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 who have lived most of their lives without the Web. As social networking grows, from stream-of-consciousness Twitter to buttoned-up LinkedIn, even some of the very 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.
“It gives me a chance to relax and focus on other things like music, work and friends,” says the guitar-playing 20-year-old.
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. Though he has more than 600 “friends” on Facebook, he checks it much less often.
“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. “I’m less concerned with protecting my privacy, and more concerned at the ethics of a `human zoo’ where others’ lives, and often serious problems, are treated as entertainment.”
A recent survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 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, overwhelmed by gadgets or often avoiding Internet use altogether.
Perhaps most surprising was the presence of a group that fell in between — the remaining 7 percent of the survey. 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.”
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