Internet Not So Isolating, Study Finds

A report from Pew Research finds the Internet and information and communication technologies are not isolating influences in American life.

A survey by the Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community found Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. Contrary to the assumption that Internet use encourages social contact across vast distances, the survey found that many Internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication, and 71 percent of all users of social networking services have listed at least one member of their core network of influentials as a "friend" on a social networking service.

The use of social networking services to maintain core networks is highest among 18-22-year-olds. Thirty percent of 18-22-year-olds use a social networking service to maintain contact with 90 percent or more of their core influentials. Moreover, with the exception of those who use social networking services, Internet users are no more or less likely than non-users to know at least some of their neighbors. However, users of social networking services are 30 percent less likely to know at least some neighbors.

The report said contrary to concerns that Internet use leads to withdrawal from public spaces Pew generally found that interest use is associated with engagement in such places. Compared to those who do not use the Internet, Internet users are 42 percent more likely to visit a public park or plaza and 45 percent more likely to visit a coffee shop or caf??«. Bloggers are 61 percent more likely to visit a public park than Internet users who do not maintain a blog, or about 2.3 times more likely than non-internet users. The findings also show that Internet access has become a common component of people's experiences within many public spaces.

The analysis also looked at the many ways that people maintain social networks using communication media. The research center found in-person contact remains the dominant means of communication with core-network members. On average, there is face-to-face contact with each tie on 210 out of 365 days per year. Mobile phone use has replaced the landline telephone as the most frequently mediated form of communication -- 195 days per year, while text messaging has tied the landline telephone as the third most popular means of contact between core ties -- 125 days per year. Sadly, cards and letters are the least frequent means of social contact -- eight letters or cards per year.

Pew found use of newer information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the Internet and mobile phones, is not the social change responsible for the restructuring of Americans' core networks. The report discovered ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of Internet activities were associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks. Larger core discussion networks are associated with owning a cell phone, and use of the Internet for sharing digital photos and instant messaging. On average, the size of core discussion networks is 12 percent larger amongst cell phone users, nine percent larger for those who share photos online and nine percent bigger for those who use instant messaging.