I was a little too old to be told to "go outside and get some fresh air," when I first started using the Internet, but I can't say I wasn't at least a little apprehensive as to whether or not I was spending too much time on my computer and not enough time talking to real people who I was certain existed. A new study by research group Pew shows that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since the mid-eighties, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then. In fact, just 6 percent of the adult population has no one with whom they can discuss important matters or who they consider to be “especially significant” in their life.
Pew goes on to say that Americans’ "discussion networks" have shrunk by about a third since 1985 and have become less diverse because they contain fewer non-family members. But, challenging the concern that people’s use of the internet and cell phones could be tied to the trend towards smaller networks, Pew found that those who owned a mobile phone and participated in a variety of internet activities were associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks.
Pew reports that those who spend a lot of time on the Internet at work (here's lookin' at you, kid) and bloggers are more likely to volunteer at a local or charitable organization. Pew also reports that frequent Internet users and bloggers are also more likely to confide in a person of another race and just as likely to visit their neighbors than anyone else. However, despite being good Samaritans and social butterflies, it seems social networking isn't all it's cracked up to be. Pew says it found some evidence that use of social networking services (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) substitutes for some neighborhood involvement.