Social Media’s Negative Influences on Social Interaction

The purpose of this paper is to observe complete strangers and familiar groups of people in a coffee shop setting, and a college setting, and document the use of social media and their interactions with other people. The goal of these observations is to see how much people socially interact with one another, and how much time people seclude themselves through the use of social media. The observer will also record the number of interactions that are created through social media topics, meaning conversations that would not have occurred if social media was not present. It is the prediction of the author that people are less likely to socialize with face to face conversations, and are more likely to spend their time in a social environment using social media and interacting with others online with the use of their social media devices. The data collected will give the reader a better understanding of how society prefers to interact socially in present day, and what percentage of their time do they depend on the use of social media in a social environment.

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Does social media positively or negatively influence social interactions? How is social media used as an external attribution?

Technology has come so far over the last twenty years, and nobody really asked what society was losing, because of all that we gained. With all the interactions occurring in social media, including text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, email, YouTube, etc., do we really communicate in person anymore? Was it that long ago where our culture was dependent on pay phones and had to mail letters to contact other people? Because of the lack of convenience that people had during that time, it was very common to prefer to interact with people face to face. Now we live in a culture that people prefer to write text messages and/or emails, instead of calling someone to avoid talking with them directly. In a span of about ten years, our culture went from wanting cell phones to becoming dependent on cell phones, and having mostly to do with being able to view data (texts, emails, internet browsing), as opposed to calling people. It is because of all these facts that this author wishes to find out if social media is helping us interact socially, or if it actually prevents us from interacting. Another purpose of this research paper is to determine whether social media is used as an external attribution.

External attribution is defined when an event is caused by an outside factor (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005), or in this case, social media. In this study, we will find out if the event that occurs due to social media use is face to face interactions, the extended use of additional social media, or no interactions at all. It is believed that behavior results from personal and environmental, or social influences. In this study, we will find out if social media being present will cause conversation to take place between groups of people that know each other, as well as complete strangers. What also will be recorded is whether the use of social media will result in social media interactions, as opposed to face to face interactions. An example of this would be if a person using social media on their tablet saw a YouTube video, and due to how funny they found the video, they then proceeded to text friends or post information on Facebook and/or Twitter about the video. This study will take place in two different locations, the first place being a Starbucks coffee shop in Coalinga, CA, while the second place will be West Hills Community College in Coalinga, CA. The setting’s benefits and weaknesses will be discussed later in this research assignment. The purpose of this location is to record the actions and uses of social media with complete strangers, as well as groups of people that know each other.

By monitoring the interactions of people in a coffee shop, the author is able to see how much time that people rely on social media in a half hour setting. The coffee shop is used primarily as a place to study, interact in groups, read the newspaper, or to simply drink coffee. As opposed to a restaurant, where it is a more social atmosphere and it may be considered rude by patrons for people in their group to use their cell phones, tablets, and laptops. By observing the use of social media and social interactions at a college, we can see how similar or different the results are in a school setting. This case study will apply to the purposes of social psychology, as social psychology is defined as how people influence one another (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). The twist that will appear in the research to follow is how not only people influence other people, but how their use of social media influences other people and their interactions with other people. It is the author’s hypothesis that the use of social media, although very useful at times, is devastating to normal face to face interaction. We are reminded of those people walking down the sidewalks with their heads buried into their cell phones, causing them to run into other people and obstacles on the sidewalk. The author also believes that this research will find that most, or all interactions that do exist, will occur through the use of social media instead of normal conversations.

The two different locations where this study will be held will be at a Starbucks coffee shop and a community college, both of which are located in Coalinga, CA. These locations were both chosen because they offer the author the best chance for naturalistic observation, or nonparticipant observation. Nonparticipant observation is defined as an observation made by a researcher that allows them to remain separate from the event being monitored, so they do not have to worry about affecting the results of their observations (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). Since this study deals with monitoring other people’s use of social media and its influence on their social interactions, it is necessary to remain distant from the participants so they are unaware they are being observed, so that the data collected is more accurate. Different from participant observation, where the observer interacts with the participants being monitored, nonparticipant observation allows the observer the best chance to get realistic data. When people know they are being observed, they tend to act differently, and in the case of this study, they may hesitate from interacting socially and/or using social media as much as they normally would.

