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Internet to Blame for Lack of Close Friends 361

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lack-of-drinking-buddies dept.
Anonymous Coward writes "Duke and University of Arizona researchers are citing the Internet as one of the main contributing factors to a shrinking of social networks among Americans. People say they have fewer people they can talk to about important stuff, even if they are talking to lots more people from all over the place about unimportant stuff online."
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Internet to Blame for Lack of Close Friends

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  • Did they consider (Score:5, Insightful)

    by idonthack (883680) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:26PM (#15597307)
    That maybe people use the Internet because they don't have any friends?
  • Well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hsmith (818216) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:29PM (#15597317)
    I would think that most people that "rely" on the internets to make friends typically are the outcasts that don't have loads of friends. I hang out with a lot of people, but still know plenty from the internet alone.

    I don't think just knowing people by the net and never meeting them is healthy. You need human to human interaction.
  • Mod parent up... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:37PM (#15597356)
    Maybe the article just got it wrong and the paper actually makes valid points, but the assertion that comparing data from 1985 and 2004 can tell us anything about the Internet's effect on socialization is absurd. That data and those time periods can't even show a correlation, much less causation. Perhaps if they had studied data from 1985 to2004 and related it to the amount of internet access for those time periods (or better yet, actually studied differences between those with internet access and those without) then there would be a story. Otherwise, this is just an absurd claim completely unsubtantiated by any facts (much less my own personal experience).

  • by Wellington Grey (942717) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:37PM (#15597358) Homepage Journal
    Let's put the blame where it belongs: I have less close friends because I spend too much time on the internet. It's not like the internet's fault, it's mine for taking the easy option.

    -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:41PM (#15597371) Journal

    I've got to agree ... bogus article alert time.

    People say they have fewer people they can talk to about important stuff, even if they are talking to lots more people from all over the place about unimportant stuff online."

    Maybe people are talking about important stuff more than ever, but doing it behind the anonymity or convenience of blogs?

    People who say they have dozens or hundreds of close friends in real life don't know the meaning of the term "close friends". A close friend is one you could tell anything, and their response is "how can I help?" Want an easy 20-second test of whether someone is really a close friend or just an acquaintance? Tell them you want to get a sex change and watch their reaction.

  • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:44PM (#15597387) Homepage
    I find that the hollowness of American social life is not only due to the Internet, but to a growing American utilitarianism and sense of entitlement that stretches into personal relationships.

    Friends and would-be lovers alike are more and more forming and maintaining friendships on the basis of "What is this person doing for me right now?"

    If someone isn't making them a profit, or is (gasp) taking their time or effort without a mechanically measurable payoff of some kind, people are only too ready these days to "kick them to the curb" and look for friends who are profitable or represent a measurable gain of some kind, whether in prestige or job prospects or exclusive memberships or exploitable expertise/skills.

    This mentality of "everything has a price and can be calculated as a cost-benefit" has already ruled American material life for years and led to a kind of spiritual bankruptcy that leads to cults, sappy new-ageism, under/overeducation, and other strange social pathologies and now it is polluting our social lives as well.

    When everyone is busy being a self-interested climber in their relationships, is is any wonder that nobody seems to be able to find non-selfish-climber friends? When everyone is busy sensing that they are entitled to their opinion, their time, their wishes, their preferences without the need for discussion or compromise, is it any wonder that people suddenly find that no-one is willing to compromise or have patience with them?

    It gets to the point that you socialize on the Internet merely because the stakes are lower. You're less likely to get screwed or hurt or exploited and at the same time you can justify the time expenditure to others because "spending time online" appeals more to the protestant ethic of endless "useful" labor than does a phrase like "hanging out with some friends at the bar."

    People are working all the time, their social relations have now become part of work too, calculated like work, and so they are finding that relationships feel like work and are subject to all of the risks and pitfalls that occur in the workplace.

    The solutions? Stop bringing work home, set aside time to be "home," don't try to measure what other people are doing for you, only what you are doing for other people, and try not to take it personally when people "kick you to the curb" for not being productive enough or razz you for being a "slacker" and not leaving work at 8:30 PM to bring it home and pound on it with some climber friends from the office until 1:30 AM while calling it a "social life."
  • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:46PM (#15597397) Homepage
    Plenty of corp's, PACs, and other orgs will shell out for "studies" and "papers" that say whatever they need said in order to entice investors/policymakers toward their ends. It's a whole industry in its own right.
  • I 100% Agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Psx29 (538840) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:46PM (#15597398)
    I use the internet as a crutch for my non-existant social life. And after all these years it's finally wearing me down.
  • Technology..... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZoneGray (168419) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:48PM (#15597408) Homepage
    Technoligy in general seems to contrubute to the breakup of traditional social structures. Air travel changed a lot of things in the 50's & 60's, allowing people to relocate about the country.... before then, most people just lived in the city where they were born, and relationships ran long and deep.

