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This report confronts one of the great debates about the internet: What is it doing to the relationships and social capital that Americans have with friends, relatives, neighbors, and workmates? Those on the other side of the debate fear that the internet will alienate people from their richer, more authentic relations.
Once upon a time, the internet was seen as something special, available only to wizards and geeks. Now it has become part of everyday life. People routinely integrate it into the ways in which they communicate with each other, moving between phone, computer, and in-person encounters. Our evidence calls into question fears that social relationships — and community — are fading away in America. People communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solitary community.
The internet and play an important role in maintaining these dispersed social networks. With the help of the internet, people are able to maintain active contact with sizable social networks, even though many of the people in those networks do not live nearby. Moreover, there is media multiplexity: The more that people see each other in person and talk on the phone, the more they use the internet.
The connectedness that the internet and other media foster within social networks has real payoffs: People use the internet to seek out others in their networks of contacts when they need help. 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.
While traditional means of communications such as in-person visits and landline telephone conversations are the primary ways by which people keep up with those in their social networks, our research shows that helps people cultivate social networks. We find that supplements, rather than replaces, the communication people have with people who are very close to them — as well as those with those not so close. is especially important to those who have large social networks. Our work shows that internet use provides online Americans a path to resources, such as access to people who may have the right information to help deal with a health or medical issue or to confront 25 seeking something special financial issue.
Sometimes this assistance comes from a close friend or family member. Sometimes this assistance comes from a person more socially distant, but made close by in a time of need. The result is that people not only socialize online, but they also incorporate the internet into seeking information, exchanging advice, and making decisions.
The internet has fostered transformation in community from densely knit villages and neighborhoods to more sparsely knit social networks. 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 report is built primarily around findings of a survey conducted in February that we call the Social Ties survey.
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The Social Ties survey asked about two types of connections people have in their social networks:. Americans connect with their core and ificant ties in a variety of ways. They continue to use in-person encounters and landline telephones. Yet new communication technologies —cell phones, and instant messaging IM — now play important roles in connecting network members. The internet does not stand alone but as part of an overall communication system in which people use many means to communicate. is more capable than in-person or phone communication of facilitating regular contact with large networks.
This makes intuitive sense. If you have 50 people in your social network, it will take a fair amount of effort to contact 25 of them regularly by using the telephone. If your social network is 20 people in size, it will take less effort to contact 15 of them regularly.
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Even though there are fewer people contacted, they are a greater percentage of your network. The one exception is. Several qualities of help make sense of these findings.
enables people to maintain more relationships easily because of its convenience as a communication tool and the control it gives in managing communication. Moreover, it is almost as easy to a message to many people as it is to to only one.
has been celebrated from the outset for its ability to connect with people around the world quickly and cheaply. This is no figment of global village hyperbole. is especially used for contacting distant friends and relatives. But the data also show that is frequently used to contact those who live nearby. As a result, Americans are probably more in contact with members of their communities and social networks than before the advent of the internet. People use the internet to put their social networks into motion when they need help with important issues in their lives.
The February Social Ties survey asked respondents whether they have sought help from people in their social networks pertaining to eight specific key issues in their lives.
The eight issues are:. The average internet user received help on 3. ificant ties are also more specialized than core ties in their support. Internet users have received help on 1.
One could easily imagine some other traits of internet users — such as, their higher income which makes it easier to afford access, their higher levels of education, their more sizable social networks, or their more robust professional networks — that would explain why they are more likely to get help. It could be that these characteristics, not their internet use, for the differences in getting help relative to non-users. However, statistical regression analysis that disentangles these various effects shows that internet and use each are independent factors in explaining the levels and likelihood of getting help.
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The Social Ties survey also asked about whether respondents had used a of different information technologies in the past month, namelyinstant messaging, a personal digital assistant PDAa cell phone, text messaging, and a wireless internet connection. Relatively heavy use of these information technologies is associated with greater access to help. Those with many ificant ties and access to people with a variety of different occupations are more likely to get help from their networks.
Network size matters when it comes to getting help. It is better to have a larger network of ificant ties than a large network of core ties — at least when it comes to getting help of the sort asked about in the Social Ties survey. An important exception involves health care.
Having a large of core ties is a predictor of getting information and help with health care — two of the issues about which we asked respondents. Knowing people across a range of different occupations is the strongest predictor of getting help. The wider the range of occupational acquaintances people have, the greater amount of help to which they can access. Internet users have somewhat larger social networks than non-users. For internet users, the median network size is 37; for non-users it is In terms of their social networks:.
About 60 million Americans say the internet has played an important or crucial role in helping them deal with at least one major life decision in the past two years.
When the Social Ties Survey showed that people use the internet to activate their social networks when they need help, we followed up in a survey in March that we call the Major Moments survey. In it we asked Americans if they had faced any of eight different decisions or milestones in their lives in the two years.
Overall, that represents about 60 million adults. The eight major decisions queried in the survey were these:. The asterisk marks the five events that were queried in both the Social Ties and Major Moments surveys. The of Americans relying on the internet for major life decisions has increased by one-third since When the Pew Internet Project conducted a survey in January on the same eight life decision points, 45 million adult Americans said then that the internet had played a crucial or important role in at least one of the decisions.
At major moments, some people say the internet helps them connect with other people and experts who help them make choices.
Others say that the web helps them get information and compare options as they face decisions. The internet is important in a variety of ways as people make major decisions, and the most frequently cited benefit was in helping people tap into social networks. Respondents who said the internet was important to them were asked follow-up questions for five of the major life decisions to explore the primary benefit they got from their internet use. In times of uncertainty, good decisions demand good data.
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Please support our research with a financial contribution. Pew Research Center now uses as the last birth year for Millennials in our work. President Michael Dimock explains why. Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.
The U. Border Patrol reported nearlyencounters with migrants along the U. Barely 10 years past the end of the Great Recession inthe U. The labor market is on a job-creating streak that has rung up more than months straight of employment growth, a record for the post-World War II era. The unemployment rate in November […]. About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world.
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