The first observation will take place in the only coffee shop in the town of Coalinga, CA. This is relevant, as Coalinga is a small college town, so the chances of observing college students and adults interacting and/or using social media are high. The second observation will take place outside in the quad at the local community college in Coalinga, CA. The target audience for this observation period will be students who are getting out of class, or who are sitting around killing time until their next class begins. Both settings target a younger audience, which will heighten the chances of observing social media use, since social media is used more by young adults than older adults (Skues, Williams & Wise, 2012). The goal of these two locations is to give the author the best chance to see the most use of social media, and how its use affects social interactions between the users and the people around them, all in a thirty minute time period.

Location Advantages.
The advantages of observations made in a coffee shop and a college setting are that it allows the author to target a younger audience, which should generate observations of social media use and its affect on social interactions. When people go to coffee shops, they stay there to interact with other people, to study, or to hang out and spend time using social media. This is why most coffee shops have free Wi-Fi now, to encourage people to stay and drink more coffee while they interact socially or use social media. Another benefit of observing interactions and social media use in a coffee shop is that we find a large number of groups coming in together, as well as complete strangers placed next to each other. This study’s purpose is to monitor the social media use and social interactions of complete strangers, as well as people that know each other. In the group setting, we can see if everyone in the group uses social media, and whether they let their findings on social media to spark up conversation topics. With individuals, we can see how much they use social media and whether their use prevents them from trying to interact socially with complete strangers, or encourages them to start conversations with complete strangers.

At the college setting, it gives the author similar surroundings to a coffee shop, in that it is a social environment, since most students hang out with their friends before and after class. A common occurrence at school is to see students doing homework, socializing with friends, or using social media before class since it usually is not allowed during class. Some students may even use social media to help with their homework assignments. While observing the college, the author will get the chance to see groups of people interacting, as well as students hanging out by themselves, which makes it similar to the coffee shop environment.

Location Disadvantages.
One disadvantage that may occur at the coffee shop is that the observer cannot control how many people come in during the thirty minute observation period, thus making it an uncontrolled environment. The hope is that, since the small town only has one coffee shop, it will be a popular place for people to go interact and use social media. If the author chooses to go on a slow day for business, the observations will be limited. This will obviously be affected by the time that the author chooses to go observe. To avoid any issues, the observer will do this observation on a weekend morning, in hopes of avoiding work and school hours. Another disadvantage of a coffee shop is that it has a similar environment to a library, since so many people are present, people can avoid interactions to keep the place quiet for everyone to enjoy their experience. The fact that people are ordering drinks at the front counter and there is quite a bit of noise coming from the workers and coffee machines, the chances of it being quiet are small.

One disadvantage of the college setting is the fact that the observation will be made outside, and weather can affect the number of students being present outside. The fact that Coalinga is a very warm area, the chances of it being cold in the mid-afternoon are small, so this should not be a huge issue. The other disadvantage of the college setting is, like the coffee shop, it is an uncontrolled environment, so the observer cannot control the number of students present at the time of observation. To prevent any issues here, the observer will choose a time around lunch, where most classes are on break from the hours of 12:00pm- 1:00pm.

How social psychology considers social media in this environment.
Since social psychology is defined as people’s behaviors influenced by others (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005), this case study is specifically targeting how people interact around one another. The external factor in this study is that we are also monitoring the use of social media, and how it affects how people interact with each other. According to Gross (2009), in 2000, 34% of our population used cell phones, which increased to 84% in 2009. This is clear evidence that today’s generation is becoming dependant on cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other social media devices. Knowing this, and reading what Marche researched (2012), people are using social media more than ever. The problem lies in the fact that people using social media could be a result of people feeling lonely, and through the use of social media, they feel connected to something or someone.

According to Marche, people are lonely as ever because “Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect. (2012)” What Marche means by this is in the past, people had the chance to disconnect from everything and everyone, especially when things were not going so well. Now society never disconnects, because everything is a click away. The more people use social media, the less interaction they have with other people face to face, thus creating a state of loneliness.

