According to new research released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project “The internet and email aid users in maintaining their social networks and provide pathways to help when people face big decisions:” (pdf here – via Online Media Daily).
The report concludes that:
“Our evidence calls into question fears that social relationships — and community — are fading away in America. Instead of disappearing, people’s communities are transforming: The traditional human orientation to neighborhood- and village-based groups is moving towards communities that are oriented around geographically dispersed social networks. People communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidary community. Yet people’s networks continue to have substantial numbers of relatives and neighbors — the traditional bases of community — as well as friends and workmates.”
And in another interesting conclusion they find that:
“Because individuals — rather than households — are separately connected, the internet and the cell phone have transformed communication from house-to-house to person-to-person. This creates a new basis for community that author Barry Wellman has called “networked individualism”: Rather than relying on a single community for social capital, individuals often must actively seek out a variety of appropriate people and resources for different situations.”
It’s also interesting to note “that people not only socialize online, but they also incorporate the internet into seeking information, exchanging advice, and making decisions.”
People who use email to connect with they network on a weekly bases are also calling their contacts more often – so in effect the study found that email strengthens relationships, and is not just a “medium” shift for communication.
With 2,200 people interviewed and little bias towards different demographic profiles, this should settle the debate on what the Internet does to our relationships and social capital.