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Young people’s social interactions: prominently face to face, with friends and family members, and involving little use of mobile phones

Aurelio Fernández, Universidad de Navarra and Universidad de Gante; Charo Sádaba, Universidad de Navarra; Javier García-Manglano, Universidad de Navarra; Marieke Vanden Abeele, Universidad de Gante
Project selected in the Flash call on Technology and Society (FS21-1B)

As human beings, we have a basic need to belong to a group, which leads us to establish interpersonal relationships. These are generated and strengthened through social interactions in everyday life, which all vary, since we interact with different people through a range of channels and for diverse purposes. There is also variation in the effort required for each interaction and the degree to which interactions satisfy that need to belong to a group, commonly studied through the perception of closeness with other people. In this article, we analyse 12,421 social interactions of 257 young adults (aged 18 to 25 years) in Spain, to understand how they interact: with whom, through which medium, how much effort is required, and to what extent each interaction is associated with the perception of high levels of closeness. These data were collected over a four-week period through an innovative methodology that enables phenomena that vary from minute to minute to be analysed via the use of a mobile app.
Key points
  • 1
       There are different types of interactions: the most frequent are those that seek to maintain relationships (54%), followed by those that pursue a practical purpose (34%). Less frequently, there are interactions for strengthening relationships (9%) and, finally, there are negative interactions, which seek to manage difficulties in a relationship (3%).
  • 2
       67% of the social interactions of young Spanish adults are established face to face. Among those technologically mediated, 19% are via texting, 11% via call or videocall, and only 3% via social media.
  • 3
       81% of social interactions are conducted with friends or family members (higher degrees of familiarity), while 16% are with simple acquaintances and only 3% with total strangers.
  • 4
       Social interactions for managing difficulties in a relationship require significantly more effort than other types of interactions.
  • 5
       Showing affection is the interaction that leads to the greatest levels of closeness and that requires the least effort, being the most efficient in the ratio between closeness and effort required.
  • 6
       In 70% of the 8,289 face-to-face interactions recorded, young adults did not use their mobile phone at all; in the case of interactions of higher quality, this percentage rises to 80%.
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In the analysis of the social interactions, special importance is attached to the medium via which they occur. A little over two thirds of the total were face to face: 8,289 interactions from a total of 12,421. Among the mediated interactions, the most frequent media used (19% of the total) were texting apps (WhatsApp, iMessage, etc.). The least frequent interactions were those established through social media, representing only 3% of the total. 

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