Is Social Connection online really that damaging?

On the Scientific American website, I came across an excellent article that discussed some of the common grumbles that people have about social connection online. (“I don’t care what you had for breakfast!“, “How about talking to some real people!“, etc.)

I don’t care what you had for breakfast!


The article was written by Dr. Elizabeth L. Cohen, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at West Virginia University, and Dr. Rachel Kowert, an Associate Researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of Munster.

The article was in reaction to a video that talked about the damage that online social connection has

I really liked the article because I also feel that being socially connected is not bad. Or wrong. It is just another way of being social.

I have been in touch with Dr Cohen, and Dr Kowert, asking them if I could reproduce their article here. They have graciously agreed…


Look Up Exaggerates Damages of Social Media

In his viral video, Look Up, Gary Turk emotionally appeals to viewers to unplug from their social media (just as soon as they finish watching the video, of course). Cell phones, online games and social network sites are all depicted as distracting us from intimate human contact and a cause of loneliness.

The video, which has racked up more than 37 million views on YouTube, appears to have struck a chord with many people feeling disillusioned with being constantly connected. But before you get all sentimental and throw away a perfectly good iPhone in a pool of your tears, let’s take a step back for a minute.

Current communication and psychology research paints a much more complicated picture of how these technologies affect our social well-being. A full refutation of all the arguments implied by the Look Up video would be worthy of a dissertation, but inappropriate for the scope of this blog. Instead, we’ve picked seven claims to compare against current research.

Claim 1:
We are connected to lots of friends on social media, but we don’t really know each other.

While it’s true enough that we can’t know everybody that we are digitally connected to intimately, we don’t think that’s the point.

Social technology plays an important role in helping to maintain our strong-tie relationships with people we already know. Social network sites also enhance our weak-tie connections and raise our social capital, which can lead to a number of positive outcomes such as improved health and civic engagement.

Claim 2:
We share frivolous bits of ourselves on social media, but leave out anything meaningful.

This is the classic, nobody-cares-about-what-you-had-for-breakfast complaint. But why should you care? Because what we had for breakfast is valuable, potentially meaningful social information. One status update can be frivolous on its own, but over time, these seemingly insignificant bits of information about what people are doing, what they like and where they are can coalesce into a sense of others’ presence, providing a peripheral but intimate awareness of that person.

What’s more, posting status updates on social media isn’t just valuable for followers, it’s also good for the posters. Experimental evidence suggests that just the act of leaving a status update can make people feel less lonely, presumably because posting reminds us that we are part of a larger network.

Claim 3:
The community, companionship and sense of inclusion provided by social media are illusions.

The community companionship and sense of inclusion provided by social media are real. 
recent study found that people who use social network sites to interact with existing friends felt a greater sense of connection to them and reported a greater sense of belonging than those who don’t. Our own research also provides preliminary evidence that simply monitoring other people’s activity on social media can help fulfill basic human needs for belonging.

Claim 4:
Online games are socially isolating and not a worthwhile way to spend time.

Our research suggests that online game players are often stereotyped as being 
anti-social, reclusive and isolated, but online gaming is actually highly social, requiring players to interact with, coordinate, lead and compete against hundreds of other players in a shared space. In many games, socializing is actually rewarded because player coordination eases the difficulty of in-game tasks. Research also indicates that gaming can support pre-existing relationships and help people develop new relationships.

Claim 5:
Kids don’t play outside any more because they are always on their technologies.

Nobody can deny that digital games can be more fun to play than hopscotch at the park. But is staying indoors to play really so bad? These days, digital games 
promote exercise and social interaction with others.

But social technology might not have anything to do with kids staying inside. In her new book, It’s Complicated, danah boyd discusses the influence of technology on teens and “tweens.” Her anthropological study suggests that the real culprit behind the empty playgrounds after school has more to do with parent culture than it does teen culture. Over-scheduled and over-protected children don’t have much time for free play outside. In fact, connecting through social media is sometimes the only way kids can connect with their friends outside of teacher and parent supervision these days.

Claim 6:
It’s become abnormal to talk to strangers on commuter trains because people are too involved with their personal technologies.

For those of you who can remember riding a train, bus or elevator when people didn’t have mobile devices, ask yourself how often you remember looking up, making eye contact with strangers and talking to them. The truth is, it’s always been taboo to talk to strangers, and as long as there have been trains, we’ve found 
things to look at besides other people.

Claim 7:
If you look down, you could miss the love of your life.

