Local Voices:; Community Guest Columnists; Joyce Richman: Social Media Causing Shift in Human Behavior

Article excerpt

On Friday hundreds of people will be schooled on the art of digital marketing during this year's Social Slam at the Knoxville Convention Center. It's a hot subject since millions of users flock to various social networking sites to connect each day. I'm one of them.

My social universe has expanded exponentially since joining Facebook a couple of years ago. I've met a few likeminded individuals and "talk" with friends and acquaintances from childhood through now, including colleagues from every job I've held as an adult, people with whom I'd lost touch ages ago.

The miles collapse and the years shrink in this electronic social world. We pick up conversation from the old days in Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh and my hometown near Philadelphia, Pa., as though we talked just last week instead of 20 or 40 years ago. We are living a major shift in human interaction, one whose effects won't be fully cooked for years but whose implications are becoming clear already. The Internet is alive and pulsating with posts, tweets, blogs, shares, hashtags, texts - all connecting people around the globe. It's fair to say that digital communication is to the 21st century what telephones were to the early 20th.

But just how social is social media, really? People sit solitarily for hours tapping their various keyboards to virtually communicate with "friends" in cyber-space. They feel free to express opinions with a harshness rarely exercised face to face. And there are early indications that we are losing the art of real conversation. Just walk into most any restaurant to find dining companions sharing table space but no intimacy, each lost in their independent Internet dialogues. Yet we can't help ourselves; the instant, and at times anonymous, connection is seductive.

Preliminary research points to real change taking place in human behavior, particularly with American teens. …


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