Technology doesn't isolate people: U.S. study

Thu Nov 5, 2009 9:20pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Contrary to popular belief, the Internet and mobile phones are not isolating people but enhancing their social worlds, according to a U.S. survey.

The survey was sparked by a 2006 study by U.S. sociologists who argued technology is advancing a trend seen since 1985 -- Americans becoming more socially isolated, their social networks shrinking, and the diversity of their contacts decreasing.

But the study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, titled "Social Isolation and New Technology," found people's use of mobile phones and the Internet is actually associated with larger and more diverse social networks.

"When we examine people's full personal network... Internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks," the researchers said in a statement.

"Our key findings challenge previous research and commonplace fears about the harmful social impact of new technology."

The telephone survey of 2,512 adults, conducted by Princeton Survey Research International in July and August this year, found that since 1985, the extent of social isolation has hardly changed at all.

It found 6 percent of the adult population has no one with whom to discuss important matters but this figure is largely unchanged since 1985.

The survey, however, did find that people's "discussion networks" have shrunk about a third in the past 25 years and become less diverse as they contain fewer non-family members.

But people who have mobile phones and take part in a variety of Internet activities are associated with larger, more diverse core discussion networks.   Continued...

<p>A Twitter page is displayed on an Apple iPhone in Los Angeles October 13, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>