Internet users not isolated, survey suggests

People who use the internet and cellphones are not more isolated than those who don't and, in fact, have larger and more diverse social networks, a new survey suggests.

People who use the internet and cellphones are not more isolated than those who don't and, in fact, have larger and more diverse social networks, a new survey suggests.

The study seems to refute research from earlier in the decade that suggested embracing technology comes at the expense of close personal connections.

The size of people's "discussion networks" — the circle of people with whom people talk about important issues — is 12 per cent larger among people who use cellphones than among those who don't.

The survey also found these networks were nine per cent larger among those who use instant messaging, and nine per cent larger among those who share photos online, than among those who don't use these technologies.

The authors of the study say the results challenge the idea that new technology is socially isolating.

The telephone survey by Pew Internet and American Life Project polled 2,512 Americans in the summer of 2008.

The survey found that social isolation hasn't changed much since 1985. About six per cent of the U.S. adult population say they have no one they talk to about important matters or whom they consider "especially significant."

Americans' discussion networks have shrunk overall by about a third since 1985 — from three people on average to two — and contain fewer people who are not family members.

"There is a tendency by critics to blame technology first when social change occurs," said Keith Hampton of the University of Pennsylvania.

"It turns out that those who use the internet and mobile phones have notable social advantages. People use the technology to stay in touch and share information in ways that keep them socially active and connected to their communities."

The survey also suggested that internet users are as likely as anyone else to visit their neighbours in person, and that cellphone users and bloggers were more likely to belong to local volunteer groups.

The internet is sometimes blamed for people's tendency to stay in their own homes and away from parks, cafés and restaurants, but the survey found the opposite to be true.

However, it also found some indications that social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, are acting as substitutes for neighbourhood involvement for some people.

While the survey found that users of such social tools are 40 per cent more likely to visit a bar than those who don't use the sites, they were 36 per cent less likely to visit a religious institution.

The survey also found that people text close friends and family members as often as they call them on landline telephones, about 125 days out of the year.

With files from The Associated Press