In 2006, a popular study by experts at Duke University and the University of Arizona concluded new technologies have been making loners of us since 1985. Earlier this month, this theory was challenged and perhaps debunked. New technologies actually increase our social interactions, not our isolation, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found.
Pew’s deep research came up with a variety of causes and conclusions to support their hypothesis, but in my opinion, here are their most interesting finds:
10. There’s been no significant jump in the number of truly isolated Americans. While the study did support the idea the number of many Americans’ social connections may have gotten smaller and less diverse in the last 30 years, there are two important caveats: First, new technologies actually combat, rather than cause, this trend. Second, roughly the same number – six percent – of the American public is completely isolated from others in 1985 and now.
9. Web users are more likely to seek counsel outside their own family. “Whereas only 45% of Americans discuss important matters with someone who is not a family member, internet users are 55% more likely to have a non-kin discussion partners,” the study reports.
8. Many 18-22-year-olds use social networking to keep in contact with nearly all of their key contacts. Pew found 30 percent of those 18-22 — the age group most likely to use social networks — use those networks to keep in touch with 90 percent or more of their “key influentials.”
7. Internet users like clubs. If you own a cell phone, use the internet at work or blog, you’re more likely to join a voluntary group, on or offline. These can include neighborhood associations, sports leagues, youth groups and social clubs.
6. Technology users have more “core” friends in their discussion networks. “On average, the size of core discussion networks is 12 percent larger amongst cell phone users, 9 percent larger for those who share photos online, and 9 percent bigger for those who use instant messaging,” Pew reported.
5. Web users leave their rooms. Contrary to the iconic image of a lone blogger on a couch sans sunlight in a basement apartment, it turns out internet users are 42 percent more likely to visit a public park or plaza and 45 percent more likely to frequent coffee shops than non-users.
4. Cell phone and web users make better neighbors. Whether or not you own a cell phone or use the internet makes no difference in the amount of time you spend face-to-face with your neighbors, however, 10 percent of internet users supplement their face time with personal emails. When online neighborhood discussion groups are considered, 60 percent of users “know ‘all or most’ of their neighbors,” compared to the average 40 percent.
3. Technology users seek conversation outside their marriage. If you use the internet at all, you’re 38 percent less likely to rely exclusively on a spouse as a discussion confidant, the study found. Use instant messaging? You’re 36 percent less likely than other internet users and 59 percent less likely than non-internet users.
2. Sharing those family vacation photos online might make you more politically open minded. “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,” the study showed.
1. Bloggers have more racially diverse friends. Pew found those who use the internet frequently and especially those who maintain a blog are “much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race.”