According a new survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported in a earlier study. Use of mobile phones and the Internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks.
A 2006 study published in The American Sociological Review argued that over the previous two decades Americans had become more socially isolated. The study found that the size of our discussion networks had declined, as well as the diversity of people with whom we discussed important topics. It also found a decrease in neighborhood ties.
The Pew report points out that in general Americans’ discussion networks have shrunk by about a third since 1985. However, contrary to the considerable concern that people’s use of the internet and cell phones could be tied to the trend towards smaller networks, they found that ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of internet activities are associated with larger and ore diverse core discussion networks. (Discussion networks are considered to be a key measure of people’s most important social ties.)
"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. 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."
There was also concern that internet use would limit participation in local communities, but the report has found that "internet users are as likely as anyone else to visit with their neighbors 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 organization. However, they didn find some evidence that use of social networking services (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) substitutes for some neighborhood involvement.
The Pew report also finds that "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. For instance, of those Americans who have been in a library within the past month, 38% logged on to the internet while they were there, 18% have done so in a café or coffee shop.
Challenging the assumption that internet use encourages social contact across vast distances, the reports finds that many internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication.
Posted by rsk at November 5, 2009 12:30 PM