This study fits the purposes of social psychology because it will monitor how people’s actions and interactions are affected by the people that surround them, as well as the social media that is present around them. The observer will see how much conversation is started without the use of social media, and compare it to conversation started through topics of social media. Will people by themselves have the confidence to approach people they do not know to have a conversation? If so, will it be a result of the person being outgoing or the result of social media sparking a conversation? The observer will see groups and how they interact with one another, and how much of it depends on social media. Will the interactions between groups be different between those of strangers, in regards to social media use? These are all questions that the author will target throughout his research and observations.

Research Methods.
To conduct this research, the author first went to a Starbucks coffee shop on a Sunday morning at ten o’clock in the morning. The coffee shop is located in Coalinga, California. The reason this time was chosen was because it is a college town, so a weekday morning would most likely be slow, and most people have work off on weekends. The goal was to try and observe the most crowded time possible, in order to get the most accurate results throughout the observation. Though the research was done in a very small town, the Starbucks coffee shop still attracts a lot of business on weekends. Since this study was to be done with naturalistic observation methods, the author chose to get a seat in the far corner of the coffee shop, so that he could avoid people being aware of his presence and monitoring. By not letting the participants know that they were being monitored, the author felt that the data collected would be a more accurate portrayal of how they normally would interact socially, and how much those interactions were affected by the use of social media. Due to participant’s change of behavior when they are aware of their actions being recorded, the naturalistic observation method can be an effective way to get the most accurate results when monitoring people’s actions (Rosas, 2006).

The second setting for data collection was done at West Hills Community College, located in Coalinga, California. Although this is a smaller college, there are still plenty of classrooms that are all located outside, which allowed the author the chance to sit nearby a classroom door and monitor the students waiting to go into class, as well as the students just getting out of class. The author chose to use natural observations when monitoring these students throughout the case study at the college. The observations also focused on the teachers that walked around campus, and their interactions with other teachers and students. Similar to the observations made at the coffee shop, these were done at the school by the author staying out of the way of those who were being monitored. The author was able to find a table across from the classroom, where many students gathered together while they waited to go into class. These were the two settings in which the research for this study were done by the author.

Ethical Challenges.

Since naturalistic observations are defined as those made by a researcher who neither changes the environment in any way, nor creates their own desired environment (Capella, 2013), the only challenge presented to the author in this study was not being found to be monitoring by the people who he was observing. Since the coffee shop is a smaller venue, it was difficult to not stick out while observing the actions of people so close to the author. At the school, it was much easier to blend in as the author was outside and could put sunglasses on, so people could not see his eyes. As mentioned earlier, the study results could only be found accurate if the author did not intervene with the participants, since this is the only way to view the participants in their natural habitat (Capella, 2013). The only way this study was found to be ethical was if it was done without intervening with the participants. This also included not using personal information from the participants, so none of the documented results could be connected to people who were unaware they were being monitored. Since none of these issues were breached, the research done was ethical.

Research Analysis.

The author made naturalistic observations at two individual settings, each for a twenty minute period of time. The first observation was done at the Starbucks in Coalinga, California, on January 26, 2014. The second observation was done at West Hills Community College in Coalinga, California, on February 4, 2014. In the twenty minute observation period at the local Starbucks, the researcher witnessed three groups of people come into the coffee shop together and eight individuals, three of whom were already present before the researcher got to the coffee shop. In the twenty minute observation period at the college, the researcher saw one group of 6 students, one group of three teachers, and two individuals all outside a classroom door.


The first group witnessed at the Starbucks was a group of three women, two in their early fifties, and one who appeared to be a college student. The women came in and interacted with each other while waiting in line, and then grabbed a table once their order was ready. The younger girl checked her phone three different times while in line with the two older ladies, and appeared to be texting back and forth. This usage brought up some communication with one of the older women, who appeared to be the mother of the younger girl. The “mother” asked who she was texting, and then asked how the friend who the younger girl was texting was doing. Once they sat down, the younger girl texted on her phone only a few times, as the time spent at the table between the ladies dealt with interacting about the young girl’s impression of the town of Coalinga. At no point during their ten minute sit down did any of the women interact with any other people that were in the coffee shop, as they stayed completely in group. The author noted that the younger girl appeared more interested in what texts she was getting on her phone than what the two older women were talking about, but she refrained from using it too much.

