Social media apps
Credit: Jason Howie on Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Over the past couple of decades the Internet has rapidly soared to become a common ways for people to exchange messages, dialogue and share information with one another. In more recent years, social media has played a large role in shaping the transformation of ways people communicate with one another through electronic means.

In a world dominated by technology, with many people possessing an innate need for continuous streams of information, social networking effectively fulfills the desire for both the ability to send and receive quick, if not immediate, responses.

While people may still interact with one another in more "traditional ways" such as meeting over coffee or through making a phone call, today many people are more apt to learn or receive the latest news about one another through Facebook (or another social network) and not from a more direct personal contact. Think about it - how often do you learn about the happenings of family and friends in a widely distributed message online? Even from those who live nearby? Are there people you've lost contact with because they (or you) will only correspond on Facebook and the other person doesn't use this communication?

Is this a negative evolution for communication? Perhaps yes. Yet, on the other hand, having the ability to globally socialize can also be a positive. For better or worse, here are a few ways social networking has affected socialization:

Decreased Face-to-Face Interaction

Being so many people spend a large amount of time on social network websites, there must be benefits or else people would not spend so much time there (addiction possibilities aside). It is likely online convenience makes this option of connecting with others a very popular and attractive approach.

Especially perhaps in an age where time often feels at a premium for many people and they turn to social networks in lieu of spending time with friends and family in person. As a result, this equates to less face-to-face interaction, which could potentially have a significant  impact on the quality of personal relationships over the long-term. A quick Facebook message is nice, but it often does not equate to substantial communication and a "Like" is more of an acknowledgement, not a conversation.

Thumbs up (Facebook)
Credit: Owen W. Brown on Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Less Phone Calls

While many people have become attached to their smartphones, this has increasingly evolved from calling to communicating through text messaging and, by extension, online social networking. Today there are more mobile devices on Earth than there are people. 3 The prominence of mobile has steadily scaled back the need to actually talk to others.

In 2013, a study showed a whopping 79 percent of people aged 18-44 had their smartphones with them 22 hours a day. 1 The research found 4 out of 5 users turned to their phones within 15 minutes of waking up. Chances are a lot of them went immediately to a social network.

In 2012, 40 percent of Americans admitted they felt more comfortable interacting online than they did "in person".  According to that research, 41 percent of participants said they expected people to respond to their Facebook posts within an hour. If friends and family did not respond as they anticipated almost 50 percent said they were annoyed; the others said they were sad (39 percent), hurt (29 percent) or angry (12 percent).

If this study is any indicator, it seems people today truly expect their friends and family to be "connected" 24/7.  Yet, just a mere decade ago people it was quite common for people to meet for coffee, stop by one another's house or pick up the phone and call someone they wanted to talk to. However, modern society is a fast-paced world. It seems people, less and less, have a desire to let their fingers do the walkin' and "reach out and touch someone."

Mobile is clearly here to stay, yet it keeps evolving. For instance, at this time it is still an unknown just how wearable electronics may further change the dynamics of communication, if it does at all.

Less One-On-One Interaction

Social networks are rooted in the philosophy of shared information. One person sends a message, there is an option to send to everyone in the network. This is the same for any given network. For instance, Facebook and Twitter, two of the most current popular networks in 2015, each offers a way of sending out a singular message where it can be streamed to everyone on a person's connection list. Same goes for Google+, LinkedIn and new kid on the block, tsu.co.

In this respect people are receiving large amounts of information, but do not necessarily reply and "speak" one-on-one. If this trend continues it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of relationships evolve. Relationships that have lowered levels of individual interaction may suffer or become distant.

More Information Shared

One fascinating aspect of social networking is the ability to share and receive information. The larger the network, the more information is able to be spread. In this respect, people are exposed to many different lives and obtain a keen insight as to how others live and what they are thinking, both near and far. Expanding on familiar knowledge and learning new information is a terrific opportunity.

Diversity

Through social networks people who never would have had the opportunity to interact can share thoughts, knowledge and ideas. The diversity of people and information located on the web is pretty amazing. It's common to hear or see something you likely would not have learned otherwise.

People today can learn so much more using the technology platforms social networks provide to allow people interact. Knowledge and insight can be gained through varying perceptions and perspectives found in a global network. The world is certainly becoming a smaller place thanks to technologies such as social networks.

Social networking has had a significant impact on socialization. Some of these changes are for the better, some for the worse. With every new development in any society there are always going to be some trade-offs in order to obtain the benefits. Each member of society has to individually decide whether or not these trade-offs are worth the costs.

How social networking eventually impacts socialization as a whole remains to be seen. However, if current technology trends continue, it seems to me our world a few decades from now will barely recognize once familiar over the fence conversations between neighbors or picking up the phone to make a call.