On June 16, 2011, the PEW Internet & American Life Project published a new report titled “Social networking sites and our lives.” According to PEW, this represents the “first national survey of how the use of social networking sites (SNS) by adults is related to people’s overall social networks.” Some of the study’s significant findings include:

  1. The number of those using social networking sites has nearly doubled since 2008 and the population of SNS users has gotten older.
  2. Facebook users are more trusting than others.
  3. Facebook users have more close relationships.
  4. Facebook users get more social support than other people.
  5. Facebook users are much more politically engaged than most people.
  6. Facebook revives “dormant” relationships.
  7. Social networking sites are increasingly used to keep up with close social ties.
  8. MySpace users are more likely to be open to opposing points of view

Facebookphoto © 2011 Urs Steiner | more info (via: Wylio)

Building on thoughts shared in my post Friday, “Convivial Technologies, Storychasers and Digital Storytelling,” I’m wondering if and/or how SNS (social networking sites) can serve as “convivial influences” in our lives? Certainly SNS allow us to maintain more connections to more people, and allow us to maintain more social connections on a regular basis. I’m curious about the effect the use of SNS has on our face-to-face relationships, however. Have you noticed how easy it is for people to get out their phone when we’re out for lunch or dinner? I am increasingly aware of my own behavior when it comes to my iPhone and SNS like Twitter, when I’m out with my family and at other times.

photo © 2005 Cait | more info (via: Wylio)

I’m convinced we need to be thoughtful, intentional, and deliberate in our uses of SNS. That thoughtfulness includes asking the question, “Is this a good time to have my phone out?” when I’m having a meal or in a face-to-face social setting. The psychological allure of a smartphone and SNS apps can be powerful. So can text messaging. This isn’t something I’m pretending to have a complete handle on, either individually or as a parent, but it IS something with which I’m certainly wrestling. I know the issues here are important, and the reflexive / natural way to act with SNS technologies tends to NOT support the cultivation of face-to-face relationships. Screens often separate us and become relational dividing walls between people when we’re together. To be used in a “convivial” fashion, I don’t think SNS should be used this way.

Several years back, I registered a domain for the concept of “digital discipline” which I’ve since let expire. My April 2007 post, “Need for digital discipline in SL and RL,” I wrote about some of these ideas:

Digital discipline. We all need it, and I think we’ll be needing more of it in the years to come. Conversations about digital discipline are worth having, whatever our age or level of technology use. I know plenty of folks who spend WAY too much time watching television (in my admittedly highly-subjective opinion.) Technically speaking, most television signals today remain analog and are not actually “digital,” but the transition is on to digital television as well as digital radio. I consider conversations about television watching habits to fall within the definition of conversations about digital discipline. Digital discipline means being intentional about one’s use of technology options and tools. Digital discipline doesn’t prescribe a fixed amount of time for everyone to spend watching TV, playing video games, interacting with others in SL, or anything else, but it DOES suggest that everyone should strive to be thoughtful and intentional in the way they expend heartbeats with digital things.

For SNS to be used in convivial ways, I contend we need to exert healthy and frequent doses of “digital discipline.” I’d like to find a simple litmus test for deciding personally whether a particular use of technology is appropriate or not for the context at hand. One idea might be, “Does my use of this technology right now support or detract from the development of convivial relationships?” That probably could be stated in simpler terms.

What do you think? How can we intentionally navigate our personal uses of technologies like SNS and help members of our family do the same? As this recent PEW report highlights, many relational benefits are possible with SNS. There are lots of pitfalls, however, and I’d like to find better ways to navigate around those in the years ahead.

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  • Anonymous

    Interesting & challenging ideas, Wes. Personally, I’m trying to embrace a digital sabbath of about 1 day (approximately 24 hours) each week. It’s hard to unplug. I’m also trying discipline myself to leave my device behind or at least pocketed and be more intentional when interacting with my wife and kids or in face-to-face interactions. I’ve yet to master these things, but they are goals I’m working toward.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johna.walden Johna Walden

    I also find that people tend to pull out smart phones to text or chat on SNS even at inopportune times. My idea of “inopportune times” include but are not limited to mealtimes, social functions, one-on-one time with significant others, etc.  My husband and I are working on trying to limit our social networking time but we are finding that more difficult than we thought. SNS are addictive and when eating dinner or even grocery shopping we find it easy to pull out our phones and have virtual conversations. However, we do not have virtual conversations instead of real conversations.  Often our on-line conversations lead to more topics for our face-to-face conversations but if on-line time isn’t limited it could easily get out of hand.  As long as people practice “digital discipline” then social networking can remain fun and not annoying.

  • Annette

    I definitely think too much time is wasted on SNS.  It is a great way to find old friends or get help in some instances, but I have found that too much is said on SNS.  Especially things that a few minutes later I am sure people are regretting they posted.  Even though sometimes you can pull it off, you still never know what damage has been done.  My husband and I have received some texts and email messages that the individual would have never said to our face but they find it much easier to say it in a text or email.  Texts are convenient for short questions but I think are used too often.  All these new technology things are great and can help us, I just think it is very important to use them sparingly.

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