Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

I Have Two Million Followers, But No Friends

By all appearances, social media star Nate Garner has it all: an apartment in Hollywood, an adorable dog, an impossibly fit body and some 2.5 million followers on Instagram.

The only thing missing? People to share it with.

“Social media … has [made] me become a loner [in the real world],” the 21-year-old vlogger tells The Post. He says that his seven years of online fame have never mirrored popularity in his offline life, and tweeted in March that he’s lost “so many friends” along the way.

“My social media [presence made me] an easy target,” he says, reflecting on his high school years in Brea, Calif. “It got so bad, being so lonely, I would just go to my guidance counselor during lunch.”

It’s surprising for someone awash in online followers and likes, but it’s also painfully common, says Beca Alexander, founder of the New York-based influencer casting agency Socialyte.

“One of the things about this space that no one really talks about … is how sometimes sad some of these influencers are,” says Alexander, who’s worked with thousands of social media stars. She says loneliness is common: partly because influencers have exhausting schedules, packed with travel and intense content creation goals; partly because jealous peers pick on them or ignore them; and partly because many seem more comfortable online than in the real world, something that helps them create their Internet persona in the first place.

Garner with his dog, Max.John Chapple

That was true for Garner. He was far from a hopeless kid growing up — in fact, he was a gifted athlete and excelled at basketball. But as he recalls, his talent didn’t endear him to his classmates. Instead, “I felt like people were looking for a reason to hate me,” he says. And when he created his first Instagram account freshman year — and watched his follower count skyrocket to 130,000 — his worst fears were proven. The more followers he got, the “more hate [I got] at school,” says Garner.

He remembers athletes trying to film fights with him to post online, and students tagging him in social media, commenting “#loser” and “#killyourself.” During his sophomore year, a group of kids wore outfits — fake glasses, a beanie, a white shirt — nearly identical to one he wore in his most popular Instagram post at the time and claimed to be dressed as Nate Garner for Halloween.

“It got to the point where I was suicidal and I didn’t really like myself at all,” says Garner, who was home-schooled for his senior year. “I’d say [to myself], ‘I get why they hate you.’”

“There’s a lot of jealousy to it,” says Alexander of bullying by non-famous peers. She says they find influencers “alienating” and “unrelatable,” because “their lifestyles seem so flawless and easy.”

But for Jennifer Dombrowski, 38, the journey has been neither flawless nor easy. The Erie, Pa., native has poured all of her energy into her travel blog, which launched in 2009 and has 2 million readers. Between her busy travel schedule and the envy her jet-setting lifestyle inspires, Dombrowski, who has some 11,000 Twitter followers, has found it difficult to forge true friendships offline.

“We were traveling to beautiful luxurious places, which made it hard for people to feel like they could connect with [me],” says Dombrowski, who lives in Bordeaux, France, with her husband, an Air Force master sergeant.

‘I felt like people were looking for a reason to hate me.’

Once, Dombrowski remembers, she was sitting near two women at a military base coffee shop in Italy and overheard them gossiping loudly about her. “I can’t believe that the German National Tourism Board would let her post on Instagram,” Dombrowski recounts them saying. “Her photos aren’t all that.”

Still, she made efforts to make friends. Hoping to forge a bond with her neighbor, Dombrowski brought her along on a trip, but that was a flop.

“She wasn’t thankful,” says Dombrowski. “If there was free time and we were supposed to meet again for a [group] tour, she would be late.”

Eventually, she stopped trying to play nice at all. “I started to close myself off from even attempting to make friends,” she says. “I had had too many negative experiences.”

Even if she had managed to find someone willing to give friendship a real shot, she might have struggled to genuinely connect, Alexander says.

“It’s so isolating … because [influencers] can’t really complain to anyone about their life,” she points out. Who else would really get their struggles but another influencer?

Jennifer Dombrowski grabs a food photo in Bordeaux, France.Caroline Blumberg

And that’s a whole other can of worms. “[It’s] relatively isolating within the community itself,” says Alexander, who believes most influencers have a hard time becoming true friends with each other. Sure, they might network with each other at events, but halfway through a conversation, she says, “they realize they’re just talking about themselves and how they’re competing with each other for better content, for better brand opportunities.” It’s work, not bonding.

