Becoming ambiently aware
For Zandt, connecting with more people in different ways has opened doors and windows into the lives of friends and acquaintances.
“We're able to stay in touch with one another and become ambiently aware,” she said. “All those little bits of postings we share with one another. Each one of those individually is not that important but when you take a step back they're like points in a pointillist painting," Zandt said.
"It's a kind of passive intimacy now where we're aware of each other's lives in ways we haven't been before,” she said. "I think we're getting much more interesting, much clearer pictures of what women's lives are really like.”
“There are as many motives for using social media as there are motives to communicate,” Rutledge said. “There are some things that social media can do that reality can't: connecting people across distances who might not otherwise meet.”
Being authentic on Facebook
In the world of online socializing, it is easy to be tempted to curate a perfect life, with beautiful images and an always-sunny attitude. Zandt says she tells participants in her workshops to be as real as possible online.
“I think people probably feel more pressure than they should, and I always encourage being authentic and being who you are,” Zandt said.
Rutledge, by contrast, cites sociologist Erving Goffman’s comparison of social interactions to a theater performance, calling public identities “onstage,” with private ones “backstage.”
“We all have different aspects of ourselves we put forward based on what's appropriate for a specific situation," Rutledge said. “We dress differently for a job interview than for a tailgate party. These aren't fraudulent, they are just parts of a whole. Humans are social animals. More than half our brain is dedicated to social processing, contributing to our awareness of all social environments and the norms for presentation. It makes as much sense to put ‘your best food forward’ on Facebook as it does in person.”
Learning social discipline
The Weber Shandwick study found that 24 percent of women prefer socializing through social media over doing it in person, using sites like Google plus, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Blogger.
“The social media gives them control over who they talk to and when," Rizzo said. "So we think women kind of start to see their own personal return on investment on using their social networks.”
Rizzo is convinced that the number of women who prefer online interaction will grow.
“I understand where people feel this way,” Zandt said. “And these thoughts will especially tend to occur when the person you're having dinner with is checking their phone and it's really annoying.”
But Zandt does not believe that our online interaction will diminish face-to-face interaction.
“People are kind of wising up to this,” Zandt said. “This is a brand-new tool that has kind of freed up our own crazy little ID to do whatever we want, so we have to learn some discipline.”
Rutledge said that people will use whatever method is best in the moment to connect with friends and family.
“Sometimes social media is used as the glue to fill in the gaps between face-to-face meetings,” Rutledge said. “The ability to be in contact frequently contributes to a sense of closeness and intimacy.”
“The real power of social media isn't in a single activity,” Rutledge said. “It's in the cumulative action that changes peoples' beliefs about what they can do and the opportunities available to them.”
The Weber Shandwick study polled women over 18 and discovered that social media’s female users tended to be younger, between 18 and 34 years old. Many of these women have been using the Internet their entire lives, much like Zandt.
“I'm addicted,” Zandt said. She has started taking digital vacations to help her detox. Now she takes a break once or twice a year, letting all of her friends know she won’t be available online and taking the plunge into a social-media-less universe.
“What that showed me was that the world didn't fall apart if I didn't check Twitter and that life goes on and that people will wait to get in touch with you no matter how urgent they say things are," Zandt said. "That helps manage my own balance. I highly recommend it to everyone who participates on a fairly regular basis in digital media.”
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