Perhaps. But if you don’t also look down at your
 online dating profile you can also miss the love of your life.

Of course, Look Up didn’t get everything wrong. Never looking up can be both rude and dangerous. Because our technologies develop more quickly than we do, we definitely have some catching up to do on developing social etiquette and public policies that will keep us courteous and safe.

Still, suffice it to say that we think the video stretched the truth about how damaging media use is for our relationships. Turk’s fears are nothing new, though. Virtually every technology innovation has been met with some trepidation about how it will affect our social well-being. Even the Walkman was accused of making listeners more narcissistic and detached from other people. But in the long run, it was nothing to be frightened of.

We’re willing to bet that your iPhone is probably safe too.

Click on image for a larger version (800pxx800px)

What do you think of that? Do you agree?  Don’t agree? What are your thoughts?

Want to learn more?

Below is a selection of resources that I personally feel are relevant to this blog post, and will allow you to get more in-depth knowledge. I do earn a commission if you purchase any of these, and for that I am grateful. Thank you. (Important Disclosure)

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What’s the point of an online Community?


There is an discussion going on in one of the BA LinkedIn groups. The person who started the discussion was that when she joined the group, it was “to understand how others BA see their role and how they overcome the issues they face.” However she’s only finding discussions and articles like “5 Tips to apply to blablabla”, or “10 Things you should know on blablabla”.

One of people who responded stated that “forums (or groups or whatever) are best when they are about exchanging or sharing ideas. That means that the person who starts the discussion needs to participate other than just at the start.” Often what will happen is someone will post a link (often to their own material), in a group/forum, and then never be heard from again. The group/forum is, effectively, just being used as a noticeboard.

So what is an online community? And what makes it different from a social network?

Michael Wu, a smart man who is one of those people who earns a living staring at tea leaves in the bottom of a cup, said that…

the single most important feature that distinguishes a social network from a community is how people are held together on these sites.”

In a social network, Michael says,  people are held together by pre-established interpersonal relationships, such as friendship, classmates, colleagues, and business partners. The primary reason that people join a social networking site is to maintain old relationships and establish new ones to expand their network. on to state that social networks

Carrying on, Michael explains how Communities, on the other hand, are held together by a common interest (it can be a common project, goal, location, etc.). People join the community because they care about this common interest that glues the community members together. Some stay because they felt the urge to contribute to the cause; others come because they can benefit from being part of the community.

So keeping in mind what Michael said, and looking at these people who post “10 Things you should know on blablabla” links in discussion forums. The area where they are posting, is a community, and there are, most likely, some people who benefit from reading the posts. But are these posters really helping “contribute to the cause”? Or are they just generating noise? I know what I think…


  • Community vs. Social Network
  • Social Media and what it’s about
  • online communication
  • Online Communities
  • What You Get From Signing Up To A Social Network
  • The Implications of Social Media

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Social Media and Profile Photos


There’s a lot of research about the way our brains process faces and how they have a unique way of making us happy. A smiling face, even in the form of a small profile picture, tells us someone else is there. The web is a social environment, and at the heart of it all is people.”

The above snippet comes from Box’s “Introducing Box Notes” page…

The three sentences, highlighted above, say a lot. The web is a social environment.

And it doesn’t just apply to the “web”. Social is being adopted by companies, inside the facelessfirewall, also and having people’s photos available make a big difference. I have often heard from clients that they “want to get to know who their fellow staff members are”. And having a photo turns a person from a faceless work colleague (often in a separate building/town/country), into a real person.  

What about people outside the enterprise?

Something that I have been using for a few months now is Microsoft’s Social Connector for Outlook 2010. This allows Outlook to display the profile photo, and info, from one of the social networks that that person is a member of.  In my case, I have set up the connector so that it connects to LinkedIn. What difference does this make? A lot! When I get emails from clients I know, having their photo on display, makes it more personal, and for people I haven’t yet met, it makes that first face-to-face meeting so much more enjoyable.

So, here’s a push to stop hiding. Come out into the open. Let us see who you are. (Naturally, there are limits…)

  • 10 useful tips for better use of social networks (part 1) (
  • Office 2013 Tips: Outlook Social Connector – LinkedIn
  • Add a Facebook or LinkedIn Connection to Outlook 2013
  • Announcing the Outlook Social Connector
  • Outlook Social Connector and Providers 
  • The Outlook Social Connector – a hidden jewel


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“You’re out of here” – getting rid of your friends

On Facebook, recently, I saw a post where the author said that he had unfriended some people because they started arguing, and complaining about what he had written.

