Social Media vs. Face-to-Face CommunicationSocial Media vs. Face-to-Face Communication

It’s a familiar and seemingly logical argument: social media is making us less social. We are addicted to our phones at the expense of going out into the real world and interacting with other people.

And according to Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies and director of the Communication and Technology Lab at the University of Kansas, the concept even has a name: social displacement hypothesis.

“The social displacement hypothesis is perhaps the best-known, long-standing explanation for where time spent using new technologies comes from, from the Internet to texting and now social media,” Hall said in a 2022 press release.

But he is not convinced that this is true.

The facts about social media use

It is true that the use of social media has increased in the last years. In 2021, approximately 72 percent of US adults visited at least one social media platform. Compare that to just 5 percent in 2005.

Younger generations are still leading the trend, but those aged 65 and over are the fastest-growing demographic of social media users – doubling in numbers since 2013.

Most Americans also use social media on a daily basis. Seventy percent say they log on to Facebook at least once a day, while only 12 percent admit to using the platform less than once a week.

The social displacement argument claims that all this social media use is reducing our personal interactions. “[But] the best available evidence suggests that this is simply not the case,” says Hall.

Read more: Social media can change the way you communicate

Decline in face-to-face communication?

In a recent study published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology last year, Hall and co-author Dong Liu of China’s Renmin University in Beijing set out to find an alternative explanation.

The pair analyzed government data on the duration and frequency of face-to-face communication between people in Australia, the UK and the US between 1995 and 2021.

The data show that all three countries did experience a similar decline in real social exchange during this time. And while the COVID-19 restrictions had a serious impact, the downward movement of in-person socialization predated the pandemic.

And 2018 survey of social media use, for example, surveyed 1,000 teenagers and found that in 2012, their preferred way to communicate with each other was face-to-face. Just six years later, this was no longer the case.

But Hall and Liu argue that social media is not to blame for these changes. In fact, they concluded that there is very little evidence of a causal relationship between social media use and a reduction in real-world socialization at all.

Read more: Social media has a negative impact on the mental health of teenagers

Effects of social media

So where does everyone find time to scroll through TikTok and watch YouTube videos and what are the effects of the growth of social media?

After analyzing the numbers, Hall and Liu argue that the benefit of social media is happening at the expense of more traditional media use – such as radio or television. It can also reduce time spent working or doing housework.

Of course there still is something else reasons to worry about the increasing use of social media and the decrease in personal interactions.

Other Hall studies have suggested, for example, that social media may make us feel more lonely. And there is evidence that only one a quality conversation with a friend a day can increase well-being.

So every now and then it might be worth putting YouTube aside and instead embracing a movie night in front of a traditional TV with family or friends.

Read more: What is a social media cleanse?

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