Tuesday, January 5, 2010

That's a Correlation, Silly

This morning, I stumbled on an article of interest in the Star Tribune about social media. I like social media, as I've said in my past post. I love my facebook friends, I check my pee-mail constantly and I bark over the fence any chance I get. I am a social gal. I believe that we should use all our tools to build community and keep track of each other. So I was thrilled to find article Circle of Friends which reported:

"Cell phones, texting and Facebook might actually be pulling people together, not isolating them, according to a new study."

Naturally, I sat up and took interest. There is nothing more satisfying than finding one's personal opinion is backed by scientific studies. This new study would challenge that old saw that social media is rending the fabric of society and turning us all into lonely little trolls whose days are lit only by the glow of the computer screen.

"The millions of Americans who have embraced social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter might not be surprised by the findings from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, showing that Web and cell phone users tend to have larger and more diverse networks of close confidantes than those who do not use the Web or cell phones."

What great news! Fun tech toys make us more socially adjusted. If we tweet and talk on cell phones, we will be more popular! We will have more friends. Better, more diverse friends. "All the evidence points in one direction," said lead author Keith Hampton of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. "People's social worlds are enhanced by new communication technologies."

Wait a minute. Is that really what they found? Let's turn that around. Didn't they also find: People with larger and more diverse networks of close confidantes tend to use the Web or cell phones.

I know this study wants to refute the idea the technology has caused the increase in social isolation. Me too. And it found:

"On average, the size of people's core networks is 12 percent larger among cell phone users, 9 percent larger for those who share photos online, and 9 percent bigger for those who use instant messaging compared with people who do not use these tools. The diversity of the groups is greater as well."

But turn it around. People who choose to use cell phones, share photos and instant message have bigger core networks. Does this surprise anyone? Social people embrace social media. Less social people, not so much.

It's like noting that dogs at dog parks are friendlier, better adjusted and enjoy bigger, more diverse doggie networks. Duh. Dogs who can't handle the dog park stay home and lick themselves. Dog parks don't make the dog social. Antisocial dogs don't last long at the dog park. And just because you own a cell phone doesn't mean you're going to have a hefty "core discussion network." You still have people who will pick up despite caller ID.

I would like to see a study that shows the use of social media actually makes people more social. And there is likely more to this study than this article reveals. I would like to think a dog can't out-think a pack of researchers. Surely they understand the difference between correlation and cause and effect.

I decided it must be the reporting, because he ended the article with this off-topic zinger:

"Ultimately, Krishna Upadhya's views on the subject might be most representative. The 55-year-old biotech researcher from Union City, Calif., said, "Certainly these tech tools help with connectivity, but at the same time they can isolate people as well." He points to his relationship with his teenage son.

"My son comes downstairs to eat dinner and then disappears, back to chatting with his friends on the Internet," he said. "Sure, I can connect with my friends overseas now with the Internet and the cell. But at the same time, I feel like the Internet has robbed me and my son of our time together." 

OMG! The guy thinks social media has caused his teenage son to choose other ways to spend his time than hangin' with dad! That's a correlation, silly.


  1. OK Carmella, so you like to sniff butts at the dog park! Not everybody is into that-- especially in this weather. Cut us a little slack.

  2. Made me more social. I'm pretty withdraw-to-a-cave, otherwise.