But all is not lost for the famous kids of the Internet, Garner says. These days, although he’s busier than ever with his content schedule and modeling career, he says he’s no longer in the dark rut he was in four years ago. It was a matter of finding the sweet spot. Online, he may need a huge posse to make an impact — but in real life, one or two reliable companions is enough. These days, he’s glad to have the support of his sometimes-vlog partner, Karissa Duncan, and his golden retriever, Max, who after all loves him unconditionally.

With them by his side, he says, it’s hard for him to feel too sorry for himself — especially when he has the whole Internet rooting for him.

It’s like his following is his third best friend, he says. “I get hundreds of tweets a day, I get hundreds of comments a day, I get thousands of followers a day … In a way, it’s impossible for me to feel lonely.”



Average teenager has never met quarter of Facebook friends by Mark Sweney

Girls send more than 220 texts a week, and 12- to 15-year-olds spend 17 hours a week on internet, research shows

The average 12- to 15-year-old has never met one in four of their “friends” on social networking websites such as Facebook, according to new research.

Telecoms and media regulator Ofcom’s annual Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report also found that teenage girls are the UK’s texting champions, sending more than 220 a week – a third more than boys.

The regulator’s latest research revealed that 12- to 15-year-olds on average spend 17 hours a week on the internet, matching TV viewing for the first time, and that potentially well over a third of three- and four-year-olds use the internet for TV and games.

More than 40% of five- to 15-year-olds who have internet access have a social networking profile, rising to 80% among 12- to 15-year-olds.

The latter age group has an average of 286 online friends and 93% of them claim they are confident they know about online safety.

Yet Ofcom’s report found that 12- to 15-year-old’s have not met an average of 25% of the friends they have made on sites such as Facebook, an average of 72 strangers per child.

“Children are not just using more media, they are also adopting some forms [of it] at a very young age,” said Claudio Pollack, consumer group director at Ofcom.

The report found that texting is most popular among 12- to 15-year-olds, who send an average of almost 200 texts a week, more than double the 91 that Ofcom’s report found last year.

Girls aged 12 to 15 are the most prolific texters, sending an average of 221 messages a week, 35% more than their male counterparts. This is more than four times the UK average of 50 texts per week.

There has been a 50% rise in smartphone ownership among this group year on year, with almost two thirds of 12- to 15-year-olds now owning one, according to Ofcom.

“Areas such as texting and smartphone ownership [among teenagers] are fast outstripping the general population,” said Pollack. “This highlights the challenge that some parents face in keeping up with their children when it comes to technology, and in understanding what they can do to protect children.”

Almost 80% of parents claim that they have rules about their children’s internet usage, although less than half have parental controls installed on their home computers.


The Psychology of Being Unfriended on Facebook by Dave Copeland

Social scientists are increasingly looking at online friendships and trying to figure out if they carry the same emotional baggage that real-world friendships do. A preliminary study suggests that breaking up, even if it’s on Facebook, is hard to do.

The more you use Facebook, the more likely you are to experience “rumination and negative emotion” when someone unfriends you, according to a study published in the July 2012 edition of the scholarly journal Computers in Human Behavior. The study by Chapman University researchers Jennifer L. Bevan, Jeanette Pfyl and Brett Barclay is one of the first to look at the psychological consequences of so-called relationship termination on social networks.

Other factors that increased the pain of being unfriended included:

How close the person was to the person that had removed them from their friend list.
Whether they were able to figure out who unfriended them, as opposed to just seeing a drop in the number of active friends they had.
Who initiated the initial friend request.

The researchers also measured people’s perceptions on why they had been unfriended, asking if they felt it was because they posted too frequently on Facebook; posted polarizing views; made crude comments; if they had been unfriended for an upsetting, offline event; or because the person did not know them well.

“Intense Facebook usage may mean that users are particularly invested in their relationships with their Facebook friends and thus may respond with greater rumination and negative emotion when they lose one of these friends, which compromises how they are presenting themselves and being perceived by others online,” the researchers concluded.
When Being Unfriended Hurts Most

While the most common reason given for being unfriended was an offline event, people experienced the most negative emotion when they believed they were unfriended for Facebook-related reasons, such as posting too frequently, posting about polarizing topics or making crude comments.

