screen for the users?

My father only believes in one type of social interaction: the face-to-face kind. So how do the internet and mobile phone users fare when it comes to face-to-face interactions? Well contrary to common concerns, internet users are more likely to frequent public spaces and engage their community, They are 42% more likely to visit a public park or plaza and 45% more likely to visit a coffee shop or café. Now, if you are a blogger then it seems you are the social animal; bloggers are 61% more likely to visit a park than other non-blogging internet users making them more than 230% more likely to be seen in a park than non-internet users. Though it might be a bit tougher to find internet users at a church, mosque or a synagogue since they are 36% less likely to be there. That has something to say about how non-religious people seem to be everywhere on the net and not nearly as visible in reality.

What about your next door neighbors?

Another thing that my father always complains about when he is nostalgic for the “old days” is how people no longer know their neighbors or care about them. Well I’ll be glad to inform him that those days may not be as long gone as we thought. Apparently 60% of residents in neighborhoods that have some sort of an email list or online fora tend to know “most or all” of their neighbors compared to the 40% national average. Neighbors that use online communication tools tend to interact more often with each other, in-person and over the phone. They are also more likely to listen to a neighbors problem and almost twice as likely to support those neighbors. So maybe the reality is that those days of tightly knit neighborhoods can be brought back by using internet tools to facilitate communications amongst them.

That should convince him…

Every part of the PEW research points out that internet users are introducing more variety, diversity and interaction into their lives and making it richer by utilizing the tools available to them. Not only that, but they are more likely to be out there at plaza’s, parks and cafes staying in the scene both on the web and in reality. So finally, I can just go home to my parents and not have this guilty feeling about how my time behind the screen is “cocooning” me from society, and I’ll be sure to send a copy to my father and maybe he’ll go on and start his own neighborhood social forum :)

What are your thoughts? How has the advent of the internet affect your social life? Let us hear your thoughts below…

Comments and Reactions

  • Tarek Kassar

    You have got a very nice way of writing and content structuring yet I don't think it would ever convince your father or my father. I'm Arab internet addict and not really convinced.

    You have showed a problem and revealed a research, yet it was completely mixed up. As I would imagine your father (and my father or most of the readers' fathers) comes with a question from Arab culture and community, so I would understand this common question, and I never saw it in any of my western friends' parents. So what should be convincing is to answer or give evidence about internet Arab user sociability based on Arab researches and not western researches, as you know each community or region has its own culture, tradition, habits, and lifestyle… In the Arab community we have this problem (parents ture-/mis-conception about internet Arab users sociability) yet we don't have a proper research for that to back up the valid internet sociability. Also, western doesn't have this problem, yet they have a general research. So i think professionally you shouldn't answer apples with bananas; don't you think so?

  • M.Bamieh

    Thank you for your comment, and I slightly disagree with you regarding whether the west sees it as a problem or not. If they don't then news wouldn't be regularly dedicating a report about this world of warcraft player or that other facebook kid who spend 16 hours a day on their computers and try to spin the report into making it seems that they became more aggressive as a result. But all that is beside the point.
    What you were trying to say is that this notion “the internet makes you anti social and is a waste of time” is definitely present in the middle east, and that research needs to be done by arab to counter it. Can i ask you to step out of that argument with me for a bit and ask you a simple question? would they really care what research tells them one way or another? the simple answer is that they dont.
    If you really want to convince them you need to provide them with concrete examples and provide them with a chance to experience it. even second or third hand.
    and the research that i referenced will give you the clues as to where to look. When it comes to internet users being more socially conscious and connected to their community, the middle east is a prime example. Activism is resurgent after being comatose for more than 3 decades. and just talking about the experiences and allowing them to for example see their nephews photos on facebook will make them soften up their stance and appreciate the power of the internet.
    So i believe the PEW research is relevant in more than just the western context

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