Rainie and Wellman argue that our new social technologies do not inhibit our communication skills, but instead enhance and supplement them. I fully agree, but not everyone else does. The book touches this point in multiple places such as:
p. 6 "... we wonder about the folks who keep moaning that the internet is killing society. They sound just like those who worried generations ago that TV or automobiles would kill sociability..."
p. 8 "However, some analysts fear that people's lesser involvement in local community organizations... means that we live in a socially diminished world where trust is lower, societal cohesion is reduced, loneliness is widespread, and people's collective capacity to help one another is at risk."
p. 13 "...social networks are large and diversified.... To some critics, this seems to be a problem. They express concern that technology creates social isolation, as people rely on tech-based communication rather than richer face-to-face encounters."
It seems as though the topic of whether or not social media is hurting our interpersonal skills gets sensationalized in the news. In fact, a searching for "social media killing social skills" on Google returns about 56,700,000 results. But worries about information overload, skill deadening, and the death of face-to-face communication are nothing new.
Socrates warned against writing in his dialog Phaedrus because it would "create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories." When newspapers became common around the 18th century the same concern arose again.
The Frenchman Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (yes that is his actual name) was completely against getting news from a printed page. He argued that it "socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit".
The same kind of responses can be found for every new media/communication technology; radio, TV, cell phones, and the Internet. With how many reports that come out about our future generation's social skills dying you would think we would all have reverted back to caveman-esque social skills or at least live in complete isolation from each other. We all know this isn't true. I would argue that if you take away online communication those of us are introverts would communicate less. It actually gives a voice to those who find it hard to talk face-to-face. Wasn't it just in our last book Weaving the Web that Berners-Lee met someone in person who was very vocal online only to be surprised by how withdrawn he was in real life?
People who want to meet friends in person still do, and those who want to chat online can do so at their leisure, hopefully all in moderation. Social media hasn't ruined friends getting together as nothing can replace the fun of going out to eat or seeing a movie with friends. I found this quote online that captures my point, "I don't think it has affected our generation," says Creighton freshman Brittany Gilbert. "They believe social media only enhances their important connections. We still have friends we hang out with," says Brittany.
p.s. The title of my blog comes from a 2005 British study that was reported by CNN.com about how harmful email and texting is.