Is it easier to talk to your online buddies than your friends out there in the “real world?” Do you feel like you know more about what’s happening in the lives of your Facebook and MySpace friends than with those who don’t have accounts or don’t bother to update them? According to a recent UK MySpace study of over 16,000 social network users, these sorts of feelings are common among today’s younger generation. The study revealed that a good portion of this group admits to feeling more comfortable sharing and communicating with friends online than they do when logged out of cyberspace.

Online: Sharing is Easier, Friends Know You Better

The MySpace study asked social networking users between the ages of 14 and 21 (aka “Generation Y”) questions about their interactions both on social networks and in their real life, too. Some 36% of the respondents said they found it easier to talk about themselves online than in the real world, leading them to share more about themselves using technology. This group also felt that their online friends knew more about them, and so, in a sense, were closer than offline friends because they all knew what was going on in each other’s lives.

Outside of the social networking sites, the survey respondents overwhelmingly felt ill-at-ease in social groups. A whopping 72% said they felt “left out” and didn’t think they fit into any particular group. More than four-fifths (82%) said they moved between four or more different groups of friends in an effort to find acceptance.

It’s not entirely surprising that the younger generation feels this way. The teen years (and young adulthood to some extent) are a time when kids start exploring and experimenting with many different aspects of their personalities as they attempt to solidify who they are and who they will become as adults. What’s interesting, though, is how social networking is having an impact on this traditional coming-of-age process. Instead of simply feeling disjointed, confused, and lonely, today’s younger generation has an outlet for connecting with their peers which previous generations did not: the internet.

Says Rebekah Horne, MySpace Europe managing director, the study provides insight into how this generation is “using online as a way to explore and settle into their burgeoning identities.”

But at what cost?

Will the younger generations remain awkward and shy in the real world as they age, only finding comfort in their interactions that occur online? Or does having an outlet for their feelings simply lessen the blow delivered by the otherwise often harsh process that is growing up?

In many ways, easy access to technology can be seen as both a blessing and a curse for this young group of digital natives. These days, you’ll often encounter teens having text message conversations or posting status updates while ignoring the very friends they’re present with in the real world. Behavior like this could certainly send a message to the others that they are second priority to whomever else has engaged their friend’s attention. That could easily lead to feelings of being “left out” as reported in this study.

And yet, at the same time, it’s this very technology that’s allowing the teens and young adults to feel like they have friends who know them and care about them.The issue is balancing that online life with the one out in the real world.

The question as to whether this sort of behavior is healthy is one best left to psychologists to analyze and report, but there’s no doubt that at the very least, it is having an impact.

Image credit: flickr user Paulo Fehlauer