'Refuseniks' Say They'll Pass On Facebook, Twitter

Social networking behemoths Facebook and Twitter may be all the rage, but some are just not buying it. A group of individuals, becoming known as 'Refuseniks', have dared to take a stand against social networking. Washington Post Reporter Ian Shapira talks about an article he recently wrote about the 'Refuseniks'. Also, Natasha Hawkins, one of the anti-social networkers featured in the Shapira's report, explains her angst.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Let's say you haven't heard Evgeny's complaints. You've checked your Facebook feed several times today or Tweeted your latest random thoughts. If so, you're not alone. And if you're under 40, most of your peers with computer access are probably already signed up and reveling in the wonders of social media. Not having a Facebook page has become, well, not cool, not quite normal, like not having a cell phone.

But not everybody is so eager to be so connected. Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira recently wrote about social networking refuseniks. He joins us now in our Washington studio, along with Natasha Hawkins, one of the abstainers featured in the article. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for coming.

Ms. NATASHA HAWKINS: Hello.

Mr. IAN SHAPIRA (Columnist, Washington Post): Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Ian, what made you think about this?

Mr. SHAPIRA: I think it was a combination of my own reporting. Facebook has become so valuable when I look for people. And I used to joke with colleagues in the newsroom that if I couldn't find somebody on Facebook who's part of my beat, the millennial generation, a red flag was raised. In the spirit of what Google might say, there's a lack of transparency or even...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAPIRA: ...a lack of credibility.

MARTIN: Something's wrong, something's very wrong.

Mr. SHAPIRA: We were joking about that. I don't, I don't think Natasha has a lack of credibility. But you get the point.

MARTIN: We're, yeah, we're relieved, though. So, you've got - okay, well, what about these people? And you point out in your piece that the vast majority of people in the millennial generation are social networking aficionados. About 85 percent of all Internet users 18-34 visited Facebook, MySpace or Twitter in August, according to comScore, that's a Reston-based Internet data research company.

You said about 84 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds check social networking sites at least once a week, according to a study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. So, what did you find out about the people who are not feeling it?

Mr. SHAPIRA: I found out that people don't use social networking sites for a lot of reasons. Privacy reasons. They feel like they want to connect with people on a more emotional level, human-to-human level. And I think there is merit and value to that.

MARTIN: And you're not saying that just because Natasha is sitting right here.

Mr. SHAPIRA: I am saying that because Natasha is right here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Natasha, what about you? You belong to a dance company in D.C., you're 28. It would seem like you'd have lots of reasons to participate in these sites; you'd want to let people know about your upcoming performances or things of that sort. So, why are you not interested?

Ms. HAWKINS: I think I'm not - no, I know I'm not interested. I mean, I have a nine to five during the day. I'm on the computer the entire time. And I just don't have the energy or the additional time to log on to the computer, log on to my cell phone. It's a little bit of overkill. Everyone else in my company is on Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. So, if something needs to get posted, that's what they're there for. I just run the company. I'm the smoke and mirrors type. But, no, I'm joking, but...

MARTIN: You just don't have time.

Ms. HAWKINS: I just don't have time.

MARTIN: It's like another layer of something that...

Ms. HAWKINS: One more password to remember outside of work. I just, I don't want...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Do your friends make fun of you because of this?

Ms. HAWKINS: All the time.

MARTIN: Do they think you are so...

Ms. HAWKINS: All the time, they're like, Tasha, what's wrong with you? I'm like, there's nothing wrong with me. I just - it's just not important for me right now.

MARTIN: Why do they want you to be on it?

Ms. HAWKINS: They want me to see, you know, the pictures, they just want me just to be a part and I'm not the one that feels - that has to be a part of something, I just, I know how to reach my friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. And so, Ian, do you think that there might be a counter-trend emerging, where it's more cool to be off the grid?

Mr. SHAPIRA: I think that that has been talked about in the media. I think that most notably, Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times magazine had recently written about this that she noticed in her circle of friends that this was dropping off. That being said, I don't think that's the case. Facebook just announced its 300 millionth user worldwide. It's becoming more valuable in society. You know, social networking sites are being used to combat genocide. They're being used to spread the word about important information. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are actually essential now in the protests in Tehran, for instance. I mean, we had - a State Department official called up Twitter to say please don't go through your scheduled maintenance because this is a way for folks in Tehran to express themselves during the protests. So social networking, I think, is here to stay.

MARTIN: One of the things I am curious about, and Natasha, this totally resonates with me, is the time factor. I wonder: What is it that people are not doing while they're maintaining these social media sites? Because I have to tell you, I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't have people to help me do it because my attitude is I have to get to the grocery store. So I, what are you - do you have any sense of what it is that people are not doing while they're doing this?

Mr. SHAPIRA: They're not spending time with their spouses. They are not spending time with their children. It was interesting. We had - in a Saturday section, we have a free-for-all section, and one of the - normally, these letters are very angry letters about the Washington Post and how we're covering things, but there was one letter that stuck out to me because it was positive, and it said: I was reading the paper online for free, and I started subscribing in the print edition, and he says, I am now spending more time with my wife and my children. And he wrote this really poetic thing that almost made me cry about basically, in general, the less time we spend with the computer screen, maybe the more time we interact with human beings. And I think that gets back to what Natasha is saying, that you do spend more time with people. I know I, for instance, probably spend a little more time on the computer and Facebook and Twitter, and I probably should be talking to my wife. Sorry about that, Caroline(ph).

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, at least you know we're thinking about you.

Mr. SHAPIRA: Yes.

MARTIN: Natasha, final thought? Is there anything that might tempt you back on? I know you did belong to one site briefly, Black Planet, but you've left. Anything might tempt you back on?

Ms. HAWKINS: I don't think there's going to be much unless there's an additional five hours added to my day, which will probably be filled up with other stuff like grocery shopping, cleaning my house, taking care of bills and business. Other than that, I don't think anything is going to tempt me unless it gets to a point where my career changes, where it's necessary for me to be on.

I just want to preface in saying that I think these social networking sites are valuable in certain careers and certain situations. Just for my own personal (unintelligible), I just don't have the time.

MARTIN: You are not feeling it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But that's okay. Washington Post Reporter Ian Shapira recently wrote about what he's calling social networking refuseniks. One of those refuseniks is D.C. resident Natasha Hawkins, who joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studio, as well. Thank you both so much.

Ms. HAWKINS: Thank you.

Mr. SHAPIRA: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: If you want to read the piece we're talking about, we'll have a link on our Web site. Just go to npr.org and click on TELL ME MORE, and of course, I've taken the plunge. You can find me on Facebook. I'll be your friend.

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