In the second group, which came a few minutes after the first group, there were four college students (2 girls and 2 guys). They all had their backpacks with them, and one guy had a tablet while the other had a laptop. It was evident that they had been to this coffee shop before, as they all started up a conversation with two of the young workers at the counter, who appeared to be classmates of theirs. Once they grabbed a table, they began discussing a class project that they had in their health class. The guy with the tablet used his social media device to research certain health topics that were presented to him by both girls in the group. The second guy with the laptop was responsible for writing down their research findings, as all four discussed the topics and what was found through their research. At no point through their discussions did they interact with anyone outside their group, as they seemed focus on completing their research only. They still remained there at the coffee shop after the author left the coffee shop fifteen minutes later.

The third group of people consisted of two females, one in her late twenties and the other being a college student, and one male in his mid-thirties. The older woman and male both worked at this Starbucks, and it was evident that they held a managerial position. The younger college student female was applying for a job at this particular Starbucks. The younger female had a resume with her, and had to fill out an application while sitting down in the group. The older male was asking the applicant questions about her completed application, while the older female was documenting some of the responses on her tablet. It appeared that the two managers were using the tablet to input important information about the applicant. There were some outside interactions, as some of the other employees were invited over to the table and introduced to the applicant. This meeting lasted about ten minutes, and then the applicant left the shop while the two managers went back into the office in the back.

At the college, the first group that was seen was a group of six students (five guys and one girl). It was clear that this group was waiting for their next class to begin and was killing time before the class started. Although nobody from this group had a tablet or laptop, all six had cell phones and used them almost the entire time. The female was on a phone call, while the guys were all checking out videos and music on YouTube. All the conversations between the guys were related to their findings on their phones, and once the girl got off her phone, she was invited over to see a funny video that the guys had found. At one point, two individuals passed by this group at separate times, but no interactions were made between the group and the individuals.

The final group seen at the college was a group of three mid-forties females who are teachers at the college. One of the ladies had her laptop open, while the other two were talking about creating new student learning outcomes for their particular fields. At no point did the teachers even look over to the group of students that was two tables away from them, as they seemed focus on completing their research before their next class. Although only one of the females was using the laptop, all three were conversing about the student learning outcomes and making suggestions to what was documented on the laptop.


There were eight different individuals present at the coffee shop during the twenty minute observation period. Five of the eight individuals sat down at a table, while the other three got their coffees to go. The three individuals who got their coffee to go all only interacted with the workers at the counter, and none of them used a social media device or interacted with other people. One of the five that chose to stay at the coffee shop was a college female, and she sat at a table with headphones on while viewing her tablet. She appeared to be watching a movie, as she did not speak the entire time she sat down. Another of the five (mid-forties male) had a copy of the newspaper and proceeded to drink his coffee while reading the Sports section of the newspaper for ten minutes, before he left the shop. The third individual was another college student female who sat down at a table with her coffee and made a four minute phone call to a friend. Once the phone call was over, she grabbed her coffee and left the coffee shop.

The fourth individual was a mid-thirties female who brought a book with her, as she sat in the quiet corner of the shop while reading her book and drinking her coffee. She did not interact with anyone while the observation took place. The final individual was a mid-twenties male, who brought his laptop with him. Once he sat down, he put earphones in and appeared to face-time someone on his laptop, as he was speaking into the microphone on his computer. This conversation was about ten minutes, and prevented any outside interactions with this person with anyone else at the shop. One thing noted by the author was that the people around this last individual did notice that he was speaking rather loudly in a public place, and it was evident that some conversations came up about the man being rude. At no point did anyone approach the man, as they just whispered about it at their individual tables.

