A new study, the Pew Networks and Community Survey, conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, shows that the use of internet technology and mobile phones does not necessarily predict social isolation. In fact, people who use social networking websites, such as Facebook, tend to have larger and more diverse social networks.
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According to the study's author, Keith N. Hampton, Ph.D., "Those with more diverse personal networks have access to more and better information, they tend to be more trusting and more tolerant, and they tend to be physically and mentally healthier." (See Dr. Hampton's blog at http://www.mysocialnetwork.net/)
Below is a list of the study's findings, which are outlined in the executive summary of the report:
"Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. We find that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then.
.....ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of internet activities are associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks. (Discussion networks are 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.
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.
..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, we find some evidence that use of social networking services (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) substitutes for some neighborhood involvement.
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.
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. (Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community Survey)
Source: Social Isolation and New Technology Keith Hampton, Lauren Sessions, Eun Ja Her, Lee Raine 4 November 2009 (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/18--Social-Isolation-and-New-Technology.aspx)