The quantity of human interactions has increased, but the quality is arguably diminished.
But in 2011, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania headed by Keith N. Hampton found evidence that “close social relations do not attrite with internet use and that internet users tend to have larger personal networks,” and that social isolation was actually lower in 2008 than in 1985.
The researchers also determined that the network size of “core discussion confidants” is most strongly associated with two popular social media activities: instant messaging and uploading photos. People who have a mobile phone and engage in these activities have a network 34 percent larger than those who don’t.
Other papers by Dr. Hampton argue that the internet and social media can facilitate offline social connections. One states that “internet use may be associated with higher levels of participation in traditional settings that support the formation of diverse networks,” such as visiting public spaces or knowing more people in the neighborhood. Another suggests that frequent Facebook users have more close and more diverse social ties than the average American — though roughly the same number of overall connections.
The article examines this lower threshold for maintaining friendships, and indicates that some people strongly favor mediated interactions over in-person interactions, especially millennials accustomed to constant communication via devices.
Because members of Generation X such as Ms. Flora based the passionate friendships of their youth primarily on in-person interactions or “rambling” phone calls, when they “make the transfer” to digital friendships they “can take advantage of the benefits of it,” she said. “But for younger people, I would worry about them compromising that precious face-to-face time, not sensing or adjusting to what their friends are really thinking or feeling.”