Why do young people use social networks more?

Just a tidbit I stumbled upon in the paper this morning reading about mobile usage differences among younger versus older people.

David S. Hachen, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame who looked at cellphone use and its effects on people’s relationships, said he had found that cellphone networks tend to be a reflection of friendship networks.

“Friendship networks,” he said, “tend to be larger in younger groups, but they have weaker ties with those they talk with. But as they get older, the networks are smaller and they have stronger ties.”

For my 30 something self, I’m very active in following my network (mostly by keeping track of friends and colleagues’ blogs). But my list of friends numbers about 30 personal blogs (note this doesn’t count a ton of other RSS feeds I track–I’m talking strictly people I know personally). Thinking about Facebook where you hear of college students have many hundreds of “friends” or more, the notion of week ties versus strong ties makes total sense to me. I always wondered how in the world an average undgrad keeps track of 500 friends. Well, maybe it turns out they don’t. Maybe they effectively bookmark people they meet as someone they might want to get to know later? Hence the higher usage rate.

Pretty much none of my 30 blogs are weak ties. Projecting my own usage onto others of my demographic, perhaps this is why lots of Generation X folks (who are pretty tech savvy) don’t find a lot of the pure social networking plays out there like Facebook particularly intriguing. They’ve already done a lot of work to set up strong relationships with others and don’t really care about generating more.

That said, given I’m a propellor head and track my blogs in an RSS reader, maybe that’s how Facebook and its comrades will start to penetrate non college demographics–by catering to the ability to keep track of strong ties. What that means exactly from a functionality perspective, I’m not sure. It might be as simple as there being a critical mass on a certain network which makes everyone want to join? Or maybe it’s folding blogging functionality more explicitly into apps like Facebook?


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