The Internet cuts into socializing, or not

Here is a case of researchers adding two plus two to come up with five.

According to the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, a research group that has been exploring the social consequences of the Internet, the time you spend online is coming at the expense of TV (who knew?) and social interaction. Here’s the way the New York Times tells it:

A 2000 study by the researchers that reported increasing physical isolation among Internet users created a controversy and drew angry complaints from some users who insisted that time they spent online did not detract from their social relationships.

However, the researchers said they had now gathered further evidence showing that in addition to its impact on television viewing, Internet use has lowered the amount of time people spend socializing with friends and even sleeping.

According to the study, an hour of time spent using the Internet reduces face-to-face contact with friends, co-workers and family by 23.5 minutes, lowers the amount of time spent watching television by 10 minutes and shortens sleep by 8.5 minutes.

I remember the original study by these folks, because I was running a company devoted to understanding personalities. We ran a popular community site, where people learned to interact based on personality.

If you define socializing only as physical contact, then these researchers are right (and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out). However, the Internet is redefining socializing. Frankly, I think I’m more socially active these days than I’ve ever been, and I wouldn’t trade my online relationships for anything. There is something inherently freeing about meeting someone at their core instead of their surface.

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