The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has released another one of its heavyweight studies on how people use social network sites (SNS). The growth of these services between 2008 and this year has been extraordinary, but the trend does not mean much.
According to Pew. 79% of American adults said they used the internet and nearly half of adults (47%), or 59% of internet users, say they use at least one SNS. This is close to double the 26% of adults (34% of internet users) who used a SNS in 2008.
About half of social network users are over 35 and 56% are women. Social network users are extremely active on the sites they like. Fifteen percent update their Facebook status every day.
The most predictable piece of data from the research is that Facebook users are “more trusting” than other people on the internet. And, Facebook users have more internet friends. This is only natural. Facebook could not exist without the trust of its users whether that is misplaced or not. Facebok may lose some of its appeal if malicious programmers steal critical information on a hundred million of its members
What the Pew study does not say is whether the American society benefits from a world in which many people have hundreds of online friends. Those who do have these friends seem to feel better. That makes sense. No one want to be alone, even in cyberspace.
The harsh criticism of social network use and one that is almost certainly right is that social networks isolate people from the outside world. Social network users who spend a great deal of time looking inward at their artificially created universe will shut themselves away from life’s unpleasant realities.
There are only so many hours in a day. People who spend time on Facebook devote some of that time to the process of sharing their personal lives with others. This often includes their views about the news, preferences of entertainment, and opinions about products and services. They are, in short, asking friends for advice. These are friends whose opinions must often be skewed by prejudices or ill-informed. Objective Information can easily be ignored, making the job of the mainstream media even harder because it’s hard to reach people who chose to isolate themselves.
Social networks have begun to make the world of knowledge collapse in upon itself. Shakespeare does not update his Facebook page daily.
Douglas A. McIntyre