Study: Internet use won't cause social isolation

The Web has been cited for causing individuals to withdraw from society. But a recent Pew study shows that the opposite might be true.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Although technology and the Internet have taken a beating in the past for potentially limiting people's social interaction, a new study from the Pew Research Center has found that the opposite might be true.

According to a Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community survey, which polled 2,512 adults, the dawn of new technology and the Internet has not caused people to withdraw from society. In fact, the study found that "the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then." Pew said that 6 percent of the entire U.S. adult population currently has "no one with whom they can discuss important matters or who they consider to be 'especially significant' in their life."

That said, Pew did find that Americans' "discussion networks"--a measure of people's "most important social ties"--have shrunk "by about a third since 1985" from three people to two. However, Pew found no evidence to suggest that it had anything to do with mobile phones or the Internet. In fact, the organization's study found that mobile-phone use and active Web participation yields "larger and more diverse core discussion networks."

Social media is also helping people expand their social interaction. According to Pew, those who use the Internet frequently "are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race." Users who share photos online are more likely to discuss political topics with someone of a different party, the organization found.

Do you know your neighbor?
Frequent Web users are more likely to communicate with neighbors in person than those who don't use the Web as often, Pew found. In fact, 61 percent of respondents said that they talk to a neighbor at least once per month. The study also found that bloggers are 72 percent "more likely to belong to a local voluntary association" than those who don't blog.

Perhaps most important, Pew found that just because someone is a heavy Web user, that doesn't mean they remove themselves from traditional social activities like visiting a restaurant or hanging out at a bar on a Friday night. According to the study, Web users are "45 percent more likely to visit a cafe, 52 percent more likely to visit a library, 34 percent more likely to visit a fast-food restaurant, 69 percent more likely to visit other restaurants, and 42 percent more likely to visit a public park." Later on, the study reported that social-networking users "are 40 percent more likely to visit a bar, but 36 percent less likely to visit a religious institution."

So, next time your grandmother tells you that the Web is ruining the world, you might want to tell her to check out Pew's study. For more on these figures and many more, click here.