People also seemed to be hurt more when they had made the initial friend request and were later unfriended by the recipient. “To some extent, being the individual who initiates the Facebook friendship – a clear, direct online act that is signified with a marker – places an individual in a less powerful position, as they must wait and see if their friend request is accepted, rejected or simply ignored. Individuals who are unfriended by someone they initially ‘friended’ may wonder why the unfriender even accepted the friend request, and such thoughts could give rise to rumination and negative emotion,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers found that people who spent more time on Facebook were most likely to be hurt when a Facebook friendship went south. That seemed to stem from the notion that those people, by spending more time on Facebook, had more invested in the online friendships.
The Parent Trap

Generally, people were most hurt when unfriended by someone they considered to be close to: family members, and current or former friends or romantic partners. To a certain extent, former romantic partners expected to be unfriended in certain circumstances.

The one differentiation from the above patterns was a user’s parents. The researchers noted “some close relational partners, such as parents, can be unwelcome Facebook friends for undergraduates… how relationships that are close offline are uniquely negotiated on [social networks] seems to be evolving.”

It may also suggest people view relationships with people they see regularly offline as different in an online context.


Half a Billion People Were Defriended Last Year


Amanda Borland, a sophomore at the University of Southern California, sits at her computer scrolling through a list of names. Suddenly she stops and clicks on a picture. “That is a random person I have never talked to,” she says. In an instant, Borland “unfriends” another Facebook contact. Borland originally added these people while running for student government in high school; now she sees no reason to keep them as friends.

“For me, it is weird to reach out to someone who is technically linked to me personally, when I literally have no idea who they are,” Borland says.

The idea of “cleaning out” Facebook friends is getting more popular: The percentage of people unfriending other Facebook members rose from 56 percent in 2009 to 63 percent in 2011.  In gross terms, 158 million people were unfriended in 2009, and more than a half a billion in 2011. Experts predict the trend will only increase in coming years, and they see it as a potential problem for Facebook’s business model, which relies on leveraging information gained from a user’s profile and personal networks.

Morley Winograd, director of the Institute of Communication Technology Management at the University of Southern California, says the unfriending trend is only natural as the Facebook demographic shifts from largely college users to a majority older than 35. Older users are more concerned with privacy and want to limit access to their profiles to people they trust.

Millennials, on the other hand, are starting to use Facebook as a way to promote, manage and store their lives, deleting friends once a contact ceases to serve a function. As users delete friends, their networks shrink, and Facebook loses an edge in interconnectedness. This presents a problem for advertising: Facebook charges based on how well an advertisement is targeted to a user, and the more information Facebook can gather, the better they can target advertisements.

“If they have targeted all your friends, then they can serve up advertisements to you and your network,” says Karen North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at USC. “As you decrease your reach, you decrease the ability of Facebook to advertise.”

Experts say that the fewer friends a person has, the harder it is for Facebook to interpret the world the subscriber comes from. In turn, the less information Facebook has, the less they can charge for advertisements on the subscriber’s page. Facebook declined to comment on how changes in user behavior could affect their business.

North suggests this trend points to a more significant issue. The unfriending phenomenon suggests many users view Facebook as a utility, a place to network or post a photo gallery, instead of a hangout spot. She says many social media experts have noticed the level of engagement is declining. People are not only unfriending, they are spending less time on Facebook overall.

“The phenomenon where people were living a big chunk of their lives hanging and interacting on Facebook is decreasing,” said North. “All of that does have an impact on the value of Facebook, whether it is the amount of engagement, going on fewer times, or using it more efficiently.”

Unfriending may also affect certain kinds of advertisements, like sponsored posts or page posts. These particular advertisements “rely on the size of the friend base of someone that ‘likes’ one of those types of ads,” says Kate Sylanski, an advertising specialist at Modcloth, the online retailer that advertises with Facebook. Modcloth has previously invested in sponsored posts, but the ads have not generated increases in revenue.

It’s also possible that the trend could enhance the accuracy of Facebook’s efforts to target users, because the company can assume that those defriended had little to no influence on the user’s life. “The ‘unfriending’ trend could make these types of ads more appealing to companies because ‘friends’ may hold more water and truly be people you feel connected to in your Facebook community, therefore making them a more like-minded audience,” Sylanski says.

