[Air-l] The Strength of Internet Ties
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
By JILL MAHONEY
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
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
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
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.
> 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.
> 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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