Social computer networks

Alone on the Internet? Hardly
Study: Web expanding people's social contacts

Friday, January 27, 2006; Posted: 4:45 a.m. EST (09:45 GMT)


NEW YORK (AP) -- The cyber-world expands people's social networks and
even encourages people to talk by phone or meet others in person, a new
study finds.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project also finds that U.S.
Internet users are more apt to get help on health care, financial and
other decisions because they have a larger set of people to which to
turn.

Further rebuking early studies suggesting that the Internet promotes
isolation, Pew found that it "was actually helping people maintain
their communities," said Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto
sociology professor and co-author of the Pew report.

The study found that e-mail is supplementing, not replacing, other
means of contact. For example, people who e-mail most of their closest
friends and relatives at least once a week are about 25 percent more
likely to have weekly landline phone contact as well. The increase is
even greater for cell phones.

"There's a certain seamlessness of how people maintain their social
networks," said John Horrigan, Pew's associate director. "They shift
between face-to-face, phone and Internet quite easily."

Meanwhile, Internet users tend to have a larger network of close and
significant contacts -- a median of 37 compared with 30 for nonusers --
and they are more likely to receive help from someone within that
social network.

The latest Pew report, issued Wednesday, was based on random telephone
surveys conducted in February and March of 2004 and 2005.

Each year's survey involved about 2,200 adults and had a margin of
sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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