If we translate this into the real world, effectively what the author had done was say “I don’t like your opinion, I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.” Just because of a comment. Pretty harsh stuff.

I don’t like your opinion, I don’t want to be friends with you anymore


What bothers me…

This brings up a couple of points that bother me about this:

1. It’s called “Social Media”. Dumping your friends just because they said something you don’t agree with isn’t being very social.

2. What sort of “friend” are these people, and what sort of “friend” is the author, when just because you don’t like what’s being said, you say “I don’t want to be friends anymore.”

3. I agree that you can build up friendship through common interests, etc., but where’s the line between friendship, and acquaintance?

Your thoughts…

What are your thoughts? Are your online friends really “friends”? Do you feel that loose-ties are just as valuable as strong-ties?

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Power of Social & an example of “Wisdom of the Crowds”

In a previous post, I discussed how you don’t always get a correct answer to a question you ask to a crowd.

One of the Spark talks given at Lotusphere 2012 was by Mitch Cohen. It was titled “Get Cancer – Get Social”. His wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mitch’s talk was a good, & inspiring, one. He talked about the part the internet, and social media played, and broke it down into three areas:

  • Information
  • Misinformation, and
  • Support



“Believe it or not, someone (can) be wrong on the internet”

The first thing that Mitch did when his wife was diagnosed was to tell her not to look for answers on the internet. In his talk, he tells us that no two diagnosis’ are the same, and that everyone reacts differently. There are a lot of people out there trying to be helpful, and give advice, but it was, really, misinformation. The best thing to do, said Mitch, is ask the questions to the experts – the doctors and oncologists.


“There’s a lot of support you can get”

Mitch talked about Facebook. “You can be sitting at an infusion centre, letting this poison run into you boy, and you could be thinking about that, or you could be looking at the 100 of comments coming in wishing you support.”


Mitch’s wife started blogging about what she was going through. She wrote about how she was feeling, how she was handling it, and what she thought about what was going on. Not only did it made it easier for her to tell her friends all about it, it made it really made it easier for Mitch to share it with his friends.

Living Vicariously

Mitch pointed out that going through chemo means you end up being more susceptible to infection  Which means that you can’t be around other people. Being able to see what the vacation photos of others on Facebook, and reading their stories really made a difference to his wife.

Thousands of Miles Away

“I wish we were closer, I wish there was something we could do”

Mitch told of the great support they got from their local friends was, but what he found incredibly powerful was the support he got from people thousands of miles away. How people he had never met in person came up to him (at the conference) and were genuinely concerned and interested with what had been going on.

The Spark Talks were, and are, organised by The Nerd Girls. You can see, below, a list of other excellent Spark talks that were given at Lotusphere2012.

  • Spark Ideas Lotusphere 2012 – The Videos (
  • Wisdom of the Crowds – part 1 : When the wisdom of the many helps the few or the one (
  • Relationships in social media (
  • From The Wisdom Of Crowds, To The Wisdom Of Friends (

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Test Driving the Bottlenose

It’s amazing how you can stumble upon things. In reviewing the results of a Google Alert for “Hootsuite”, I came across a reference to a new Twitter client called “Bottlenose“.

Bottlenose looks like a pretty powerful tool. You can read about it in this post on, and check out, on the Bottlenose site, the “tour” of its features.

I have just signed up, and I’ve got to admit, it looks impressive. I understand that the beast is still in BETA, and that there are a few limitations, but I am going to give it a good try out over the next couple of weeks.

I’ll let you know how things go…

  • Bottlenose Begins to Unstealth
  • Spivack’s Built To Match Scale of Exploding Message Stream
  • Crimson Hexagon Partners with HootSuite to Provide Social Insight and Engagement for Enterprises
  • Struggling to Keep Up with Social? Try These Tools
  • Bottlenose: Fighting Information Overload With a Smarter Social Media Dashboard
  • Bottlenose 2.0 Dives Into The Visual Social Web
  • Bottlenose 2.0 Is a 6th Sense for the Social Web
  • Bottlenose 2.0: Taming The “Share-pocalypse” With A Smarter Social Media Dashboard
  • Bottlenose is a social media dashboard that makes sense of the stream (invites)
  • Can Bottlenose help prevent the social sharepocalypse?

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(Social) Networking

Recently I read a post that resonated with me.

It was written by Charles Blakeman, and he questioned what was so special about social networking.

