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Study Reports on Whether Technology Reduces Social Isolation
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November 06, 2009

Study Reports on Whether Technology Reduces Social Isolation

By Kelly McGuire, TMCnet Editor

While reports that social networking has lowered depression rates in the elderly have raised some eyebrows on the positives of social networking and the use of technology to really tie people in together, it’s still a highly debated topic.

And, with hundreds of daily updates come from friends on Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter, it would seem like a person’s social life is quite intact, and specifically larger than in the past.

Or is it?

According to a new study from the Pew (News - Alert) Internet and American Life Project, 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. 

However, contrary to what many would think, the use of mobile devices and the Internet is not to blame.

“We identified Internet use, and especially using social networks, contributes to having more diverse social networks,” Keith Hampton, lead researcher for the report and an assistant professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

In fact, people who regularly use digital technologies are more social than the average American and more likely to visit parks and cafes, or volunteer for local organizations, according to the study, which was based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,512 adults living in the continental United States.

One interesting study result was that people who use Facebook of Linkedin are 30 percent less like to know their neighbors and 26 percent less likely to provide assistance or friendship to neighbors as well. 

It seems that people would rather be curled up on the couch in the pajamas, updating a Facebook status, than going for a walk with a neighbor down the street.

The General Society Survey from 2007 suggested that the average American was feeling more socially isolated due to the Internet and mobile device usage increase. 

However, in today’s environment, the circle of close friends for mobile phone users tends to be 12 percent larger than for nonusers. People who share online photos or instant messages have 9 percent larger social circles than nonusers.

Pew also confirmed that Americans’ social networks were becoming less diverse, defined as relationships with people from different backgrounds. But on average, the social circles of mobile device and instant-message users were more diverse than those of nonusers.

Kelly McGuire is a TMCnet Web editor, covering CRM and workforce technologies, and anchor of its daily TMC Newsroom video broadcast. Kelly also writes about eco-friendly "green" technologies and smart grids, compiling TMCnet's weekly e-Newsletters on those topics, as well as the cable industry. To read more of Kelly's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Kelly McGuire

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