But if ‘unfriending’ is a problem for advertisers, that means trouble for investors. Facebook’s “pending IPO depends on increasing the amount of revenue per subscriber that the site generates,” says Winograd, who researches the Millennial generation along with political scientist Mike Hais. The two theorize that fewer friends per person mean fewer referrals or less sharing. That means less revenue from each Facebook visit. The narrower a person’s network of friends, the less likely something on her page will go viral. In any case, “a reduction in people, in connection, or in time and energy spent on the site would make advertisers and potential investors nervous,” North says.

There is little hard data on the question so far, but North is seeking funding to conduct research on the trend and gather more concrete facts on the true effects of Facebook ‘unfriending.’

“[Unfriending] is a fact that a smart company such as Facebook will adjust to,” says Ira Kalb, president of consulting Kalb & Associates and an expert in marketing and business. “As long as Facebook has a large, engaged audience, it and [everything] off it will do well.”


Digital Natives Are Slow to Pick Up Nonverbal Cues

If you’re a digital native, you should be aware that the internet may have partially rewired your brain in such a way that when you meet people face to face, you’re less capable of figuring out what they’re thinking.

No, I’m not joking. There’s a significant amount of scientific literature on this. Compared with people who didn’t grow up using computers and the internet, you may be slower to pick up on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, tones of voice, and body language.

That could be a liability if you want to work in a field such as consulting, financial advising, and diplomacy that requires face-to-face interactions. The trick, if you’re looking for a job in areas such as these, is to be aware of your possible shortcomings and try to compensate for them.

Research on the brain’s response to electronic media is fascinating, and not a little disturbing. On the plus side, it suggests that digital natives have higher baseline activity in the part of the brain governing short-term memory, the sorting of complex information, and the integration of sensations and thoughts — so, in certain respects, computers make you smarter. As if to underline that point, IQ scores are on the increase in the United States as the number of digital natives rises, and people’s ability to multitask without errors is improving.

But other research suggests that excessive, long-term exposure to electronic environments is reconfiguring young people’s neural networks and possibly diminishing their ability to develop empathy, interpersonal relations, and nonverbal communication skills. One study indicates that because there’s only so much time in the day, face-to-face interaction time drops by nearly 30 minutes for every hour a person spends on a computer. With more time devoted to computers and less to in-person interactions, young people may be understimulating and underdeveloping the neural pathways necessary for honing social skills. Another study shows that after long periods of time on the internet, digital natives display poor eye contact and a reluctance to interact socially.

Are digital natives really lacking the interpersonal skills necessary for certain types of jobs? An executive of a U.S. wealth-management firm told me that after the financial collapse in 2008, some of the bright young advisers were communicating with wiped-out clients via emails that said, essentially, “Sorry, we can’t help you.” Those who did meet with clients had little time for them and gave the impression that they weren’t interested in hearing clients’ stories. They seemed unable to empathize. So the firm let these employees go, replacing them with older advisers who were willing to sit down, look clients in the eye, and discuss matters face to face. That’s just one anecdote, but it resonates with HR executives I’ve spoken to in a variety of businesses that rely on building trust with customers.

So if you’re a digital native and you’re looking for a position in a field that requires human interaction, you’ve got your work cut out for you, and the first hurdle is landing the job. A few points to consider:

  • Your interviewer may be specifically looking for evidence that you’re willing to make eye contact. Engage the interviewer — show a lively interest. This may not come easily.
  • The interviewer also may be looking for evidence of your ability to pick up on nonverbal cues. Watch for and react to shifts in tone of voice or body language. One study suggests that 55% of person-to-person communication is nonverbal.
  • Make clear that you understand the importance of face-to-face meetings and that you’re willing to sit down with people. If an interviewer or a questionnaire asks how you’d contact someone in a potentially fraught situation, don’t assume that email is the correct answer.

And once you get the job? That’s a whole other subject. Some researchers say the neurological changes wrought by computer use are reversible; others disagree. Even if they’re not, digital natives can train themselves to recognize the limitations of email and Facebook and choose face-to-face meetings if appropriate. They can also continually remind themselves that they may be a bit lacking in the ability to pick up on nonverbal cues — and that they need to make a special effort to pay attention.


Digital age affects family time and relationships

You don’t have to earn the mayor’s title on Foursquare or have a personal YouTube channel to know that technology is profoundly changing family life.

When Ontario celebrated its first Family Day in 2008, parents eager to pry kids off the Internet for a hike could at least unplug the modem.

