07 November 2009

Technology: Breeding isolation or interaction?

For several years, cyberspace has been full of articles indicating that technology makes us into social hermits sitting at home in pajamas and losing contact with the outside world, and that the cause is the Internet and cellphones.

Tracing the Tribe has seen cartoons of people physically sitting around a table and communicating via texting on their cellphones, instead of audibly talking to each other.

The New York Times technology column "Bits" has a story by Stefanie Olsen on a new study that shows just the opposite.

Writes Olsen:

Hundreds of daily updates come from friends on Facebook and Twitter, but do people actually feel closer to each other?

It turns out the size of the average American’s social circle is smaller today than 20 years ago, as measured by the number of self-reported confidants in a person’s life. Yet contrary to popular opinion, use of cellphones and the Internet is not to blame, according to a
new study released Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The study interviewed via phone 2,512 adults living in the continental US in July and August 2008 and discovered:

  • Those who regularly use digital technologies are more social than the average American.

  • They are more likely to visit parks and cafes and volunteer for local organizations.

  • Cellphone users' circle of close friends is 12 percent bigger than for nonusers.

  • Those who share online photos or instant messages have social circles 9 percent larger than nonusers.

  • Americans’ social networks are becoming less diverse (fewer people from different backgrounds).

  • Social circles of cellphone and and instant-message users were more diverse than nonusers.

  • Face-to-face communication remained the preferred method.

  • On average, people see loved ones in person 210 days/year, and were in touch via cellphone 195 days/year.

  • Those who use social networks are 30% less likely to know their neighbors and 26% less likely to provide them companionship.

    From the report itself, I pulled these stats:

  • Mobile phone use replaced landline phones as the most frequent form of communication – 195 days per year.

  • Text messaging tied the landline phone as the third most popular contact method between close ties – 125 days/year.

  • 71% of all social networking service members have at least one member of their core network as a “friend” on a social network.

  • Cellphone users, frequent Internet users at work and bloggers are more likely to belong to a local voluntary group, such as a neighborhood association, sports league, youth group, church or social club.

  • Bloggers are 61% more likely to visit a public park than Internet users who do not maintain a blog, or about 2.3 times more likely than non-Internet users.

    I love that last one. I wish I had more time to go to the park! Maybe their parks have Wi-Fi? Mine doesn't.

    The questions asked (see the 97 questions here and the results for each) were supposed to get at the relationship between social isolation in America and use of digital technologies. The study also wanted to change earlier research suggesting that technology caused people to become socially disconnected.

    The 2006 study indicated that people saying they had no one to confide in had almost tripled from 1985-2004, but the new study showed that only 6 percent of the American population felt that way, not a significant change over the past 25 years.

    Read the complete story at the NYT link above, as well as the complete study at that link.
  • 1 comment:

    1. LOL! I'm reading this just after I returned from a walk in the park. I'm an internet user, obviously, but I'm not a blogger. Just my sample of one, though, not enough to come to any statistical conclusions :)