WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — While it is tempting for new college students to stay connected with high school friends through Facebook or email, a communication expert encourages them to take time to mute their phones, close their laptops and meet people the old-fashioned way: face to face.
“College students should take advantage of conversational time around them as they wait for a class, walk around campus or sit outside to eat a snack,” says Glenn Sparks, a Purdue University professor of communication who studies how mass media affect people’s relationships. “Keeping in touch with family and friends back home is important, but it can take students away from interacting with those in their immediate environment.
“It can be tempting, and sometimes easier, to spend free time glancing at Facebook or responding to text messages, but when other people are present, students should turn off their phones and get to know those around them.”
If students don’t make friends or create a support system on campus, they may find themselves alone and isolated, and that could impact their academic performance and overall emotional health, Sparks says.
“The friendships made at college today are more important than ever, because people move around a lot or spend more isolated time watching television even though strong, quality friendships are essential to our well-being,” says Sparks, who has studied the long-term friendships of college graduates. “If students are distracted by relationships through technology, they may be missing a great opportunity to create lifelong bonds that are key to our emotional health.”
Sparks, who is co-author of “Refrigerator Rights,” a book that explores the challenges of forging close relationships in the age of new media, believes technology is one reason that many Americans are lacking close, quality friendships.
Some research on Facebook use shows that the social site can be beneficial in providing people a sense of well-being and staying connected with others, but Sparks says that the technology can cut both ways and that the key is moderation.
“Research also shows that some people who consistently check Facebook or email simply may be looking for an information hit, and this kind of routinized behavior can produce feelings of dissatisfaction and sadness – especially when no new information is forthcoming,” he says.
Video games, instant messaging and television shows also can be distracting and take students away from creating in-person friendships. Sparks also says that when getting to know new people, it’s better to meet them for a meal, go for a walk or just sit and talk instead of messaging on Facebook, watching television or playing video games together.