Social media not causing isolation after all

Ronny Kerr · November 4, 2009 · Short URL:

New technologies criticized for alienating people, but they actually foster stronger networks

isolationThough criticism of social media networks may have cooled in the past year, one still sees the occasional religious or political finger wagging at sites like Facebook and Twitter, condemning them for the death of social interaction and the rise of total isolation. Hopefully, a new finding by the Pew Internet & American Life Project will put such theories to rest.

In a new report, "Social Isolation and New Technology," the research center finds that, contrary to those negative perspectives of developing social technologies, people actually benefit from the rise of online social networks like Facebook and Twitter and constant connectedness provided by mobile phones.

Pew looked into the differences in sizes between people's discussion networks, defined as "those with whom people discuss important matters." As it turns out, the size is 12% larger for mobile phone users, 9% larger for users who share photos online, and 9% larger for users of instant messaging applications. The study also found that people who use mobile phones and basic Internet have more diverse "core networks" of close friends, family, and confidantes.

“All the evidence points in one direction,” said Professor Keith Hampton, the lead author of the new Pew report. “People’s social worlds are enhanced by new communication technologies. It is a mistake to believe that Internet use and mobile phones plunge people into a spiral of isolation."

Actually, Pew's survey found that social isolation rates have not changed much since 1985. When it comes to talking about serious matters and important issues in their lives, only 6% of the adult population say they have no one to turn to. Additionally, active Internet users are as active as anybody else with their local friends.

All in all, some of our most basic assumptions about the effects of social media on our real social lives may have been drastically overstated. Social media is not such a bad thing after all.

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