    Now, phones, TV, the Internet... they all direct our communication and our association away from older models. Musicians who used to hang out at the same nightclub now link to each other on MySpace. It's great that they can do it, but there was something better about the old way.

    The one redeeming quality of socialism (if socialists would recognize it), is that it promotes a notion of community as opposed to the depersonalization and fragmentation of our relationships that advancing technology (fueled by capitalism and freedom) promotes. As old concepts like neighborhoods, towns, churches decline in influence, people feel the need for stronger communal associations. Government at various levels can fulfil some of that need, however poorly.

    I believe the increasing size of the US gov't (as a percentage of GDP) over time is a reflection of the very same needs. The blessing of the US is that this is happening at a relatively slow and controlled pace over a period of decades. I love freedom and technology, but... well, here I am on the Internet instead of arguing with some friends at a lunch counter.
  • by AuMatar (183847) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:51PM (#15597421)
    I think it has more to do with the mobility of the population than the internet. How many more people these days are moving multiple times in their career, away from friends and family? I know I have twice in the past decade. Distance breaks up friendships, even in these days of the internet.
  • by Spazmania (174582) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:14PM (#15597503) Homepage
    one reason that the survey might have turned up such a shift in social networks is that many respondents might have interpreted the questions differently in 2004 than they did in 1985.

    Sure. In 1985, a close friend was anyone who shared my hobbies and was on a first-name basis with me. There weren't many to pick from so I had to work at maintaining a friendship with all of them.

    Thanks to cheap telepresence I'm now in touch with plenty of people who share my interests. I can reserve close friend status for the very few people I'd trust with my life.

  • Re:I 100% Agree (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wonkobeeblebrox (983151) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:16PM (#15597511)
    I think it is more that the internet removes barriers and allows you to be more who you really are. E.G: if you are naturally really social, then the internet allows you to really be more social by allowing you interact with lots of people; whereas, if you are really anti-social, it also allows you to interact with really few quantities of people, and thus allows you to be more anti-social.

    That being said, I still think there is an inverse relationship between the quantity of conversation and the quality of it.
  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:31PM (#15597561) Homepage Journal

    Some people use the Internet to find new acquaintances or make new friends. Some people use the Internet to maintain relationships with existing friends. Doubtless many people do both.

    I find myself in the second category. While I occasionally make acquaintances via the Internet, my primary mechanism for forming friendships is still meatspace. The Internet is tremendously helpful to me in maintaining relationships with friends who no longer live where I live. I can communicate with friends from my years on the East Coast, friends from my time in the military, college, and even back to high school.

    The quality of that communication is up to the parties involved, but the mechanism is there. It is simply easier for me to send an email than it ever was to write a letter. A group of about eight or ten friends, spread all over the country, communicate via a small discussion group.

    I think back to the early 1990s. I was geographically isolated for three years, far from anything or anyone familiar. The friends with whom I communicated most often were those who had email addresses, and there were many times when those email conversations boosted my spirits and helped me feel connected.

    My feeling is that the Internet makes a wide array of communication possible - everything from the shallow smack-talking of game boards and in-game messaging to deep philosophical conversation and truly meaningful sharing of thoughts and feelings. As others in this discussion have suggested, how you use that technology is your own choice.

  • by Magnifico (30966) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:41PM (#15597600) Homepage

    Add to the Internet:

    1. Your car
    2. Your cell phone
    3. Your cable television
    4. Your DVDs and home theater
    5. Your iPod and headphones

    These all contribute to not talking to people, not mingling, and not making new friends. Why make a new friend on the streetcar when you're yapping to a friend on your Bluetooth cell phone in your car? Why go out to a theatre when you can see it in private on DVD or cable? Why make listen to that attractive woman trying to hit on you when you're rocking out with your iPod?

    The more private, the more personal devices and tools we have, the more solitary our lives are becoming We don't want to share an experience anymore. We don't want to do things for the common good or the benefit of society at large. The Internet is just one facet of an overall trend. Our lifestyle in the early 21st century promotes this focus inwards and our selfishness.

  • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:45PM (#15597615) Homepage
    Really? What is your philosophical alternative then


    After you descend into ad hominem, you make my point for me. You appeal to systematization by way of criticism against a post whose premise is that systematization is not always in order!

    The absolute need to elucidate a philosophical alternative to a polemic against elucidatable orders speaks to the enlightenment-centric mentality that all that is must be measurable or it simply isn't, which is precisely the state of affairs I was bemoaning in my post.

    My alternative is not philosophical, it is material, and it is not argument but rather deed: self-sacrifice in the interest of making others happier. That is my solution, and I don't appeal to logic to justify it because my polemic is precisely that logic is an inappropriate metric for feeling. I freely admit that I have no measurable justification. I make no incremental, falsifiable argument to buttress the point, because to do so is to concede from the start precisely what I seek to contradict: that all virtues or all things of merit must first be elucidated and second measured, whether measured in isolation or measured against.

    Measurement is the problem here. Yes, the enlightenment brought us from the middle ages to the era of laser eye surgery, but its methods have limits and those limits are reached at the boundary of meaning, because meaning is an undefinable abstraction that has thus far only ever been expressed and sought, but as of yet never actually defined for all our work on the subject across disciplines from the behavioral sciences through the hard sciences. There is ample empirical evidence everywhere you look for the inability of modernism and enlightenment thinking to come to terms with meaning: Al Qaeda, Columbine, Heaven's Gate, Obesity, American Idol, plastic surgery, Internet friendships, and on and on. I do not propose to attempt a measurable linkage between these and lack of meaning, either. You'll just have to deal with that, as will readers.

    To seek to apply rigor to the notion of life's "meaning" (which is, after all, fundamentally related to friendship and to work and to mortality) is to fail. Or at least, no-one has thus far succeeded in any commonly accepted way.

    So in short, I refuse to make a logical argument to support my point that logical arguments are the wrong metric to use when discussion relationships because to do so is to subvert the point to begin with. Indeed, the need to move beyond logic in relationships is the point, and I happily concede that without logic there is not currently a commonly accepted means by which to make any appeal at all, regarding feelings and friendships or anything else. But that is the nature of things: when you dismiss all that is, you must face all that as of yet isn't.

    But I reiterate my claim: cost-benefit analyses and cogent arguments are by definition constrained and framed by that selfsame worldview that I made my post in order to accuse, and beyond this, I suspect that many here would agree with me: that to apply logic and method to your relationships is to get only logic and method back from them. And that is the problem. I and many others want irrational things from friendship: people who are there for me even when I don't deserve it, people that I enjoy even though they don't add to my wealth or prestige, company that I want to keep even though it will all be meaningless when I am dead.

    I can not make arguments for any of these needs, under any system of thought or belief, or by any standard or method of measurement. But that does not by any means make them weaker. I need them, and so do others. And increasingly, we don't have them.
  • by Bombula (670389) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:49PM (#15597634)
    I don't think it's fair to blame just the internet. There are a lot of forces in modern society that are disolving traditional social networks. I'd say most of them have their basis in technology though. I'm an anthropologist, and while it isn't my area of expertise my (somewhat informed) intuition is that the explanation here is that technology along with infrastructure and support systems have reduced the dependency that individuals used to have on one another for survival.

    Taking an extreme example, it is now quite possible to live in a room by yourself and never really talk to anyone, never go anywhere, never really interact with people at all - assuming you order your food in. But even to a lesser extreme things like Wal Mart and supermarkets provide the means for people to survive without being dependent on any other individual person. Whether you're buying dinner or a new car, you're interaction is going to be with someone whom you could just as easily never see again. Instead, we're just dependent on 'the system'.

    Looking outside of developed countries, there hundreds of examples of societies and cultures where there isn't a supermarket on every corner, in which case you really have to build relationships and get along with people, whether it's with Mr Baker or Mr Farmer or whatever, in order to survive. And in those places, I can tell you from plenty of field experience, people often genuinely have many more close friends and are much closer to their extended families than we are in the west. In such cultures, people genuinely feel connected to others - not just the people they are very close to, but their neighbors, their communities, their tribes, and their fellow citizens in general. It's probably an important thing to bear in mind, especially since we seem to be dropping bombs on a lot of these sorts of folks these days.

    From an evolutionary perspective, situations of social interdependency are a more 'natural' state. I'm not sure if they are 'better' in every way, but they are probably healthier in a strict psychological sense.

