In our latest blog, we discuss that, although social networking is nothing new, its modern, digital iteration offers us many advantages in effectively maintaining relationships but with less drain on our time, emotion and cognition.

Digital social networkingSocial networking and digital social networking: why do we need both?

The phrase social network has been around for a long time but it has been almost entirely hijacked by the digital realm and now immediately makes us think of Facebook, Twitter and the ilk.  For centuries though there have been rites of passage and rituals designed to strengthen a sense of community, including at the extremes events such as fire-walking and sacrificial ceremonies. However, in the age of increasing social mobility our ability to maintain our bonds and sense of community has shifted.

At the same time, the physical effort needed to maintain a social bond has become a lesser burden. Perhaps because our effort has decreased then our investment in those bonds also decreases and we move from network to network in a more transient fashion such is the availability of options. Hence, rather than feeling we are heavily invested in a particular network or community we can now snowball sample our efforts across different domains depending on our presenting needs.

What do we mean by social network?

So what do we actually mean by a social network? On a very basic level it’s those people who are around us – friends, family, colleagues and neighbours; however we now do not need to have physical proximity to people in order for them to form part of a consistent network. The internet has widened many of our social networks exponentially, with the creation of digital networks – with people having 100’s if not 1000’s of online connections, some of whom may never have been met in real life. This can add to our sense of belonging, our identity and our self-esteem; all of these are important characteristics in enhancing our life satisfaction.

Digital social networking

A digital social network can have global reach.With increasingly busy lifestyles our capacity for cognitive and emotional interaction can often feel literally drained by the end of the day. How many of us say that we can’t wait to get home at the end of the day and just shut the door behind us? Our resources are depleted. Yet we soon find ourselves logging on to our digital social networks. This is partly because the cognitive effort required is significantly less. Digital interaction enables us to select the cues we do and don’t respond to and we can more easily ignore engagement with those that we find challenging than we ever could in the real world. Interacting online is often emotionally safer for us too. We can hide our perhaps fragile emotional states if we wish to, without our facial expressions betraying us. We can also choose when and if we respond; something much more difficult to do when in a face to face situation.

There is less cognitive overload involved in reading and communicating through text and pictures than when our brains are trying to respond and process the myriad of signals involved in interpreting someone’s tone, body language, micro facial expressions and behaviour.  We can also disengage more easily online once we have our needs met rather than trying to extricate ourselves from a real life social situation where there might be the added stress of figuring out an escape route out of an awkward encounter.  In short, the digital bonds we form are, quite simply, simpler to create and simpler to extract ourselves from than those bonds, or relationships, we form in the real world.

So, digital social networking allows us to maintain relationships and a sense of belonging with less drain on our resources of emotion, cognition and time. No wonder we’re all doing it!