Super Bowl party game plan: Silence social media, cell phones

West Lafayette, Indiana - Super Bowl promotions and advertisers are likely to try to drive people to social media and websites via their personal devices during the game, but a mass media expert says people might enjoy the party more if they mute their phones and shun social media.

"In the past, when people gathered in a particular place to share a common media experience, it was an opportunity to make face-to-face connections with the people you were with," says Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication who has studied the effect TV and mass media have on how people relate to each other.

"As these experiences have become more fragmented with the audience splitting attention between texting, Twitter, Facebook and other sites, the sense of satisfaction that results from face-to-face interaction could be lost. During the game or event itself, as we increase the number of screens we're attending to, we decrease attention to and interaction with those in our immediate physical environment."

Sparks says he sees this as yet another instance in which people are gradually transforming public spaces that support social interaction into more private virtual spaces where people are in each other's presence physically but remain mentally and emotionally detached.

Sparks says advertisers will be working hard during the game to push people toward social media. But the electronic distractions, especially the idea of following aspects of the game via social media, are interruptions to conversation and face-to-face interaction.

"As TV networks and cable offerings are tailored to specific interests, a major event like the Super Bowl is one of the few remaining large audience events that are so attractive to advertisers," he says. "In general, watching TV discourages face-to-face conversation but over the years, the concept of the Super Bowl party introduced a greater possibility for social connection. But now, as more media screens and social media choices permeate the game environment, it may work against our chance to use the party to reinforce friendships and relationships that matter."

Sparks is co-author of "Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection," which was published in 2002. Sparks and the book's co-author, Will Miller, say that as people move farther away and are more engaged in media, there is a greater void in face-to-face relationships.

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