The Weekly Round-Up: Empty Facebook friendships and tech withdrawal

The antisocial reality of social media, plus what happens when tech addicts go 'cold turkey'
Written by The Round-Up, Contributor

The antisocial reality of social media, plus what happens when tech addicts go 'cold turkey'

Do you sometimes feel intimidated by other people's Facebook friends lists?

Does an impressively large number of friends make your tiny circle of mates seem insignificant?

Relax. Just because you only have ten friends on Facebook, doesn't mean your life is a failure - although connecting with silicon.com would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction.

And as for those show-offs who apparently have hundreds of best-friends-forever?

Don't worry: chances are they don't know many of their 'friends' and are simply adding strangers to make themselves appear more popular than they actually are - the social media equivalent of stuffing a pair of rolled-up socks down your trousers.

Research has revealed that many Facebook users don't know as many as one in five of their Facebook friends.

There is that old saying that 'a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet' – but too much of that kind of thinking and you'll be one of those characters who smiles at people on public transport while patting the seat next to you.

The study, by phone-comparison website goodmobilephones.co.uk, asked 1,500 Facebook fans how many of their friends they had actually talked to via the site, and the majority admitted they had never spoken to at least half of them.

In addition, the majority admitted they no longer knew at least 20 per cent of their Facebook friends. A surprisingly honest four per cent admitted they didn't know at least half of them.

The majority also admitted they only talked to about 20 per cent of their Facebook friends, which means Facebook is a great way of connecting with old friends you haven't spoken to for ages - and then ignoring them.

When asked why they had kept 'friends' online who they did not know, over half admitted they did 'so as not to appear rude.' Almost one in four wanted to artificially boost the number of friends they had, so it's perhaps not surprising that two-thirds of the Facebookers surveyed admitted they had accepted a complete stranger as a friend in the past.

This is the reason the Round-Up is proud to cultivate a small Facebook friends list that only includes close acquaintances.

At least that's the excuse the Round-Up's got, and it's sticking with it...

We're also sticking with social media, quite literally, for the next bit.

The Round-Up admitted last week that it had already demolished its own New Year’s resolutions, reduced the constituent bits to dust and consigned the dust to a watery grave.

Who was the Round-Up kidding? It could never give up Toblerones.

Yet for many of us, particularly the so-called millenials, one of the very hardest things to give up is social media and consumer technology.

Even more so than triangular Swiss chocolate filled with honey and almond nougat.

Indeed, maintaining regular updates with friends - both real and not - is so important to some of us that a sustained bout of broadband downtime or lack of network coverage is likely to result in withdrawal symptoms.

In an experiment, called Unplugged, scientists asked volunteers in 12 universities across the world to stay away from texting, email and social media for a mere 24 hours to see what the result would be. What happened was participants started to develop symptoms typically displayed by smokers trying to the kick the habit.

Some participants described the feeling as going 'cold turkey,' while others said it felt like going on a diet.

The research was led by the University of Maryland's International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda. While participants were allowed access to landlines and books (remember them?) the social web was strictly off limits. As was the television and any kind of personal technology, such as stereos and MP3 players.

Meanwhile, diaries kept by research volunteers recorded that they felt anxious, isolated and fidgety. Some even admitted reaching out instinctively for mobile phones that weren't there.

It goes to show the extent to which the social web and modern communications technology is clearly having a profound effect on us. In days gone by, we would stress about love, work, health and possibly football.

Now we experience withdrawal symptoms like some digital junkie if we can't retweet a joke, forward the latest viral video to a dozen recipients or look at the holiday pictures of our Facebook friends - even though we don't actually know them.

In contrast, there were positive results. According to the story in The Daily Telegraph, some people developed coping mechanisms by going out for walks and visiting friends rather than sitting in front of a laptop. Yes, that's real friends and real people.

Dr Roman Gerodimos, an academic from Bournemouth University which took part in the survey, said of the student participants: "A lot of them said they found the silence quite uncomfortable and awkward."

Remember, Facebook may well be bad for the soul, and life in the real world may well prove to be the next big thing... You heard it here first.

In other news this week: everyone needs a reason to show off their new mobile phone down the pub. But now that every phone has a touchscreen and can download apps, how next to impress the gang at the Dog and Duck?

Simples - get yourself this year's must-have: a dual-core smartphone. Find out what it all means in our dual-core smartphone feature and find out why one of these gadgets is likely to be coming to a pocket near you soon.

Also on silicon.com this week: find out which 41 market towns will be included in BT's superfast broadband rollout and why everybody's favourite satellite earth station Goonhilly is being used to search the cosmos.

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