With his permission I have included his blog post below…

When we use the phrase Social Networking, do we really get it?

I’m not at all opposed to online networking – I use it all the time to build relationships, but no matter what medium you use to connect with people, it’s not about CONTACTS, but meaningful and lasting CONNECTIONS. It’s ALWAYS about being social. So maybe I don’t get it.

“Social networking” is the apparent standard description of online networking. But how is it that “social networking” is somehow just an online thing? I get business from my neighbors, my family, my bicycling friends, my golf friends, my business friends, my clients, and from people I meet in a restaurant, as well as from people on Twitter and Facebook.

“SOCIAL” networking is a great idea, in fact it’s the only way to network, by being social, not salesy – making friends and meeting needs. But most people who do offline or online networking aren’t social about it at all. Most networking opportunities are simply a place to collect business cards and try to sell things to people, which is why most serious business people with a true network and lasting connections don’t show up at networking events.

They’re too business doing real social networking – playing golf with a friend, hosting a small and intimate wine tasting at their house, having a cup of coffee with a few business associates, riding a bike with a half dozen others, or meeting with their very committed referral network. And in all this, their objective is to serve people and meet THEIR needs, which is the opposite of most classic networking strategies.

When truly social business people move online, they have no interest in networking, but in building a network, and they don’t focus on contacts, but on lasting connections. Twitter and Facebook look the same to them as a cup of coffee with a few friends – they’re focused on trying to serve others and see how they can push them forward, not on selling things to everyone that says hello.

So I’m confused. If “social networking” is something you do online, then what is connecting a friend with a potential employee for her, or meeting someone over a cup of coffee – is that “unsocial networking”?

The communications medium is not the magic. The willingness to serve other people where they are at, not where I want them to be, and to get them to their goals are the keys to the business kingdom. No matter what the medium, I will get farther by serving people than selling to them.

I can’t bring myself to call either online or offline networking “social networking” because it implies there are types of good networking that aren’t social. If people don’t like me, they won’t buy from me. What part of building a network SHOULDN’T be social? Maybe I just don’t get it.

More of Charles excellent posts can be read on the businessblogs site here

  • Social Networking: Why?

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Learning about Klout

One of the people I follow on twitter is Shadeed Eleazer (@mrshadeed). He’s a cool guy and blogs about the digital world. He also creates video blogs.

One of the ones I watched recently was about Klout. He talks about what it is and how it works.

Definitely worth 3 minutes and 48 seconds of your time to view/listen to it.

[dailymotion id=xk605d]

  • Klout? (
  • Klout Now Measures Social Influence On Google+ (
  • An Interview with Klout. Do You Love It or Hate It? | Kyle Lacy – Social Media and Digital Marketing (

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I’m new here


Ok – so I got myself a Google+ account.

Now I have to get used to using it.  I’ve never done Facebook (and was damn proud of it), so this side of the online social media world is new to me.

What I mean, is that I had gotten used to checking my Twitter stream regularly, and kept an eye on Delicious’ “Recent” bookmarks (to see if anyone else had found anything interesting), but Google+ … well that was new for me.

So – I caught myself smiling when I saw a post on Google+ by someone that I had inadvertently “invited” when I had included him in one of my “Circles”. His comment was:

Ok, here we go…another social obligation. I wonder what the chance of me maintaining G+ as well as my Blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

I felt exactly the same way (with the exception of Facebook).

At the same time, I was hitting the Random button on the xkcd site, and came across this:


Note: I never waste my time with social media at work



  • What Are Companies Saying About Social Media In The Workplace? [Infographic]
  • Young people ‘bored’ with social media
  • Which Social Media Channel is Best for Finding Answers?
  • Who Will Stay and Who Will Go?
  • 20 Social Media Infographics – From Celeb Twitter Trees to Facebook Page Celebrations (
  • The Top 3 Social Media Apps You Should Be Using

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Google+ – Early Research

 Google+ has been announced.

It is a Facebook-like social tool, and one of the defining features is that it allows you to refine your online social network so that it represents real-life more.

About a year ago, I came across a presentation on SlideShare that showed some of Google’s early research into social networks. Now I see that this was for what is now “Google+”.

Interesting stuff…

The Real Life Social Network v2 [slideshare id=4656436&w=477&h=510&sc=no]

  • How many networks can a regular person maintain? (
  • How many social networking sites do we need? (
  • Google+ Tips and Tricks Facebook Should Use

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