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Social media creates hundreds of friends, shallow relationships

By Nkoyo Iyamba | Posted - Feb. 7, 2011 at 11:15 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have become such a normal part of everyday life, critics say it's making us stupid and "less human" -- even to the point of isolating us from each other.

Most people using social-networking sites will tell you they have hundreds of friends.

Facebook User Comment
"How many 'real' relationships do people really have? Even before social networking, people did this. Water cooler conversations are hardly in depth, intelligent conversations." -- Angela Cross Johnson
Comment on Facebook

"Three hundred, or something like that -- as opposed to my sister who as a thousand," University of Utah student Nathan Schwab said.

"I think, like, 500-something; something like that, something crazy," said U. student Corrine Sanovich. "I don't know most of them, which is terrible."

Social scientists from universities like Emory, Kent State, and MIT say people using Facebook and Twitter can't digest large amounts of information, and so they're becoming dumb and lazy. with short attention spans. Researchers also say social networking is creating a generation of people who have superficial relationships.

The University of Utah's Dr. Robert Gehl says that's a bit of a stretch.

Facebook User Comment
"May I remind us that social media played a huge role in galvanizing Utahns in coming together so quickly to get the grant for $1 million for SLC and $100,000 for Ogden in the Walmart Challenge." -- Michael Faragher
Comment on Facebook

"I'm not quite going to go that far and say the interpersonal is going to die because of this stuff," Gehl said. "But it seems that the way we've shaped technology, particularly in the U.S., I can't speak to other countries, is very individualistic. It's very personal."

While Facebook friends agree their online "friendships" may be a little shallow, people like Schwab say social media actually makes people smarter.

"I do see a lot of news on Facebook. People will be talking about something and I'll be like, ‘Hey, I'll go check it out,'" Schwab said.

Though some social scientists may criticize Facebook friendships, they do admit social media has its place in society. In fact, they say it can even spark social movements.

For example, Tunisians recently used social media to rally and overthrow the government.

"There's a lot of power here to shape these things to our ends," Gehl said.

E-mail: niyamba@ksl.com

Nkoyo Iyamba

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