anthropology · behavior · brain · community · emotion · happiness · mental health · Social

Social Media Isolates But Also Binds

Flickr friends
How many of your virtual friends would you actually invite over for lunch? (Photo credit: Meer)

Does social media make us feel more or less connected? How does connecting and communicating in a digital space impact us differently than connecting and communicating in a physical space?

There are mixed results from various studies, but recently more studies have come out finding that we actually feel less connected to each other the more we use social media like Facebook:

Kross found that the more people used Facebook, the less happy they felt—and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.Research into the alienating nature of the Internet—and Facebook in particular—supports Kross’s conclusion. In 1998, Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that the more people used the Web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. After people went online for the first time, their sense of happiness and social connectedness dropped, over one to two years, as a function of how often they used the Internet.Lonelier people weren’t inherently more likely to go online, either; a recent review of some seventy-five studies concluded that “users of Facebook do not differ in most personality traits from nonusers of Facebook.”

But, as with most findings on Facebook, the opposite argument is equally prominent. In 2009, Sebastián Valenzuela and his colleagues came to the opposite conclusion of Kross: that using Facebook makes us happier. They also found that it increases social trust and engagement—and even encourages political participation. Valenzuela’s findings fit neatly with what social psychologists have long known about sociality: as Matthew Lieberman argues in his book “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” social networks are a way to share, and the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. The prevalence of social media has, as a result, fundamentally changed the way we read and watch: we think about how we’ll share something, and whom we’ll share it with, as we consume it. The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers, even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.

Virtual social connection can even provide a buffer against stress and pain: in a 2009 study, Lieberman and his colleagues demonstrated that a painful stimulus hurt less when a woman either held her boyfriend’s hand or looked at his picture; the pain-dulling effects of the picture were, in fact, twice as powerful as physical contact.

more via How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy : The New Yorker.

So what does this all mean? That we are complicated. And so is how we use social media.

“What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are also changing things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

I have seen forums used to create physical communities (I don’t want to say “real world” because virtual is real, it’s really happening) and create friendships that crossed continents, but I have also heard of and seen virtual bullying that in some very sad cases led to a person’s death. We can be cruel to others by hiding behind that veil of anonymity, or even just by creating a lack of physical presence which also creates a mental separation which makes it easier for us to feel isolated or intentionally isolate others. But we also want to share and connect with others, even if we can’t be physically near them, and share very intimate details with people we may not otherwise have given the time of day, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the context and situation.

How do you use social media? Does it make you feel more connected to your tribe, or do you feel left out or perhaps even more isolated? Do you bridge the gap between your virtual world and physical world, or does the slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” also apply to your social media and physical lives? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

anthropology · behavior · creativity · culture · happiness · play · Social · technology · youtube

Lolcats and the Harlem Shake: Play on the Internet


An article from the head of Google’s Agency Strategic Planning team published in Fast Company talks about why we play on the Internet; it’s a really good dive into the need and importance for play in our lives and share that playful experience with others, and how as we move towards a more digital space we are taking that need to share play with us. It is marketing/branding focused, but the message is clear; we all need play and are making space for it, at least in our Internet lives:

We [netizens] uploaded over half a million variations of Harlem Shake to YouTube in the past few months. Google searches for Cat GIFs hit an all-time high last month. And we took 380 billion photos last year–that’s 10% of all the photos taken . . . ever. But let’s be honest–these memes are fun, but they don’t matter, right? They’re pretty much a waste of time.

As the head of Google’s Agency Strategic Planning team, it’s my job to work with brands and creative agencies to help develop their ideas in the digital space. So I had to ask: Why would we be doing so much of all this “visual play” if it really means so little to us?
To get to the bottom of these memes, we assembled a team of original thinkers–anthropologists, digital vanguards, and content creators–to dig a little deeper into this “visual web.” We also spoke to gen-Cers–the people who grew up on the web or behave as though they did–and who thrive on creation, curation, connection, and community.

The research showed us that far from distracting us from more serious things, these viral pictures, videos, and memes reconnect us to an essential part of ourselves.

It may seem that all we’re doing is just capturing every mundane moment. But look closely. These everyday moments are shot, displayed, and juxtaposed in a way that offers us a new perspective. And then all of a sudden these everyday moments, places, and things look . . . fascinating.

As kids, that happens all the time because everything is new. Everything is unlike. And we aren’t constrained by the rules about what “goes together.” Why else was putting the Barbie in the toy car wash more fun than putting the car in the car wash?

