[Air-l] The Strength of Internet Ties

Alex Kuskis alex.kuskis at netscape.ca
Thu Jan 26 08:40:43 PST 2006

And here's the Toronto Globe & Mail's take on this research.........Alex 


Internet doesn't destroy relationships, a new study finds, it strengthens 

Thursday, January 26, 2006 Posted at 5:31 AM EST

>From Thursday's Globe and Mail

 The initial warnings about the Internet's creep into modern lives were 
dire: Communities would crumble because people would be chained to their 
But a new study by Canadian researchers suggests the Web actually expands 
and strengthens relationships.

"The Internet is adding on to community rather than destroying it," said 
Barry Wellman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto who 
co-wrote the report. "There were a huge number of people running around 
saying the sky was falling a few years ago. What we found is the sky isn't 
falling, that life is going on and quite happily."

The study, which was released yesterday, examined Americans' Internet habits 
and found that computer users have larger social networks than non-users. 
And, perhaps surprisingly, people who use e-mail actually have more phone 
and face-to-face contact with their friends, families and associates.

"The current generation of e-mail users is communicating much more often 
than recent generations and possibly more often than any previous generation 
since people huddled in caves with only conversation to pass the nights 
away," says the study, which was funded by the Pew Internet & American Life 

Heavy e-mail users have more than twice as much land-line phone contact 
within their social networks and three times as much cellular phone contact 
than people who do not use e-mail, according to the report.

"E-mail supplements, rather than replaces, the communication people have 
with people who are very close to them -- as well as . . . with those not so 
close," the report says in noting e-mail's key role in maintaining ties 
between acquaintances.

Prof. Wellman, who was asked by the Pew organization to get involved with 
the research, said the conclusions are "highly similar to what we'd find 
with Canadians."

The reason e-mail breeds increased communication, the report suggests, could 
be because, as the old maxim goes, one thing simply leads to another.

For example, an e-mail exchange between colleagues about a complex issue 
might spark a phone call to continue the discussion. Or friends could use 
e-mail to arrange a night at the movies.

"There's an ecology of media and they all fit together," Prof. Wellman said.

E-mail -- which is the Internet's most popular application -- has long been 
extolled for helping far-flung friends and relatives stay in touch because 
it is convenient, inexpensive, unobtrusive and fits seamlessly into busy 
modern lives.

While social networks were once geographically based -- people's lives 
revolved around local friends, neighbours and co-workers -- they are now 
much more dispersed. (The report looked at other Internet applications, 
including instant messaging, weblogs and webcams.)

Take Jeffrey Boase, a University of Toronto doctoral student in sociology 
who also co-wrote the report. Most mornings, Mr. Boase talks to his 
girlfriend in Japan by webcam.

The pair, who met three years ago in Kyoto, were initially friends but their 
romance heated up over e-mail. Their relationship became serious during a 
fall visit and is now sustained by long webcam conversations.

"It's interesting -- we started with e-mail when we didn't know each other 
as well and then the more we got to know each other, we moved to the more 
rich form of communication," he said.

However, the report, which is primarily based on the findings of a telephone 
survey of 2,200 American adults done in February and March of 2004, also 
found the "great bulk of ties" nurtured by the Internet were among people 
living in the same city, Prof. Wellman said.

"That's where our lives are. We still are physical beings, we're not just 
computer bits. We're still atoms, we still have physical needs," he said.

But despite the Internet's deep reach, the survey found that the most common 
mode of communication remains the land-line telephone and personal 

The study also found that Internet users are more likely than non-users to 
get help from their contacts.

As well, nearly one-third of adult Americans said the Internet had played a 
key role in dealing with at least one recent major life decision.

> Folks,
> Here is the press release for our new Pew Report on the intersection of
> social, communication and computer networks.
> Jeff Boase and I deeply thank John Horrigan and Lee Rainie of the Pew
> Internet and American Life project for being such wonderful collaborators.
> Barry
> PS: When next we meet at conference, buy me a latte and we'll talk about
> the interesting life of being in the media spotlight for the short term.
> _____________________________________________________________________
>  Barry Wellman         Professor of Sociology        NetLab Director
>  wellman at chass.utoronto.ca  http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman
>  Centre for Urban & Community Studies          University of Toronto
>  455 Spadina Avenue    Toronto Canada M5S 2G8    fax:+1-416-978-7162
>      To network is to live; to live is to network
> _____________________________________________________________________
> "The Strength of Internet Ties"
> Jeffrey Boase, John Horrigan, Barry Wellman and Lee Rainie
>  Full report at http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/172/report_display.asp
> The internet improves Americans' capacity to maintain their social
> networks and they gain a big payoff when they use the internet to activate
> those networks to solicit help

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