Chicago — Eily Toyama gave in after friends pestered her to join Facebook. But she used her cat’s name instead of her own so she could avoid networking requests from people she didn’t really want to connect to. And don’t even ask her about Twitter unless you want to get an eye roll.
“I just don’t think people need to know that much about my life,” says the 32-year-old Chicagoan, who works in information technology.
Call it online sociability fatigue. And it’s not just being felt by older folks. As social networking grows, from stream-of-consciousness Twitter to buttoned-up LinkedIn, some of the young people who’ve helped drive these sites’ growth could use a break.
Mike Nourie, a student at Emerson College in Boston, says he feels a little relieved to escape social networking when he works summers at an inn on Cape Cod where connection to the wired world is spotty.
Last month, Alex Slater took it a step farther. He dumped his Twitter account and stripped the information on his Facebook page to a minimum. “Being exposed to details, from someone’s painful breakup to what they had for breakfast — and much more sordid details than that — feels like voyeurism,” says the 31-year-old public relations executive in Washington, D.C.
A survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found 45 percent of Americans in all age groups are enthusiastic about socializing via computer and mobile devices. Meanwhile, 48 percent are indifferent to Internet social networks.
Perhaps most surprising was a group in between — the remaining 7 percent. These people, who had a median age of 29, are savvy about social networks and always carry mobile devices — and yet they feel conflicted about staying in constant contact. Pew called them “ambivalent networkers.”
“They have this anxiety about shutting off,” says John Horrigan, the associate director at Pew who wrote the report. “They’re afraid they might be missing something. But we also find them yearning for a break.”
Gary Rudman, who tracks youth trends at GTR Consulting, has seen it, too.
“Bottom line: Who wouldn’t be fatigued, given all of the social and business networking obligations thrust among young adults? With Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and Twitter, young adults struggle to keep up to avoid the consequences — being left out of the loop or becoming irrelevant,” Rudman says.
It shouldn’t be surprising that quick-hit online communications leave some people cold. Craig Kinsley, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Richmond, notes that studies of human interactions reveal that our brains crave networking, but differentiate between the quality of the interactions.
“A good conversation with a good friend is much more life-affirming than a few tortuously abbreviated or emoticon-filled lines in a tweet that anyone can read,” he said. “How special is that?”