Read the whole article here: Memes With Meaning: Why We Create And Share Cat Videos And Why It Matters To People And Brands

anthropology · behavior · community · happiness · hugs · psychology · Social

For those days you really need a hug

Ever have a day when you just really need a hug, like, right now? Well now you’re in luck:

"Jeff Lam and Lauren Perlow created The Nicest Place on the Internet, a place where you can feel warm and fuzzy with virtual hugs, because they were having an off day. It’s perfect for those chilly winter days."

Check out Creativity Online.

You can also go directly to the site: The Nicest Place on the Internet

You can also contribute your own hug.

I love this idea of virtual kindness; it’s a weird concept in a way, of people donating hugs (so to speak) to complete strangers. But, it’s great because it’s using the World Wide Web to create community and connections with people all over the world. Somehow, by being open to receiving a hug, even a virtual one, we are able to create connections and feel like part of a larger tribe or cohesion.

So often online communities can turn harsh or downright mean; it’s great to see online crowdsourcing being used for positive psychological benefits!

anthropology · behavior · community · psychology · Social · technology

Crowdsourcing the locals for travel recommendations

Uptake helps you ask locals what to do in different locations

On a recent roadtrip, my husband and I stopped in a medium-sized town out in the middle of nowhere, tired, dirty, and famished. Neither one of us are McDonalds or Subway types, but we definitely needed meat, and fast. What to do? My husband spent 10 minutes on my smartphone trying to read Yelp for a decently reviewed restaurant, which turned out to be a real dive but had somewhat tolerable pizza. Long story short, I bet this app would have helped us out a lot:


Uptake
is set up to have a web community of people passionate about their local bars, hotels, and restaurants, but the key is that they let you ask questions of your Facebook friends who are local in the city you’re interested in.

When you ask questions in an open community, you’re not guaranteed to get an answer. If you’re looking at reviews on Yelp, you don’t really know who are behind them [Editor’s note: Yeah, tell me about it!]. Your friends are usually the people you trust the most with picking a great bar or pub to eat at, so Uptake takes the extra step of drilling down to the friends who are relevant to your question.

A lot of apps and services like Nomad for iPad and Trazzler let you ask for travel recommendations, but Uptake helps you ask the people who probably know best.

Local destinations still need technology, as sites like Yelp have become a stomping ground for trolls sounding off about bad experiences. Social is the key to a good recommendation, but not many services have nailed the experience yet. When I see a recommendation from a name or avatar that I recognize, it instantly has more value to me.

Uptake is in beta right now and promises a few features that aren’t available yet.

Read more at: Uptake helps you ask locals all of your travel questions (The Next Web)

One interesting trend of crowd-sourcing apps is an attempt to reach out to pre-established tribes and communities (see yesterday’s post about creating tribes through community) and trying to tap into that local’s knowledge. As the author of the article mentioned, people trust other people they know, and getting “local” knowledge is very important to us humans. We want to feel like we’re an insider, included, and not some dumb tourist who gets taken advantage of or just looks silly.

We also trust other tribe members and their knowledge more than anything else. It’s been shown we trust word of mouth and let it influence us more than advertising, and our peers are hugely influential on what we buy, use, and spend time doing. As we travel, we will also trust our peers over guidebooks on what to do, what to see, and where to eat.

I’ll be interested to see how these social peer-sourcing apps continue to evolve over time. Visit Uptake‘s website to find out more about the app.

play

Dancing Matt videos: a positive critique

I honestly had never heard of this guy until a few months ago (apparently he’s been a viral internet celebrity for almost two years now), but watching this interview of Matt made some really good points. Having been trained as an anthropologist, I find the connection of people from completely different cultures through the Internet and through (silly) dance fascinating and wonderful. There are many reasons, such as:

1. There are definitely downsides to globalization, but when I see things like this it reminds me that there are some good parts to it too. People are connected in very different ways than they used to be, and community is no longer determined exclusively by geography.

2. The fact that dance is being used so successfully to bring everyone out is great, and it shows just how universal dancing really is.

3. There is also the point that the dance is silly, and lots of people (granted mostly young adults and kids) are willing to go on film, and all over the world, dancing and being silly and playing. Play is something that has been totally disregarded as important in the last 60 years my humble opinion (or IMHO for those of you who knew about this guy before now), when in fact play and creativity have been shown to be so important for brain development and just coming up with new solutions to problems. It is time that “play” returned to everyone’s positive vernacular, and just as everyone knows they need to brush their teeth and exercise, they also need to play. And watching Dancing Matt doesn’t count; dancing like Dancing Matt does.