Internet's toll on social life? No cause for worry (UCLA study) : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

I post this for the benefit of GICC's posters and readers, whose friends and families may be misinformed about the impact of the Internet on our social, mental and emotional health!

Internet's Toll on Social Life? No Cause for Worry, Study Says

Research: A UCLA survey contradicts reports that the medium causes isolation and erodes human contact. By GREG MILLER, ASHLEY DUNN, Times Staff Writers

A sweeping study of the Internet released Wednesday paints a strikingly new portrait of Net users -- not as members of an increasingly lonely and lethargic breed, but as vibrant socialites who engage with friends and family, devote more time to civic activities and even exercise more than non-Internet users.

The study, published by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, addresses one of the fiercest and most fundamental debates of the Internet Age: To what extent does time online come at the expense of human interaction?

The UCLA study is the first of its kind to argue that such social costs are so far negligible or nonexistent, a finding that contradicts some earlier research.

A controversial Stanford University study released in February, for example, asserted that the Internet is causing widespread social isolation and eroding human contact among family members and friends.

Similarly, a 1998 Carnegie Mellon University study found higher levels of depression and loneliness among those who went online only a few hours a week.

Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA study, said such thinking now appears to be wrongheaded. Internet use "is not coming at the expense of social life," he said. "These are not lonely, alienated people."

Robert Kraut, author of the Carnegie Mellon research, said the two studies may not be as contradictory as they seem, but simply a reflection of the fast evolution of the Internet and its growing acceptance as the town square of the future.

Kraut, who did not review Cole's full study, started surveying Internet users in 1995 when the online population was barely a fraction of today's total. Since then, the Internet has grown into a global medium for games, chat sessions, online purchases and romance.

"The Internet is not the same place it used to be," Kraut said. "The Internet has changed and the social environment has changed with it."

The 50-page UCLA report is the first installment of an unprecedented research project designed to track the Internet's year-to-year influence in thousands of U.S. Households -- including those without Internet access -- over at least the next decade. Cole, a leading expert on the influence of television, said social scientists have long lamented the lack of research on that medium as it became widespread in the 1940s and '50s. The aim of the UCLA Internet study, he said, is to avoid repeating that mistake with a medium that is spreading into the home at a faster rate than electricity, telephones or television did.

The study, based on a survey of 2,096 American households, seeks to measure such things as how many residences have Internet access, attitudes about privacy issues and patterns of online stock trading.

The study found two-thirds of respondents had access to the Internet, including 47% who had online access from home, and that Internet users spend an average of 9.42 hours per week online.

There was some evidence that the rush online may be slowing. Among nonusers, 59% said they are not likely to acquire access to the Internet in the next year, and one-third of nonusers said they are simply "not interested" in gaining access.

Although it is often assumed that the Internet is supplanting other media, the study found that Internet users are more likely to read books and newspapers and listen to the radio or talk on the phone than nonusers.

If any medium is losing ground, it appears to be television. Internet users and nonusers spend about the same amount of time reading books and newspapers, but Internet users watch about 4.6 hours less television per week than nonusers.

The finding likely to foster the greatest debate is Cole's contention that Internet use is not compromising real-life social contacts, a sacrifice that is regarded as inescapable by some researchers.

When Stanford's study was released in February, its principal author, political scientist Norman Nie, said that the Internet was leaving more people "home, alone and anonymous." When you spend time online, he lamented, "you don't hear a human voice and you never get a hug."

The study and Nie's expressions of dismay were widely criticized among Internet aficionados, who have long contended that the technology actually helps foster relationships, encouraging people to expand their social circles, not abandon them.

A spokeswoman for Nie at Stanford said he had not yet read the UCLA study and would decline comment until he could examine it.

Kraut, the Carnegie Mellon social psychologist who wrote the 1998 study of Internet users, said the Internet has become a vastly more social place as more people have poured online. In his study, he based his finding on surveys conducted from 1995 to 1997.

"In 1995, if you wanted to talk to a friend on the Internet, they probably weren't online," he said. Today, services like instant messaging, Internet games and wireless e-mail have created an environment where it is sometimes difficult to avoid social interaction on the Net.

Kraut has continued his study and is expected to publish new findings this year based on surveys conducted from 1998 to 1999.

He said that study found the Internet had a more positive impact on people than in his first study, although he cautioned that more time online still results in less time spent with immediate family members.

"People report feeling less lonely now as they spend more time online," Kraut said. "They have more pleasant emotions now, which wasn't the case in the past."

The UCLA study depicts a population of Internet users convinced that the medium is not exacting a toll on their relationships, is not monopolizing their spouses' attention, and is not eating into their children's play time with friends.

When estimating how many hours per week they spend with other household members, the study found that Internet users reported a lower number, 27, than nonusers, 30.8. But Cole said that discrepancy was not significant, and was outweighed by other evidence collected that showed no retreat from a healthy social life. Compared with nonusers, Internet users spent an identical amount of time socializing with friends, slightly more time participating in clubs and other organizations, and an additional half an hour a week exercising.

In fact, the vast majority of Internet users, 92%, insisted they are either spending as much time or more with others in their households than before they were using the Net. Gregory Stock, director of UCLA's program on Science, Technology and Society, said that, as Internet use becomes the norm in society, the current social debate could actually be turned on its ear.

There are so many people online and so many activities connected to the Internet that "if you're not connected now, you might feel more socially isolated and disconnected these days," he said.


Full study: Study:

-- Jan Nickerson (, October 27, 2000


And in a related development:

INTERNET addicts are being given the
chance to break their cyber habits at
Europe's first specialist clinic.

The psychiatric unit - at a university in
Munich, Germany - is attended mostly by men
who complain of losing their interest in sex
and sociability.

Dr Oliver Seemann - who gives counselling for
free - said he helped people to "get back to

Daily Record

Personally, 2000 has been the most party filled
fun year of my life. Plenty of sex, drugs and
rock 'n roll.

-- spider (, October 27, 2000.

A friend had always said that computers are the newest form of birth control. :))) The more computers you have the less children you'll have.

Just food for thought.

Have the best weekend possible.

Hey, don't you tell me what to do! :}

-- (, October 27, 2000.

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