In the college setting, there were only two individuals present during the twenty minute observation, and they walked by the classroom that was being monitored at separate times. Both individuals were male and both were walking to their next class while using their phones. The first was using his phone to make a phone call, but because he was in the area for only thirty seconds, the contents of the phone conversation were unclear. The second male was typing on his phone the entire time he was walking to his next class, so it appeared that he was texting. The student did not raise his head one time as he was walking, which caused him to walk very slowly and it appeared that he was using his peripheral vision to make sure he did not run into anything during his walk to his next class. Neither one of these individuals interacted socially to any of the groups present as they walked by.

Research Analysis’ Relationship to Social Media Statisitics.

The research collected through the two observations shows that younger and older participants all were likely to use some form of social media device. About 50% of all social media users in this study used their social media devices to communicate with others through texting and phone calls, while the other 50% used their social media devices to document information and view videos online. According to research done by Baker (2012) just with regards to social media use for videos, YouTube gets 4 billion page views per day all over the world. The average person spends fifteen minutes per day on YouTube streaming video, and every day, over 800,000 videos are uploaded onto YouTube. 35% of all YouTube viewers are between the ages of 18-34 (Baker, 2012). In another study done by Baker (2012), she writes how there are one million new Twitter accounts created every day, which is equivalent to eleven accounts created per second, and over 100 million active Twitter users globally today. According to research done by Gibson (2013), over 97% of all people own cell phones, and 56% of those cell phones owned are “smart-phones”, which have the potential to retrieve email and browse the internet. She also states that within the ages of 18-29, 80% of that age group own a smart-phone. With all this said, it is clear that today’s majority culture is dependent on cell phones. Throughout this study, the author saw a majority of participants using some form of social media device, which agrees with other research on social media usage.

What was unclear throughout this study is how much social media usage affects our interactions with others socially. Even though some people use their social media devices to interact with others online, does social media limit our ability to communicate with others face to face. During this study, we saw that people that were involved in a group setting still interacted with one another, whether the conversations were dependent on social media or not. We also saw that individuals by themselves did not go out of their way to converse with complete strangers, unless it was to buy a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, this does not prove if social media is the cause of less face to face interactions, because these participants may have just kept to themselves on that particular day. Although it may appear that people today are less likely to interact socially, especially with people they do not know, it is impossible to prove that based on two observation periods.

Research Summary.

So what has this research study shown us? The one definite that was shown is that people were hesitant to approach people they did not know, unless it was to order something from the front counter at Starbucks. While this does not prove that people today are less likely to interact with complete strangers, it shows proof that people in a public setting are not going out of their way to interact with other people they do not know. What is interesting is that through social media usage (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), people today are more likely to engage in conversations with complete strangers than they are in face to face settings (Diaz, Evans & Gallagher, 2011). What is it about social media that allows people today to be more open to converse with people they do not know, rather than doing it in a public setting in person? Diaz, Evans & Gallagher believe that because people do not have to face the person they are speaking with, thus not having to deal with embarrassment if what they say is found to be unpopular, people are more likely to be outgoing when it will not affect them negatively in a social manner (2011).

Another fact that was proven in this study is that social media can provoke interactions with other people, even though those witnessed in this study were not how the author thought they would occur. In this study at the Starbucks, a man sat at a table and spoke to another person on his social media device in a public place. Because of how loud he was, other people that did not know the man began talking about how rude the man was to act like he was in his living room and not respect the other people surrounding him. The author was hoping to find people that would find something of interest on a social media device and show other people they did not know, sparking an interaction between two strangers. Though this did not happen, one person’s social media use did spark an interaction between another group of people which would not have occurred had the man not done what he had done. This proves to the reader that social media usage can promote interactions between people that would not have occurred had people not used social media.

Study Implications.

New Trends.
Though this study does not prove anything, as it is a small sample size of the world’s social media usage and their interactions, it does agree with the author’s hypothesis that people today rely less on face to face interactions and more with interactions made through social media. According to Diaz, Evans & Gallagher (2011), there are several advantages and disadvantages of using social media to interact. Young adults that are shy may gain confidence to interact more, first by using social media to interact and develop confidence. Social media also encourages people to apply more thought into their interactions, as they have more time to think about what will be said. This differs from face to face interactions, as people are put on the spot and sometimes cannot have sufficient time to think about the best thing to say in a particular moment. Some of the disadvantages mentioned by Diaz, Evans & Gallagher (2011) are that social media is so widespread, that any conversation can be seen by millions of people, rather than a face to face conversation that is only seen by those present. Social media also leads people to multi-task, which leads to a lack of attention applied to one individual topic. Multi-tasking also leads to spending too much time on social media, and not enough time studying and developing the brain.