Five years later, that no longer does the trick, thanks to the proliferation of portable gadgets. They may come along for the hike, but so will the Smartphone.

During your day of togetherness, your kids may also be tweeting between rolls of the Monopoly dice, texting you from upstairs to see what’s for dinner or posting on their blog while out for brunch. Adults may be whipping out the BlackBerry to check emails or update their own Facebook status.

Some families may impose some tech-free togetherness.

In many ways, digital devices have made family life more complicated and subject to distraction. But they’ve also led to some interesting changes in how the generations communicate.

Foursquare, for example, is an app that families can use to check in and track each other’s whereabouts using GPS hardware.

When Alyson Schafer’s 15-year-old daughter needed to raise a distressing subject a few years ago, she sent her mom to the home office and headed into her own bedroom, where she began the conversation via instant messaging.

Mother and daughter were only steps apart, but using a keypad allowed the teen to talk about the scary subject of a friend’s eating disorder at her own pace and without scrutiny.

“This was not a conversation she could start face to face,” says Schafer, a psychotherapist and parenting author. Instead she needed to think, write and stop before hearing an adult’s reaction. Fifteen minutes later mother and daughter emerged and finished the emotional talk in person.

Amanda Lee’s children, ages 7 and 4, haven’t visited their grandparents and their extended family in Australia for several years. But the Oakville mother says they still have a relationship, thanks to regular visits using Skype.

Text messaging allows Andrew Campbell of Hamilton to keep in touch with his teenage sons on those days when they are at their mother’s.

“If I see something that interests them, I can let them know and send it immediately,” says Campbell, a teacher who is active on social media.

As someone who wants his kids to grow up to comfortable, responsible and fluent in technology, he thinks it’s important to model that too.

It’s easier to check in with kids at university or how your school-age child may be doing on a difficult day. Schafer says it also gives them an out — “my mom just texted me that I have to come home” — or a quiet way to arrange a ride if they are in social situations that make them uncomfortable.

While technology can enhance togetherness, the big challenge is not letting it take over, says Toronto filmmaker Kelli Kieley.

She loves going online with Aaron, 10, and Maia, 7, to look up answers to their questions and discovery new websites. “It’s like we’re learning and finding out information together.”

But the downside is that devices, including her own iPhone, are always beckoning. “I find our family time is way more disrupted.”

The changes and challenges were explored last week by a panel of tech-savvy parents and educators at a Toronto event hosted by Bunch, an online parenting community.

Schafer, a panellist, said being attuned to evolving social media is, like potty training, a modern parenting duty. So is understanding why kids are attracted to it, how they use it and setting limits.

As kids learn to navigate and behave responsibly, they need a safe place to bring their questions or talk about troubling things they may observe online without fear that parents will freak out or punish them.

Royan Lee, a father of three and Richmond Hill teacher who uses social media in his classroom, describes it as “a reciprocal learning arrangement” between kids and adults with many teachable moments.

His observations after teaching hundreds of kids: there’s a correlation between families who fear technology and kids who don’t behave appropriately online. When parents use technology with their kids and view it positively, kids follow, he says.

Some studies have found that technology tends to amplify the existing dynamic in a household rather than change it, by exacerbating isolation in families that don’t interact or enhancing communication between those who already have healthy and frequent conversations.

Nonetheless many parents worry that the encroachment of digital devices will undermine family life.

That’s one reason you won’t catch Jodi Lastman or her daughters with hand-held devices if they head out for a Family Day stroll. One reason is Lastman doesn’t own a cellphone. She uses social media in her marketing job and will flip open her laptop as needed when she’s at home. But she doesn’t want face time with her kids, ages 7 and 4, interrupted by the

“false urgency” of text messages and phone calls.

Technology will encroach soon enough, she says. At the moment, she prefers spending family time playing a board game, watching a movie or walking their puppy.


Would you kiss someone via robot messenger?

Long-distance lovers hoping for a smooch can now transmit their passion through robotic lips.

Artificial intelligence researcher Hooman Samani has developed the kiss messenger, or Kissenger, to add a new dimension to those wistful Skype-dates with someone far away.

“The basic concept is that you have two robots, both outfitted with an artificial pair of lips,” explained Sebastian Anthony of ExtremeTech.

