Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Technology: Building Social Connections or Breaking Them Down?
Last week, a friend at work told me that she had given up watching TV for Lent. She said "every time I give up TV, my quality of life goes up". I thought of her immediately today as I read this new article in TIME, "Logged on, checked out...of relationships?" The article discusses a study (published in the March issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine) which studied adolescents during two periods of time (1988 and 2004). The adolescents who spent more time watching TV or playing video games were more likely to report lower quality relationships compared with those who logged less screen time.
I find this fascinating because I have followed the debate among colleagues and friends regarding the increase in the use of technology and its impact on social connections. For example, kids that may be "outcasts" at school may find friends online. They may have hundreds of Facebook "friends". They may find lots of kids with similar interests by joining "groups" online. However, one has to ask, are Facebook friends "real"? I personally have 355 friends on Facebook, but would only consider about 10 of those people close friends in my day to day life. Is it worth it to focus your time and attention to online activities (as noted above) to the detriment of your "real life" relationships with friends and family?
In looking at how social connectedness can be a protective factor for things like suicide, the question has also come up: "Is it the quantity or quality of relationships that really count?" In research on college students, studies like Healthy Minds are beginning to indicate that it is the quality that counts. However, unlike my previous posts where it has been easy for me to take one side or the other...I'm torn about this issue. The authors of the above study were as well...they note that there is an obvious correlation between online activities and relationship quality, but the causal link is not clear.
Therefore, I believe it is probably some happy balance that is best. Facebook friends and groups are not all superficial and time wasters. People can connect (or in many cases, "reconnect") with friends and colleagues with shared histories or interests. I've seen Friends post a concerning or unsafe status and 20 people jump in with words of encouragement or offers of help...which is wonderful. On the flip side, it helps to turn the computer or TV off and enjoy the world around us...strengthen those connections with those we live with, eat dinner away from the TV, etc. And of course on that note, I'll log off. LOST starts at 9pm ;)