E-Mail Bolsters Social Bonds
The report disputes the notion that increased use of the Web will lead to a dystopian future in which people interact with their computers at the expense of spending time with each other. "There has been this enduring fear that the Internet would turn us into a nation of hermits--that technology would take us away from people-to-people contact," said John B. Horrigan, associate director at the Pew Internet Project. "This study persuasively finds the opposite."
The report's major conclusion is that the heaviest e-mail users are more likely to also meet with friends and acquaintances in person--or talk to them on the telephone--than are those who don't use e-mail as often. Horrigan said that this finding held true for all age groups, not just the young adults who increasingly turn to specific social networking sites such as MySpace.
Specifically, the study found that those who e-mail between 80 and 100 percent of their "core ties"--defined as those with whom they are closest--also have phone conversations with 25 percent more of that group than do those who e-mail less frequently. Those who e-mail between 80 and 100 percent of their "significant ties"--more than acquaintances, but less than closest friends and relatives--phone twice as many of that group than those who don't e-mail as often.
When Pew researchers examined in-person contacts, the results showed that e-mail didn't change the likelihood that people would see their "core" ties, but that frequent e-mailers saw 50 percent more of their "significant" ties weekly than did people who e-mailed less frequently.
"There is no evidence that e-mail replaces other forms of contact," stated the report. "To the contrary, those who have weekly e-mail contact with a high percentage of their core and significant ties usually have weekly contact with a high percentage of their ties by phone (landline and cell) and by IM."
The report was based on a survey of 2,200 adults.