New Responses to Influences of Social Media.

Does our society even have negative responses to the influences of social media? It seems that everyone is so involved with how cool technology is, and what new social media devices are coming out, there is not a lot of talk about the negative influences of social media. Is social media a more negative or positive influence on our culture? This question cannot be answered with a study like this, as many studies have been done to observe people’s usage of media, and everyone handles their usage differently. Some people may be consumed with social media, and all that comes with it, to where they separate themselves from the non-interactive world. Some people may be able to contain their usage, while using their social media use to improve their face to face interactions with regular people. The author’s feelings on this topic is that due to the data collected in this case study, people did not go out of their way to interact with people they did not know.

Whereas twenty years ago, people by themselves in a coffee shop may have been more likely to try and interact with strangers because they did not have social media to occupy their time. This is not to say that people twenty years ago did not go to coffee shops to read the paper or their book in private. The data collected in this study also shows proof that the percentages of people using social media and smart phones found in recent research studies are pretty accurate, as a high percentage of the people that were observed had some of sort of social media device. Recent research also showed that phones today are more likely to be used for texting, emailing, and web browsing, rather than talking on the phone (Duggan, 2013). This research was proven to be accurate in this observational study as well, as one person at the school was using their phone to talk, while everyone else was using their phones to browse, text, or email.

Further Areas of Research.

So even though this topic has been researched many times by different researchers, are there any areas that may have not been covered to try and come up with a more definitive answer to if social media usage affects our social interactions? The problem presented with all research is that every person is different, and how they are affected by social media will be different in each individual situation. The author believes that all that can be accomplished by completing further research is to add more proof to a topic that has not been proved to be 100% accurate. Even with more research leading readers to believe that social media is affecting our culture negatively, the only way that we can prove that is if one day people stop talking to other people completely and interaction is done ONLY through the use of social media. Then we can say that social media is definitely the reason that people do not interact socially face to face. One other area that can be further researched is to find out the relationship between social media use and feelings of depression. It would be interesting to see how depression is related to the loneliness that comes with secluding oneself with only interacting through social media.


It was the goal of the author to see how the use of social media affected our social interactions in today’s society. Another focus of this study was to see how interactions that do take place are a result of social media usage. Given the data collected in these two case studies, the research findings do support prior research that social media usage is taking over as the primary means of communicating. Each individual person is different, in that some may rely more on social media to communicate than others based on their personalities, but the data found by the author does support this theory and shows the reader that people are growing less accustomed to communicating face to face with others. While it is said that communicating through social media can expand our abilities to communicate in person (Diaz et al, 2011), it can also be said that social media is preventing our society from socially interacting in person.

What this author has found is that there will always be two different sides to this argument, as some will feel that the benefits of social media use will always outnumber the negative effects, while others feel that no matter how advanced social media is, the fact that it may prevent people today from having face to face interactions is a serious issue. The reader has to believe that social media will only increase the more advanced devices become, which may lead some to think that social interaction will keep diminishing. The best thing that people can do as parents is to somehow regulate their children’s usage of social media, with regards to how much time is spent on their social media devices and what content is being viewed. By doing this, parents can still allow their children to interact socially and continue to develop their communication skills by not solely relying on social media to interact socially (Diaz et al, 2011).

Whether social media usage is regulated or not, it is apparent that social media is here to stay. It is up to parents and teachers to try and incorporate other methods of interacting with their children so that they receive all the benefits that can come from interacting face to face. The conclusion of this study is, although research may support the fact that social media usage can affect social interactions, it will be very difficult to prove 100% because of different people’s reasons for choosing whether to interact socially face to face or through social online networks.


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