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The Internet Has Not Made You a Hermit

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, November 5 2009

If you are one, you'll have to find something else to blame. A new report from the fine folks at Pew compares the social isolation and integration of those Americans who regularly use the Internet and mobile phones compared to those who, I guess, read books and go bowling instead. (It's worth noting that the metric that Pew is using here is only the extent to which we have discussions with other people, rather than other kinds of social engagement.) This is the sort of research that helps flesh out the promise of using connective technology to build civil society and the political realm, and what Pew has to say here sets the baseline -- we're not all socially isolated, at least not because we spend time on the computer. Sayeth Pew:

Larger core discussion networks are associated with owning a cell phone, and use of the internet for sharing digital photos and instant messaging. On average, the size of core discussion networks is 12% larger amongst cell phone users, 9% larger for those who share photos online and 9% bigger for those who use instant messaging.

And:

Whereas only 45% of Americans discuss important matters with someone who is not a family member, internet users are 55% more likely to have a nonkin discussion partners.

That said, there's a chance that you might be replacing flesh-and-blood human contact with Facebook:

Users of social networking services are 26% less likely to use their neighbors as a source of companionship, but they remain as likely as other people to provide companionship to their neighbors.

Unless, that is, you spend a lot of time on neighborhood blogs and forums:

79% who use an online neighborhood discussion forum talk with neighbors in-person at least once a month, compared to 61% of the general population.

With it seems like blending Internet usage with mobile phone usage -- the latter of which pretty much requires that you be a social creature -- might muddy the conclusions we might draw from the data, there's a rich cache of findings in the report that are well worth discussing with your social network, online and off.