Study: All Net and No Play Makes Johnny a Social Recluse

Study: All Net and No Play Makes Johnny a Social Recluse

SAN FRANCISCO — Too much time online makes people more likely to go offline in real life, according to a study released here earlier this month.
“The more hours people use the Internet, the less time they spend with real human beings,” says Dr. Norman Nie, a Stanford political scientist who conducted the study of the Net’s impact on society with Dr. Lutz Erbring of the Free University of Berlin.
The study found that too much time on the Internet makes people reclusive and less likely to interact with people face to face.
“The Internet could be the ultimate isolating technology that further reduces our participation in communities even more than television did before it,” Nie says.
The study surveyed 4,113 American adults in 2,689 households and provided those respondents with free Internet access and WebTV to facilitate the survey.
About one-third said they were online five or more hours per week. Of those people, 13 percent said they spent less time with family and friends, 26 percent talked less to family and friends on the phone and 8 percent attended fewer social events.
“We’re not pronouncing any doomsday scenario at all,” Erbring says. “The fact is that there is an increase in the quantity of communication, but there is a loss in the warmth of the human quality.”
Additionally, 59 percent of the survey’s respondents said they had reduced their television viewing. Researchers found that every hour spent online typically reduced television viewing by that same amount, and people who were new to the Internet started watching less television almost immediately. 
The longer people have been hooked up to the Net the more time they spend on it, the study found. The most common use of the Internet was for e-mail.
Fifty-five percent of those polled had Internet access at home or work, and 25 percent said they worked more at home without any decline in time spent at the office.
The study also found that most surfers use e-mail and have increased their “conversations” with family and friends.
But Dr. Bernardo Carducci, a professor of psychology at Indiana University Southeast, cautions that e-mail in place of face-to-face human interaction is a dangerous social dynamic. Many frequent users of e-mail and chat groups tend to seek out only like-minded individuals.
“There’s a difference between conversing and connecting,” Carducci says. “This creates the possibility for what I call ‘electronic cleansing.’ We’re losing the tolerance for diversity.”
At least one outside expert had a problem with the study’s methodology.
“Presenting it as a scientific study is a bit of a reach. It’s preliminary work and it doesn’t tell us much,” says Howard Fienberg, a research analyst with the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, D.C.
Fienberg says the preset group of respondents who were interested in taking part in an Internet survey may have skewed the study’s results.
He suggested a more random selection of survey respondents studied over a longer period of time would produce more accurate indicators of Internet use and social effects.
The study also prompted author and Internet use expert Jakob Nielsen to question its designers’ definitions of human contact.
Nielsen says the definition should include Internet-based environments such as chat rooms, message boards and e-mail. He says concepts of contact used in the study were ill-defined.
“How do you define what you count as personal contact?” Nielsen asks.
“You could have had some other report a hundred years ago that said the telephone would cause a loss in social relations and human contact. The big problem is that the definitions do not hold in the new human experience.”
The survey was conducted for the Stanford-based Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society. The work was done by InterSurvey, a Menlo Park company that Nie co-founded.   



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