Why social networks make us more sociable

Social networks train our social soft skills. (Image: Ohmega1982)

Facebook is evil. It robs our data, it watches and memorises where we are and it makes us incapable of normal social interaction with our heads literally stuck in the cloud. Or at least that’s what critics claim.

That is why I have to come out with a confession: I like Facebook. I believe that besides its flaws (and maybe even ignorance regarding some issues as some might say) it’s an enjoyable, zeitgeisty and convenient piece of technology that draws on one of mankind’s biggest needs and skills: communication.

I personally believe that this is true for most social networks – most of all Twitter and Youtube next to Facebook. Social networks require a new level and form of communication that needs to be learnt and practiced in order to be fully appreciated.

Once it is, it can achieve ways of communications that can exceed what offline communication can offer.

That is why I would like to look at the last issue raised in the introduction – the supposed inability to have ‘real’ friends and working offline social networks – a little bit closer in this post.

Unsocial because of Facebook?

Recently, I moved cities. That is why I looked around Facebook for a group with people who also moved here recently to make a start a little easier.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this – but there are so many groups with people who share an interest or a situation or whatever out there – you just need to join.

And indeed I found a group with a bunch of girls who also moved here and we started to chat. Now, this is right down the line of the ‘digital communication is ruining real social experiences’ people. But it gets better:

Yesterday, I met up with these new people, who I have never met before and who I would never have met if it wasn’t for Facebook, for a real and offline coffee.

Now, the critics can say that I could have met different people without Facebook too, and I agree, but knowing that all of these girls shared something with me already really helped and sparked interesting conversations, I felt.

Studies show: social network users are more sociable

Craig Watkins and Erin Lee of the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas studies the social lives of Facebook users and found that “social media afford opportunities for new expressions of friendship, intimacy and community”.

This could be good or bad. I guess we all have those people in our stream who just publish that little bit too much about their private lives, but let’s not forget that it’s their own choice. If that is their way of expressing themselves and staying in touch with their networks, why not?

And in case you haven’t noticed: the more personal a post is, the more reactions it seems to get….

There is a study, however, from earlier in 2011, which found out that social network users (Americans) state that they have an average of 2.45 close friends (opposed to offline-people with 1.75).

It further found out that “the average non-Internet-using American has 506 social ties, while those who embrace the Internet have 669 social ties. Mobile phone users average 664 ties, and those who access the Internet from a smartphone or tablet computer have 717 social ties”.

Using social networks makes you more social

Even though some people got this stuck in their heads, social networks are not a technology that traps us in an online world with no real friends and meaningless conversations. To the contrary.

Social networks open up a universe of opportunities for us to speak to people we would and could never have spoken to otherwise.

And they also train a lot of our socialising soft skills: I believe they train us to listen, to separate relevant information from white noise, to express ourselves in words and writing, to think on our feet, to get a feel for how people work and how to deal with audiences, to define who we are and want to be (ok, a little idealistic, but I believe still true) and to be more open minded towards anything and anybody.

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