Is social media shortening our attention span for relationships?

By Emily Hutto


A new study by the ROI Institute confirms what many of us already predicted about social media users: They have short attention spans, and they’re pretty impersonal.

The 25-minute online survey had 1,961 respondents. All of them access at least one social media network daily.

The majority of survey respondents preferred images to words, and said that of all of the posts that they see (such as status updates, jokes, videos and links to articles), their favorite posts are those of pictures that their friends took. Additionally, 44 percent of them said that if a brand posts photos, then they are more likely to engage with that brand on social media.

I don’t blame them. And I, too, am more likely to communicate with brands that have compelling imagery online. Photos attract the eye and add intrigue.

The study considers how social media users communicate with each other. About half of the respondents said that they spend less time emailing and talking on the phone because they communicate via social networks. Makes sense to me – online networks are community gathering places, where more and more business exchanges are taking place every day.

The next part of the study doesn’t make as much sense, and I’d say it’s actually quite alarming. Forty percent of the social media users said they are more comfortable engaging with people online than in person. Thirty percent would rather talk to close friends via social networking than using traditional modes.

The nature of the ubiquitous social media beast is such that as a population we’ve lost our ability to concentrate. Here’s an infographic to prove it.

This New York Times blog argues that this shortened attention-span makes for efficient business. I don’t disagree. It’s still concerning, though, when personal relationships are sacrificed. This new study confirms that we are hiding behind our technology and using it as an excuse not to make genuine, in-person connections with people who we think are important.

These people could be best friends, bosses or potential clients. They could be co-workers or neighbors. They could even be people we want to take to dinner … but don’t even get me started about online dating. The point is that social media, while incredibly useful as a business tool, is also stunting our ability, or I should say desire, to form quality, face-to-face relationships.

My message here is not to discontinue your use of social media (unless maybe you have a profile on Plenty of Fish), but instead to utilize it for the right reasons. Remember that behind every blog post and Pinterest photo is a human being just like you.