I got my hands on a very interesting report on the well-being of the citizens in my town Åbo (Turku in Finnish) yesterday. I wrote a news piece on it for the paper. (I wonder if the editor would have approved if I blogged about this yesterday? The study is extensive, rather than deep, so I focus on completely other issues here than in the article. And it was all over the radio yesterday, I presume, but still... I have to ask for their policy.)
One area of well-being is social support and the 2286 citizens who got the questionnaire were asked to answer questions on their social network. The same questions have been asked in 1995 and 1999 so a time series has been made.
It turns out that more feel that they have a close friend they can trust. 7 % of the women and 16 % of the men feel they don’t have such a friend, and that’s a decline since 1999. The stereotype of the Finnish man, living alone and being socially deprived, crumbles. A man with a family feels just as alone (16 %) as the single guy.
The researcher, Jarkko Rasinkangas, found that more women than men have this kind of social support. Retired women though have the highest rate of lack in close friends (14 %). Where as students are concerned, there’s an increase in lack of social support among female students (about 2 % in 1999, and 6 % in 2003).
In general, face to face meetings with close friends outside the household have declined somewhat, compared with ten years ago. This is the case, especially for people working and students. The reasons Rasinkangas suggests are
- a hectic life style with difficulties to match a busy work with family
- new means of communication such as mobile phones, e-mail and internet might be a factor that could explain this. It’s possible that the contacts to kin and friends take place to a lesser extent through face to face meetings, and more via phone and internet.
- the privatization of activities. We tend to stay at home and do things at home more often.
But there’s no need to draw negative conclusions out of this, Rasinkangas concludes. “For instance, the spreading of the new means of communication can on the contrary increase social contacts and broaden the social network, even though the face to face meetings have declined.”
This issue never ceases to intrigue me. In my Master’s, I found that the absolute majority of the students questioned meet their friends about as often as before. 7 % said they socialize even more and a couple said they socialize less. I also asked them whether they keep in contact with friends and family more, as much or less now. Most say there’s no change, but about 40 % say they’re more often in contact with friends now. Especially those who use internet and e-communication largely feel they communicate more now.
But the core question is, is this bad? Is it bad that people communicate via mobile phones and instant messaging? It’s a fact that ICT:s affect our lives but is it a negative, unwanted effect? And when internet and instant messaging for example reach more people, will the face to face meetings decrease even more? And how can we know for sure that the e-mailing is causing the decline in sociability? It struck me when reading this study that the students and the people working, that don’t socialize as much as before, are very busy groups of people. Perhaps they don’t have the time, or the force to do so? Many students in Finland have to work extra at nights to get by financially; perhaps this has something to do with it as well? I asked the students in my survey how they felt that the ICT:s have affected their seeing their friends. 1/5 say there’s been a positive effect, 67 % hadn’t noticed any effects, 12 % had noticed both negative and positive effects and a few percent say they’ve had only negative experiences.
I’ve been thinking about the pocketful of persons in my study who claim they don’t meet friends face to face, but they do use e-mail. What’s the cause and effect (as the Merovingian in Matrix said)? And what about those who say they meet their friends to a lesser extent than before? Out of my material, there’s no knowing what is cause and what is effect. I’m convinced that the risk of someone “seeing” their friends only electronically exists and I’m sure this is the case for some. But the human being is a social being, can he or she really put the need of social contact aside? That would be something worth studying!
Anyways, on with Rasinkangas’s study. He had a look at what people do with their spare time and found that culture is high-rated whereas media is not. People watch less TV, read less newspapers and don’t read as many books as they used to. So what do they do? They go out more, to restaurants and the like, and go more often to the theatre and to concerts.
I also posed this question in my study and the results were: 17 % watches less tv, whereas 3 % watch more (and 80 as much), 15 % don’t read the newspaper as much and 15 % reads it more, and 14 % don’t listen to the radio as much, but 12 % do it more. And many were active in going to the movies, playing cards or participating in a union’s activities. Also the heavy users of internet were active.
Studies like Rasinkangas’s interest me as they look to the whole population (or the one aged between 18-75) and they can compare trends over time. Due to lack of economy and time, I “only” did a survey on university students. And it’s like Rasinkangas say, many of them are heavy users because their studies require them to be so.
There’s no copy of his study on the net, so I can’t link to it. But it’s available at the libraries. The name is Hyvinvointi Turussa- turkulaisten hyvinvoinnin muutosten seurantaa vuosina 1995, 1999 ja 2003. Jarkko Rasinkangas, Turun kaupungin sosiaalikeskuksen julkaisu nro 1A/2004.