Study finds technology has not isolated those in the US ... yet
Published: Friday, November 6, 2009
Updated: Friday, November 6, 2009 01:11
Congratulations, students – it turns out we're not as socially awkward as we once thought.
A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found usage of the Internet constituted behaviors associated with a large social group, rather than a small one.
A previous study conducted by sociologists in 2006 stated technology had made people more socially isolated than ever before, devoting more times to endeavors on computers, cell phones and gaming devices.
So while you've spent the last three years wondering whether or not you would ever regain actual social contact, you have actually been part of a burgeoning network of communications all along.
Feel better yet?
"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 to Reuters.
A telephone survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research International in July and August this year found social isolation hadn't changed in almost 25 years.
Using Facebook, MySpace and instant messaging systems like AOL are apparently all part of what is now considered standard communication.
But even that substitutes for some neighborhood involvement, the study said.
I can't even remember the last time I spoke with my neighbors nor what it was about.
The study also found "discussion networks" – groups of people available to talk with one another on certain issues – shrunk "about a third in the past 25 years and became less diverse," Reuters reported.
Nowadays, cell phones are a common-enough commodity that a new generation is being born into an era without landlines.
It's not uncommon to see young teenagers with cell phones at malls.
I can recall, even five years ago, seeing elementary school students on my final bus ride texting their friends.
It's easy to think that such technology would isolate us. You don't see anyone when you're making a phone call, sending a text message or having a conversation online.
You're missing out on facial cues and body language. After all, how do you really know they're laughing out loud at your previous statement?
This study has highlighted how we've naturally adjusted to that communication.
We've adjusted to the immediate rather than the possible. Sure, we had phones before – but now our phones are mobile. We can take them anywhere and even e-mail from them.
We can be more communicative than ever before without actually having to make plans, arrange a place to meet or set aside private, personal time.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't squander our human interaction. We are, by nature, very sociable beings.
We like the company of our peers.
We need the reassuring presence of friends, family and loved ones to pick us up when we're down.
I'm sure some of the students, staff and faculty at West Virginia University reading this online, confined to their rooms with swine flu couldn't agree more.
Our challenge now is not to continue mindlessly replacing fully social interactions with instant, faceless communication is to effectively balance it.
This may be difficult for some addicted to "World of Warcraft," "Halo 3" and online games that are easily capable of taking up large amounts of time.
It's equally easy to sit in front of a computer screen chatting to friends on Facebook chat or sending out one of 4.1 billion text messages a day in the U.S., according to The Wireless Association, CTIA.
We need to ensure for every large amount of time we're spending sitting by, talking through computers, satellites and fibre-optic networks, we're getting in that all-important personal touch.
Even if it means we have to pick up a phone to do it.