Being social without leaving your living room
Now the winter nights are drawing in we badgers tend to spend more time in the sett enjoying our multimedia channels. What about you dear readers…do you sofalise* much?
Why bother to go out when you can socialise with the world from your sofa via Facebook and Twitter, and watch TV at the same time?
A survey found that 26% of us now do all our socialising at home.
Michelle, a thirty something from Shoreditch, east Lahndon, cannot remember the last time she watched a television programme all the way through without updating her status on a social networking website at the same time.She has an eye-watering 746 Facebook friends (“more than 1,000 is weird, less than 300 means you’re not using it enough”). The only time she is not online is when she stays with her mother in Scotland — and that is only because there is no iPhone reception in Pennan.
As you may have guessed, Michelle is single. Her last boyfriend thought she spent too much time social networking. We are used to the concept of work widows. Now we have social network widows as well.This is a hazard of sofalising.
As of this week we have the first candidate for next year’s Oxford English Dictionary — “sofalise”: Verb. 1. To socialise with friends and family from the comfort of your sofa via online social networks, usually while watching television. 2. To no longer go out with actual people. Sofa liaise or sofalising
is here and coming to a living room near you.Mich is not as hardcore a sofa-liser as Maria, a thirty-something (again) media consultant who moved from London to Shropshire 10 years ago.
Now that she has two young children, Maria rarely has time to socialise with real people. Instead she sofalises. It is part of her routine: get the kids to bed, get some dinner, “flop down onto a leather sofa
in front of the television with a large glass of wine and power up Facebook and Twitter”.
Evenings are spent in online chat about the latest episode of Downton Abbey, Ugly Betty or, if she can stay awake long enough, Newsnight.
Her husband, a surveyor, hates it but Maria insists it is a great way to stay in touch and have a gossip with the friends who no longer live nearby.
What about the telephone? She is “phone-phobic” since having children. “I have one friend I will answer to after the kids are in bed,” she said. “The rest I’ll ignore. It’s just much easier to stay in touch on the net.” She is a full-on sofa lite.Then there is Kate, who is not a sofaliser at all — “I still have actual friends and I still actually go out” — but who had the misfortune to go on holiday with one. Mobile sofalising is perhaps the most extreme form of the phenomenon.
“Within five minutes of arriving in Egypt she’d updated her Facebook status to say, ‘Mich is in De Nile’,” said Kate, 27.“Everywhere we went, every time we had a few drinks, she would take hundreds of pictures and post them on Facebook right there and then. When I got home people knew more about what we’d got up to than I did.”
What is going on? When did everyone start conducting their entire social lives virtually? And from a sofa? Is this a sign of a technologically advanced, socially enriched cyber-society or is it the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it?Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter of The Social Network, the acclaimed new movie about Facebook, is sceptical about the rise of the virtual world.
“I have a nine-year-old daughter who’s never really known a world without this kind of thing,” he said.“Is it possible that this device that was intended to connect all of us and bring us closer together is doing just the opposite by allowing us to socialise from the solitude of our living rooms? By allowing us to reinvent ourselves as other people? By allowing us to not show any flaws at all? Is this a good thing?”
Certainly we have moved a long way since the first email was sent in 1965. Of course, we all email now. And we are all on the internet and at the end of a mobile phone. But then came the social networks — web 2.0 — offering the ability to “socialise” with large groups of people instantly.Facebook arrived in February 2004. Today one in 14 people worldwide (an estimated 500m of us) is signed up. Many others are on MySpace and Bebo.
Then, in one “brainstorming day” in 2006, Jack Dorsey, a 30-year-old software architect, came up with the idea of sending much shorter text-length messages to groups of people. The micro-blogging site Twitter was born and today an estimated 175m people tweet billions of 140-character messages at each other.Now we have reached a new stage. We have sofalising, the definitive sign that virtual social networks have fully inveigled their way into the fabric of our real social lives. According to a new study, millions of Britons have given up going out, preferring instead to indulge in virtual interaction.
