Explosion of networking sites can result in ‘sociability fatigue’
By Jessica Schreindl
Vanessa Wilcox spent her Sunday online.
The 20-year-old mass-communications major at Missouri Southern State University logged on to the Internet at 9 a.m. and didn’t log off until 8 p.m.
“I got up to go to the bathroom and eat and then I would come back,” she said. “I was trying to write a paper and then I started Googling and checking Facebook and then I started watching videos on YouTube. So I got nothing done.”
Wilcox’s behavior is common among people her age. Gary Rudman, president and founder of the Sausalito, Calif.-based GTR Consulting, researches the consumption habits of children and young adults. He describes Wilcox’s experience as “sociability fatigue.”
Sociability fatigue is a result of spending too much time on social-networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube.
“It’s a lot of pressure keeping everything updated, between Facebook, MySpace, Twitter,” he said. “Kids don’t want to feel like they’re not part of what’s happening, they fear becoming irrelevant. Now it’s like if you’re not on Twitter, you’re irrelevant.”
Twitter is a social-networking site, and its popularity has recently exploded among youths. It’s like Facebook, except people constantly update their “status” to let friends know what they’re doing.
“It’s like you have to know if Sarah is having that cup of coffee at Starbucks,” Rudman said. “For some reason, that’s important.”
Wilcox has had her Twitter page for four months. When she joined, most people had never heard about Twitter. She’s also on Facebook and MySpace, and has three YouTube channels. YouTube is her favorite and the one she spends most of her time on, recording and uploading videos.
“I just love the whole YouTube community,” she said. “You tag somebody and then that person tags somebody and it just goes on from there. Pretty soon you have this group of people connected.”
It’s not uncommon for students like Wilcox to get online to do homework and get distracted with “socializing.” Rudman says it’s harder for today’s youths to focus on one message while they are being bombarded with so many others. He describes it as “brain blur.”
“They have so many things coming at them from different directions,” he said. “Their brain is trying to figure out how to filter all this stuff.”
Rudman says while previous generations had years to learn new technology, today’s youths are expected to “adopt and adapt” overnight.
“It took the radio 58 years to reach a population of 50 million,” he said. “It took Facebook two years.”
While Rudman worries many people are joining social-networking sites for fear of being “out of the loop,” Wilcox says that isn’t the case with her. She says she joined social-networking sites to keep in touch with friends and family.
“I joined YouTube because my sister was on there,” she said. “Facebook is for my Joplin friends and MySpace is for my friends back home. Everybody was on something different. It’s crazy to keep up with everything.”
Bailey Tinsley describes herself as “not tech savvy” and says she finds social networking “annoying.” Although she has a Facebook account, she’d rather talk to her friends in person.
“I think it’s making us socially inept,” the Missouri Southern student said. “Our grandparents didn’t do all these things and they had much closer relationships.”
Rudman agrees. He says many people are opening up online because they don’t have to deal with the “emotional content.”
GTR is releasing its G-Trend Report in May, looking at the “uneven relationship between teens, technology and society.” The report includes a portion devoted to what Rudman calls “textual feeling.”
“One girl in our study told us guys are breaking up with girls by text messaging,” Rudman said. “She said it’s because guys don’t want to see them cry.”
Rudman thinks social networking sites will eventually decrease as people become more and more overwhelmed with information.
“I think everybody will eventually sit back and say ‘Wow, this is just too much information,'” he said. “We’ll realize it’s just not possible to do all this stuff.”