Category Archives: Emerging technologies

Don’t Blame Social Media for the Decrease In Face-to-Face Interaction.

An new article in Current Opinion in Psychology reviews the best available evidence to debunk the “social displacement hypothesis” that holds that use of mobile and social media is the cause of decreased face-to-face (FtF) interaction. Lead author Jeffrey Hall, PhD has uncovered a worrisome trend: In the United States, Great Britain and Australia, there has been a steady, uniform decline in FtF time that began well before the rise of social media. This new analysis shows the decline continued through the stay-at-home orders and social distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Hall, a professor of communication studies and director of the Relationships and Technology Lab at the University of Kansas, and his co-author, Dong Liu of Renmin University in China, take on that notion in a new paper titled “Social media use, social displacement, and well-being” 

The ‘social displacement hypothesis’ is probably the most well-known, long-lasting explanation that blames the new technologies (especially texting and social media) for usurping everyone’s time away from person-to-person contact. Hall states that “the best available evidence suggests that it’s just not so.”

Hall took data on FtF time from the U.S. Department of Labor’s annual American Time Use Survey and from similar governmental studies in Australia and Great Britain between 1995 and 2021 and plotted them on a single chart. Interestingly, all three lines decline over time at a similar rate.

According to Hall,  “it’s the case that social media rates of consumption have grown across demographic groups and across the world. Yes, it’s the case that face-to-face time has declined. However, it’s not the case it takes from face-to-face time.”

If the evidence doesn’t support the social displacement theory, then where is the time for increased social media use coming from?

The paper highlights that there has been a transformation of where people are putting their attention. While it is true that TikTok and YouTube are increasingly popular outlets for watching streaming content, Hall suggests social media time is most likely borrowing from time spent watching TV, which, for decades, has been a major place where Americans spend their time. “Social-media time is also borrowing from time at work or doing household chores” Hall said.

Similar Data In 3 Countries

The paper reports a new analysis showing that FtF time has declined across three countries in a similar fashion. “The fact that the UK data track U.S. data so tightly despite using slightly different methods in different years, is surprising,” Hall said. This international trend of reduced time in face-to-face communication may reflect growing rates of loneliness.

Hall’s analysis shows that these trends of declining face-to-face communication existed well before the pandemic, and the pandemic may have exacerbated some of them. When people had some time back because they weren’t commuting to work or able to go out as much, they didn’t turn to face-to-face communication. “What’s discouraging about that,” Hall notes, “is even when people have time, they don’t seem to use it in a way that promotes their social health.” Noting the widespread evidence that FtF socialization is beneficial to well-being, “we’re not on the right path to being able to reclaim that face-to-face time,” said Hall, “at least in these three nations.”

Why is FtF time declining?

“The best available evidence suggests face-to-face is in competition with hours spent at work and commuting,” Hall says. In other words, people who work longer spend more of their leisure time alone. During the pandemic, when people got that time back from commuting, “they still spent it working virtually,” Hall said. “They didn’t spend it socializing with each other.”

And, Hall says, friendship and social media are not enemies: “Social media can be used in many friendship-promoting ways, especially now that many people use messaging programs supported by social media platforms.” As the paper claims, “social people are active both online and offline.”   

“It seems we live in a society that privileges working and media consumption over everything else,” Hall said. “The decline in face-to-face time is a matter of priority and a matter of availability. And we are neither prioritizing face to face time, nor are we available to do so.”

Source: Hall JA, Lui D. Social media use, social displacement, and well-being. Current Opinion in Psychology. Volume 46, August 2022, 101339

Americans Cautious About Advances in Artificial Intelligence and Human Enhancement Technologies

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans believe that AI and human enhancements via technology have the potential to improve daily life and human abilities. Yet public views are also cautiously defined by 1) the context of how these technologies would be used, 2) what constraints would be in place and 3) who would stand to benefit – or lose – if these advances become widespread.

Public caution is mostly centered around concerns about privacy, autonomy, unintended consequences and the amount of change these developments might mean for humans and society.

This survey looks at a broad arc of scientific and technological developments – some in use now, some still emerging. Three highlight the burgeoning array of AI applications: the use of facial recognition technology by police, the use of algorithms by social media companies to find false information on their sites and the development of driverless passenger vehicles.

Another three are often described as types of human enhancements, revolve around developments tied to the convergence of AI, biotechnology, nanotechnology and other fields. They raise the possibility of dramatic changes to human abilities in the future: computer chip implants in the brain to advance people’s cognitive skills, gene editing to greatly reduce a baby’s risk of developing serious diseases or health conditions, and robotic exoskeletons with a built-in AI system to greatly increase strength for lifting in manual labor jobs.

Americans are far more positive than negative about the widespread use of facial recognition technology by police to monitor crowds and look for people who may have committed a crime: 46% of U.S. adults think this would be a good idea for society, while 27% think this would be a bad idea and another 27% are unsure.

By narrower margins, more describe the use of computer algorithms by social media companies to find false information on their sites as a good rather than bad idea for society (38% vs. 31%), and the pattern is similar for the use of robotic exoskeletons with a built-in AI system to increase strength for manual labor jobs (33% vs. 24%).

The survey of 10,260 U.S. adults was conducted between Nov. 1 and 7, 2021. There are five key themes that run through people’s answers on these questions.

  1. Americans’ judgments about the potential impact of this set of applications are varied and, for portions of the public, marked by uncertainty. [Link to graphic]
  2. Less than half of the public believes these technologies would improve things over the way they are now. [Link to graphic]
  3. Americans see a need for higher standards to assess the safety of technologies on the horizon than are currently used. [Link to graphic]
  4. There are sharp partisan divisions when people think about possible government regulation of these new and developing technologies.
  5. There are mitigating steps people say would make these AI and human enhancement developments more acceptable. [Link to graphic]

Source: Pew Research

AI and Human Enhancement: Americans’ Openness Is Tempered by a Range of Concerns