The survey, conducted for an online casino operator, found that 26% of us now do all our socialising at home.It identified no fewer than 11 methods of communication: we were already the European nation most prolific at texting, but sofalisers will also instant message, Skype, live chat, direct message, wall post, status update and, of course, tweet. While watching television, sat on sofas in the living room
On average, Britons spend 4.6 hours a week conversing with friends online compared with six hours spent meeting up in person. Within a few years those figures are expected to be reversed.For a hardcore 3% of the population this is already the case. These extreme sofalisers spend more than 25 hours a week on social networks, gripped, one suspects, by a paranoia that if they are not online they will miss something important.
One in 10 respondents claimed to have missed a real party because the invitations had been sent out virtually.Of course, in this new age of austerity there is much to be said for not going out. Sofalising has arrived just in time for us to convince ourselves that we still have an exciting social life when we can no longer afford to finance one.
It also provides an obvious lifeline to the real world for housebound parents who, it was revealed last week, manage to go out an average of only 15 times in the first five years of parenthood.Whether or not the lifestyle is actually enjoyable is another matter. Should you wish to try it, your key goal is to master dual or triple-screen operation.
At no point should you be only watching television, only social networking or only messaging people on your 3G phone. This is old-fashioned and inefficient.Teenagers have already mastered this multi-tasking (even if a recent survey of American students found that those who had Facebook on while they were revising for exams scored, on average, 20% less than those who did not).
I tried sofalising last week and I can confirm that it takes practice. I have no recollection of the Spooks episode on television. Neither can I recall who I sofalised with or why. I received no text messages or friendly emails.More pressingly, my wife Mrs Badger — who was sitting at the other end of our lovely leather sofa (actually, not virtually) — found my sofalising antisocial. Frankly, I was too busy trying to multi-task on my multimedia platforms to talk to her.
Luddite wives aside, is sofalising a good thing? Is it the only sensible way to stay in touch in an increasingly hectic world?“The appeal is obvious,” said Dr David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist. “We have 168 hours available to us each week but we have 368 hours’ worth of things we must do, need to do, want to do and think we ought to do.
“This is a way of shortcutting what is the time-consuming process of going out and meeting people.“With social networks you can contact a very large number of people very quickly. You can appear to have a very good social life without having to invest much time or effort in it.”
Virtual communication is certainly less fraught with social unease than face-to-face communication. As Lewis said, your sofa is where you feel most safe, so much so that your brain activity changes dramatically when you sit on it. You feel more relaxed.You are more open to suggestion (something television advertisers have long been aware of). “On your sofa you don’t put yourself up for visual inspection. You can be anybody you want,” said Lewis.
This is a way of shortcutting what is the time-consuming process of going out and meeting peopleCompared with a pub full of strangers or a restaurant patrolled by an intimidating sommelier, it is a walk in the park.
Unfortunately, by stripping away everything but text you also lose much of the social experience. Without visual information and without hearing the sound of a person’s voice, about 80% of the emotional content of interaction is gone, according to Lewis. In other words, a text, a tweet or a Facebook update is only one fifth as meaningful as a one-on-one talk.There are other risks associated with sofas, large glasses of wine and virtual socialising with a mass of virtual friends. You can get arrested.
Last week Gareth Compton, a Tory councillor in Birmingham, found police officers at his door after he jokingly suggested on Twitter that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown should be stoned to death for her comments about human rights on a BBC radio programme.On the same day Chris Cairns, the former New Zealand cricket captain, was given the go-ahead to sue for libel about a message posted on Twitter which suggested he had been involved in match-fixing.
This weekend Twitter was aflame with the injustice of the conviction of 27-year-old Paul Chambers for a tweet in which he joked about blowing up an airport.“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week to get your s*** together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” wrote the infuriated accountant, who was promptly convicted
for sending a menacing electronic communication. Chambers lost his job and, last Thursday, his appeal and must now pay a fine of £400 plus legal costs of £2,600.
Sofalisers were incensed. An “I’m Spartacus” campaign was launched on Twitter in which thousands repeated his original “threat”, leaving the authorities with the daunting prospect of arresting half the country for menacing electronic communications.Which would, at the very least, get people up off their sofas.
When Lindsay Lohan checked into the Betty Ford clinic last month, she was not being treated just for her drug and alcohol addictions. She was also dealing with her compulsive tweeting.Social networking is banned at the clinic to allow patients to concentrate on themselves. Lilo has not tweeted since September 27. If she can do it, so can you.