Blog Post

Study: Internet use won't cause social isolation

I recently read the article "Study: Internet use won't cause social isolation" at;title. It is interesting because the research indicated that people who used digital media and internet social interactions were more likely to build personal relationships with others in their communities. I have been cautious the increase in social networking because of the fear that it would cause people to distance themselves from interpersonal communication. I recently read the post-apocolyptic novel Oryx and Crake in which people became voyeurs who were distanced from each other through digital technologies. However, this research showed that people often don't rely solely on social networks to interact with others. They are another way for people to communicate and maintain relationships. What are your views on this issue and research?  



This is the pew study that the article references:

The interesting thing about the study is that it claims discussion networks - people's "most important social ties" - have shrunk significantly.


This study presents an interesting thought experiment: what would happen if internet social networking sites didn't exist, but technology otherwise marched along at the same pace? Amazon: yes. Facebook: no. Hulu: Yes. YouTube: No (for the purposes of this thought experiment, lets say anything that allows comments that are not product reviews is social networking). Leaving aside problem cases, lets think about what the world would look like without social networking sites. I think this counter-factual presents some interesting questions:

  • Would be people be more or less connected to people in their physical communities? On one hand, they would not have the opportunity to communicate via SN sites. On the other hand, to what degree do SN sites replace communities without increasing the overall number of connections a person maintains?
  • Would the time people spend using technology be the same? Robert Putnam largely blames television for the decline in social capital, specifically time spent watching television. Would people continue to consume technology at the same rate, or would the time currently spent on Facebook, etc. be used elsewhere?
  • Is this counter-factual plausible? If the rise of the internet has been driven by social networking (and one could include USENET, AOL, and other pre-"social networking" entities as part of the equation), is it possible to imagine a world with an otherwise identical internet except for social networking? If it is not plausible, what alternate realities do make sense and help us think about the contribution (or harm) of social networking sites?

This list of questions is certainly not exhaustive, but I can see many answers that reflect differently on the value of social networking sites. Asking them is the first step.



This is a great discussion.   Let me add another wrinkle.  When I was at the Digital Natives conference in Korea, a group of Australian social scientists mentioned that social networking and crowdsourcing are viewed with suspicion in Australia, a famously gregarious country.  Participation and use of the Internet is as high there as in any industrial nation, but they are notoriously low on the social network and active contribution and crowdsourcing scales.   It's thought that if you want to interact, you go to the pub.   Someone might well read something on the Internet and, if the person is near by, email and invite them out for a beer.   But that is private, not public, and the line matters. 


Of course we know how all face to face interactions are very much determined by cultural forms, norms, and expectations so why wouldn't virtual interactions also be?  I was expecting to find different norms and forms in Korea, but was taken by surprise to hear about them in Australia.