The Internet has not caused a downturn in socialising, a new study claims.
The study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project rebuts claims that the Internet has made people more isolated. The survey is the first ever that examines the role of the Internet and cell phones in the way that people interact with those in their core social network.
“Contrary to the considerable concern that people’s use of the Internet and cell phones could be tied to the trend towards smaller networks, we find that ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of internet activities are associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks,” the study says.
“Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. For instance, frequent Internet users, and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.
“When we examine people’s full personal network – their strong ties and weak ties – Internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with having a more diverse social network. Again, this flies against the notion that technology pulls people away from social engagement.
“Some have worried that Internet use limits people’s participation in their local communities, but we find that most Internet activities have little or a positive relationship to local activity. For instance, Internet users are as likely as anyone else to visit with their neighbours in person. Cell phone users, those who use the Internet frequently at work, and bloggers are more likely to belong to a local voluntary association, such as a youth group or a charitable organisation.
“Internet use does not pull people away from public places. Rather, it is associated with engagement in places such as parks, cafes, and restaurants, the kinds of locales where research shows that people are likely to encounter a wider array of people and diverse points of view. Indeed, Internet access has become a common component of people’s experiences within many public spaces.
“People’s mobile phone use outpaces their use of landline phones as a primary method of staying in touch with their closest family and friends, but face-to-face contact still trumps all other methods.
“Challenging the assumption that internet use encourages social contact across vast distances, we find that many internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication.”
The survey results were obtained through telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2512 adults living in households in the continental United States.