Kissenger system consists of a pair of robots to transfer kiss over distance. (Lovotics)“The lips are highly touch-sensitive, but can also be manipulated by motors inside the robot.”

To seal the deal, the partners must take out their Kissengers – small, pig-like robots with floppy ears and googly-eyes – and, well, lock lips with them.

The robots are equipped with soft silicon pads that transmit lip movements between partners.

The Lovotics website suggests the Kissenger may appeal to singles and those who want to smooch a virtual character. The robots can use artificial intelligence (AI) to transmit those kinds of kisses, too.



Does Technology Affect Happiness?

As young people spend more time on computers, smartphones and other devices, researchers are asking how all that screen time and multitasking affects children’s and teenagers’ ability to focus and learn — even drive cars.

A study from Stanford University, published Wednesday, wrestles with a new question: How is technology affecting their happiness and emotional development?

Lucy Gray with her daughter, Julia.Michelle Litvin for The New York TimesLucy Gray with her daughter, Julia.

The answer, in the peer-reviewed study of the online habits of girls ages 8 to 12, is that those who say they spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens.

The research raises as many questions as it seeks to answer, as the scientists readily acknowledge. That is because the research was based on an online survey taken by more than 3,400 girls, a sample that may well not be representative of the larger population and, because the responses are self-reported, are not subject to follow-up or verification by the researchers.

Among the crucial questions that the researchers were not able to answer is whether the heavy use of media was the cause for the relative unhappiness or whether girls who are less happy to begin with are drawn to heavy use of media, in effect retreating to a virtual world.

But the researchers hypothesize that heavy use of media is a contributing factor to the social challenges of girls.

The reason, say the researchers, is that on a basic, even primitive level, girls need to experience the full pantheon of communication that comes from face-to-face contact, such as learning to read body language, and subtle facial and verbal cues.

“Humans are built to notice these cues — the quavering in your voice, perspiration, body posture, raise of an eyebrow, a faint smile or frown,” said Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor of communication who led the study. Social media, he added, leaves the conversation two-dimensional. “If I’m not with you face to face, I don’t get these things. Or, if I’m face to face with you and I’m also texting, I’m not going to notice them.”

The peer-reviewed study appeared Wednesday in Developmental Psychology, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, as part of a series of articles on interactive technology and human development. There is no analogous study about how screen time affects boys.

The fact that the study was based on an online survey gave pause to some academics. While they said the paper raised good questions, they also expressed concern about giving it too much weight, given that the researchers were not able to follow up with the survey subjects to get important context, including their family circumstances, income or ethnicity.

Moreover, the limitations of the online survey did not even allow the researchers to verify the ages of the girls.

Lyn Mikel Brown, an education professor at Colby College who studies girls’ behavior, cautioned against reading too much into the research because so little is known about the survey subjects.

It may well be, she said, that girls who seek out online relationships are girls who otherwise might not feel social at all.

“Finding like-minded people online and issues they can relate to and work on with others can be incredibly important,” she said.

But she also said the research should provoke further study about the connection between time spent online and social development, and should provoke conversations in families.

“The clear message is also how important it is for parents to create opportunities for girls to unplug, to live a balanced life, and increase quality face-to-face time with the people important to them,” Ms. Mikel Brown said.

Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who edited the article, said that that even though the authors did not find that Internet use causes unhappiness among girls, the correlation that the authors did find was very significant.

The research was based on an online survey of about 80 questions answered by 3,461 girls whom the scientists found by advertising in Discovery Girls magazine. The researchers found that the average amount of media use by the girls surveyed was 6.9 hours per day, a figure that included reading as well as screen time. The average amount of time spent in face-to-face social settings was 2.1 hours, a figure that did not include classroom time.

Some parents of girls who are heavy Internet users said the research addressed questions that they had been concerned about.

Lucy Gray, 45, who lives in Chicago and helps schools integrate technology, said her daughter, Julia, 13, has for several years been a heavy consumer of media — she watches movies on her laptop, has an iPad, iPhone and a Nintendo DS portable game machine. Ms. Gray said that Julia can have trouble picking up on subtle social cues in face-to-face interactions, but she is not ready to blame her daughter’s heavy use of technology.

In fact, she said, she thinks that, on the whole, the technology has helped her daughter navigate the world socially.

“She’d be missing out on an opportunity if she wasn’t connected.” Ms. Gray said.

