People lean on social media for human connection

Kayla Renie/The Herald
Jarrod Kearby and his son, Jaxin, 6, pose for a photo in front of their home in Jasper on Saturday. Kearby was inspired to put up some of his Christmas decorations again after seeing others share their displays on Facebook. "With everything that's going on, I hope we can get some smiles out of it," he said.


Jarrod Kearby was online a couple weeks ago when saw that his friends tagged him in a post about people putting up Christmas decorations this month.

Kearby always does elaborate outdoor decorations for the holiday at his Birk Drive home in Jasper.

“They told me I should do it. And I decided why not?” Kearby said. “Let’s get some smiles out of people, just to get their minds off this virus deal going around.”

So now, people strolling in the area can see Christmas lights, inflatables and a laser projector show. He hopes that people will feel some happiness as they look.

“I’ve seen people stop out in front of the house a few times,” he said. “And I posted it on Facebook and everybody got a pretty good laugh out of it.”

The display stays on all the time. And as of now, Kearby is looking to keep the display going until the rules for staying at home and social distancing are relaxed. “At least until things slowly get back to normal,” he said.

In this age of social distancing due to COVID-19, social media is helping to fill in the human need for contact with others.

“Human beings are wired for social connection,” said Glenn Sparks, professor in the Bryan Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. “We’re social creatures. We are wired to be in touch with others. And right now, with our physical contact limited by these stay-home orders and so forth, I think it’s very natural that people are turning to social media and the internet, streaming and so forth.”

Society had already been using social media and the internet to connect with loved ones who live far away. But now, they’re using the platforms to connect with neighbors, family members and friends in their own and nearby communities.

People are using Zoom, FaceTime calls and that sort of thing just to see other people’s faces,” Sparks said. “We’re not supposed to be out socializing in person. But we really are wired to look at other people’s faces.”

Sparks mentioned research done a few years ago at Stanford University about how people communicate feelings.

The research showed that when we are communicating feelings with each other, about 7% of the communication of feeling comes through the words that we say. Thirty-eight percent of feeling is communicated through our voice. Fifty-five percent comes through facial expressions.

“We’re really missing that right now if we can’t be in physical proximity to each other,” Sparks said. “But the internet programs like Zoom and FaceTime are allowing people to get in touch with each other and see other people’s faces. We can really quick get the feeling of the communication just by looking at faces, even in the online environment.”

Through those kinds of programs, people can see loved ones through their webcams as they talk, in live time.

The social aspect of social media seems to be increasing for many. People continue to post videos for others to see. Artists and musicians are holding live concerts from their homes, for those online to see. Even local officials are using live-streaming platforms to conduct business. Since the state mandates have been enacted, officials are starting to use social media programs to hold their regularly scheduled meetings.

Tuesday, the Huntingburg Common Council live-streamed its meeting through the city’s Facebook page. The only people actually in the council room were Mayor Denny Spinner, City Attorney Phil Schneider and Clerk-Treasurer Tom Dippel, and they sat a good distance from each other. Each councilman was on Spinner’s computer screen, using the program WebEx to tune in and talk about city business.

“It was an interesting experience, certainly a new world for us. But I thought overall it went very well,” Spinner said afterward. “The council was all able to participate and understand. This is what we’ve been asked to do by the governor, to try to conduct businesses.”

And people tuned in. Between 35 and 40 people were watching live at any given time, which is more than the handful that actually comes to the meetings. And since the broadcast, more than 500 people have watched the video.

“It’s a great thing to see each other’s faces. See the feelings and hear their voices,” Sparks said. “People are finding that they can use the software to connect and feel closer to each other in a time where we can’t be physically present.”

For the loved ones who aren’t used to social media, Sparks highly recommends using the telephone, which he said is often an overlooked medium.

“A number of people, older people, just haven’t really kept up with technology and find it difficult,” he said. “For them, a phone call is really the way to go because people do have a comforting sense when they can talk to someone. So I really, really recommend that, especially for the older segment of the population that isn’t up to snuff in terms of using the technology.”

Sparks also cautioned against spending all of your time on social media.

“Do not hibernate and spend all of your time using social media,” he said. “I recommend still structuring a variety of activities during this time: finding a book to read or keeping up with the newspaper, sprinkling in some TV time if you have access to movies. Have a variety of activities.

“If we spend too much time in any one activity, there may be a tendency to become bored. And that doesn’t do very much for our mood either.”

Kearby has been mixing it up for himself and his 6-year-old son, Jaxin.

“We went mushroom hunting in the woods. Now we’re out here walking around,” he said. “So long as we’re not cooped up in the house, but can be away from everybody, we can still do our thing. It’s the best weather right now.”

It’s a way to do something, since their original plans for this week were canceled. “Well, me and my boy were supposed to be in Florida this week, if that tells you anything,” he said. “We’re making the best of it though.”

He is glad that they are able to do some activities together.

“It’s terrible that this is happening,” Kearby said. “But at least it’s happening during a season we can get out and walk around the woods more. This happening in winter time would have been horrible.”

Kearby hasn’t seen much of an increase in his online usage. “I’m on it about the same, really,” he said. “Since we’re not working now (he took a voluntary leave from his job at Kimball), I might be on it a little more.”

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