Does WiFi make us more – or less – sociable? Discuss.

I love my mobile phone!

Does WiFi make us more or less sociable

An interesting social media article by David Murton posed the question – Is WiFi making us less sociable?

David says: “We now live in a culture in which someone on your screen is actually physically closer to you, two dimensionally anyway, than the three dimensional people sitting around you in a packed cafe – a cafe that, apart from the clicks of the fingers on the keyboards, is eerily quiet.”


Phubbing is snubbing someone in favour of using a mobile phone. It is portrayed perfectly in our header image, a picture by Banksy aptly named “Mobile Lovers”. There’s even a whole Facebook page community talking about it, liked by nearly 30,000 people so far. We have all seen people taking out their phones at a restaurant leaving the other diners totally ‘phubbed off’. Some of us even have ‘no phone’ rules when out now to encourage more old fashioned conversation!

Fear of social isolation

People do worry vocally about the fact that an unhealthy attachment to our phones is going to lead to us all becoming less sociable. Other concerns about the internet include that we might not even get out, choosing to stay at home, behind a computer screen instead of venturing out into a social world.

However, we did find a large piece of research that showed fears of an increase in social isolation due to the internet were unfounded.

The internet actually creates larger and more diverse social ties

A large scale survey by Keith Hampton on how the internet has affected us socially highlights some interesting results:

  • Internet and mobile users actually have greater and wider core networks.
  • Social media and other internet communications actually enhance social experience
  • Frequent internet users were more likely to confide in someone from a different race
  • Individuals who used social networking services show more diverse networks
  • Bloggers were found more likely to be involved in a voluntary association such as a charity

Rather than technology pulling people away from engaging with others socially, it was found that social isolation has hardly changed since 1985. In fact the internet has simply changed the way we communicate.

The implications of these findings are widespread and indicate that social media may have a positive effect on human well-being.

Hampton says this research highlights ‘…social media’s potential to facilitate greater engagement with others.’

Getting to know people better

Technology allows us to gain a greater insight into other people’s lives. Inherently we like people who are similar to us. ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ (or so the saying goes) means that we are attracted to other people based on looks and psychological similarities. If we are similar to those around us it can reduce conflict and makes us feel better about ourselves. We may be able to find similar people more easily through social media. Although social media doesn’t necessarily change our real social networks, it enhances our understanding of them and human behaviour like never before. And not just people in our own country and social sphere, but all over the world. The study also found that internet use is as common for making contact locally as it is for contact over a distance.

The internet engages people when out in public places

Individuals who are sat on their own in parks or cafes may be engaging with others online, by email, blogs or Facebook and the like and that is surely more good news for social interaction.

So it seems that when someone is Phubbing, they may not actually be being as unsociable as you think. They could simply be attempting to get to know their online friends better and enhancing their network ties! But we won’t blame you if you tell them to ‘Phub Off!’

Related links

The Psychology of Social Media

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