At the same time, Ms. Gray said, she worries that her daughter, who is using Facebook more, is playing out her social life online sometimes without the benefits of the full emotional range that comes from face-to-face interaction.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Ms. Gray said of the social implications of social media.

Lena Garzarelli, 13, an eighth grader in Asheville, N.C., who spends as much as two hours each day on Facebook, video chatting with friends and using other multimedia, said that the technology, on the whole, has helped enrich her social life. But she said that she felt it could be a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction.

She has had instances, she said, of serious miscommunication because her real meaning was lost in text-based communications.

When people converse online, she said, they “may not understand how I feel because they can’t see the emotion in my face and can’t hear my voice.”



Unlike in real life, our online friendships are not subject to a healthy natural decay.

Thanks to social-networking sites like Facebook, many of the people that otherwise would have drifted out of our lives can now be linked to us indefinitely online, keeping track of us in the virtual world even if we no longer have any contact with them in “real life.” It’s a peculiar situation, evidenced by the introduction of terms like “Facebook Creeping” and FOMO (fear of missing out)into our vocabularies. But what are the wider implications of these changes?

Social networks enable us to cheat the natural order of things. In our ability to pore over photo albums and analyze status updates, we gain access to information that’s generally reserved for a close friend without actually having to be one. We look at others’ profiles because we are nosy, and because we want to make sure we’re not missing out – that we’re on par with our colleagues and friends. Furthermore, social networks create unnatural digital bonds that keep us entangled in unnecessary relationships. Most of the time it’s harmless, but in certain cases (ex-boyfriends, toxic friendships) these relationships could be unhealthy. A 2011 study identified a condition called “Facebook Envy” arguing that reading what others share on social networks might actually have a negative impact on mood. The existence of “Facebook Depression” is also being debated among health-care professionals.

Related: The Evolution of the Web Persona

I believe it is the lack of natural social decay that is driving some of these behaviours. After all, while some relationships end explosively, the majority decay naturally in a slow and gradual process. We drift apart. We lose contact. Far from replicating this natural passive disconnection online, we are forced to deliberately hit the “Unfriend” button, severing the connection in a swift and decisive manner. “Unfriending” is seen as a digitally aggressive act, and can often carry social implications in the real world. (An extreme example: In Iowa, a woman was arrested for burning down the house of someone who had unfriended her on Facebook.) It’s much easier to simply stay connected to these people online, even if we never communicate with them. Thus, we continue to be “Facebook friends” with people who aren’t really our friends.

Is it really necessary to stay connected to such people? Of course not, but many of us do so because it’s easier than having to look your colleague in the eye and explain why you haven’t accepted his or her friend request yet. We’d rather avoid that awkward moment, so we continue to broadcast pieces of our digital selves to an ever-growing circle that includes bosses, acquaintances, and distant relatives. The result? A need for better and more comprehensive privacy policies that take into account these social complexities.

These policies, however, are often in opposition to the corporate bottom line. Consider, for instance, Facebook’s never-ending push for users to publicly share more information about themselves. It is in Facebook’s best interest for us to continue to “friend” as many people as possible, as it provides the company with more data that it can extract and sell. As a result, Facebook is becoming a broader web that documents the connections of the people we have encountered in our lives, rather than a representation of our closest friends. For Mark Zuckerberg, social decay shouldn’t exist at all.

Related: Has Facebook Gone Too Far?

This, however, is not the only option.

One company that is introducing an alternative approach is Path, a mobile social network that uses the principles of Dunbar’s Number in an effort to manage social decay. Dunbar’s Number (commonly cited as 150) comes from the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, and represents the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.”

Once users reach that 150 limit on Path, they’ll only be able to add another friend by cutting someone from their list. In this way, Path forces people to constantly evaluate their existing friendships by facing social decay head on.

It will be interesting to see how this social dynamic plays out. If I have 1,000 friends, I might not notice if someone has unfriended me – but I will definitely notice if I’m cut from a list of 150 people, especially if we have mutual friends. What impact will this have?

In this age of social networking, algorithms will continue to evolve to account for the various types of digital relationships that we have. Facebook and Path seem to be taking this in two very different directions, but is either one the right solution? Is there a way to organize our social relationships online that doesn’t lead to unhealthy behaviour?