  • by SeXy_Red (550409) <Meviper85NO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:10PM (#15597699)
    It's the internet's fault that I don't have any friends, not my complete lack of social skills!
  • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:13PM (#15597713) Homepage
    So, you want people to be there for you even when you don't deserve it.


    Yes, and I also want to be there for them when they don't deserve it. The more of us there are, the more likely that we will meet others of the same ilk and if everyone is willing to make the compromise, everyone will have real friends. That is the point of my post, absolutely.

    Yes, yes, "Cum-Ba-Ya" and all that shit.

    It's very subtle for Americans, somehow. But that's it, in a nutshell. Sounds simple, but it's really rare right now.
  • by Kohath (38547) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:13PM (#15597715)
    You're right about one thing, the Internet isn't the problem.

    Work isn't the problem either though, you're wrong about that.

    American culture is shallow:

    - Widespread prosperity shields people from the ordinary trials of life that build character and bring people together.
    - Peace deprives people of the bond of a common cause
    - Feminization weakens us by favoring consiliation and non-confrontationalism over resolve and steadfastness
    - Mass marketing eggagerates the importance of the trivial
    - Government policies have undermined the importance of families on dozens of fronts
    - Television entertainment is created by that vastly deep and meaningful Southern CA culture
    - News outlets no longer focus on telling the facts. They're now almost 100% emotion-based.
    - Sex has invaded every part of life. (i.e. "Those two guys sure are good friends, I wonder if they're gay? That old guy is being nice to those kids, I wonder if he's a child molester?") The only protection is to never be close to anyone.
    - Right and wrong have given way to "political awareness" tests. Say the right things and you're golden.

    The result is that no one cares about anything any more because it's almost universally discouraged.

    How can you make close friends without caring about them (or knowing that they won't care about you)? How can you trust people who don't understand right and wrong? How can you have a deep relationship with someone who has a 2 minute attention-span? How can you have a substantial friendship with someone who thinks that they have a right to be happy every minute of every day?

    The Internet offers an arms-length social experience. No betrayal possible. No promised substance, so no disappointment when it's missing. No loss. No obligations. No risks. No rewards either, but you were going to get those anyway. It's socialization-lite.
  • by callingalloldhippies (962071) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:22PM (#15597748) Journal
    Sorry! Don't think much of their methods. Did they take in to consideration that since the 2nd world war the national population have physically moved from 'the country 'towns' where your 'friends' came from generations old neighbors and relatives. Once Americans began moving to where the post war economy and commerce was, strangers were their neighbors and their relatives might be half a continent away. As those populations of strangers grew in closer and closer proximity to each other and further and further away from their past relationships, IMHO most people found experience drove the trust factor of neighbors down and frankly without the INFAMOUS INTERNET INFLUENCE, long distance communication with old friends, neighbors and relatives became less and less rewarding or efficient.

    I sincerely believe that the Internet has added access and accessibility to more and more meaningful relationships. After all in small town America, you kind of had to stay friendly with most since you were probably distantly related and 'you can't choose your relatives'. You can, and DO choose your Internet relationships based on shared interests.

    Plus, now all your old family, small town friends and relatives have almost instant access to one another via computer. Kind of looks to me like they got it totally backwards.
  • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:25PM (#15597757) Homepage
    American culture is shallow:

    - Widespread prosperity shields people from the ordinary trials of life that build character and bring people together
    - Peace deprives people of the bond of a common cause
    - Feminization weakens us by favoring consiliation and non-confrontationalism over resolve and steadfastness
    - Mass marketing eggagerates the importance of the trivial
    - Government policies have undermined the importance of families on dozens of fronts
    - Television entertainment is created by that vastly deep and meaningful Southern CA culture
    - News outlets no longer focus on telling the facts. They're now almost 100% emotion-based.
    - Sex has invaded every part of life. (i.e. "Those two guys sure are good friends, I wonder if they're gay? That old guy is being nice to those kids, I wonder if he's a child molester?") The only protection is to never be close to anyone.
    - Right and wrong have given way to "political awareness" tests. Say the right things and you're golden.


    Actually (and this is a much larger argument than can be made in a Slashdot post), I agree with much of what you've said. In a different place, I'd argue that "work" is a manifestation of the collection of states and failings you've mentioned.

    Just ask yourself: how many of these are tied to industry/capital? Constructions of women and the culturally feminine are the primary engines of immaterial consumption; mass-marketing supports consumption and rationalized labor; families dilute the body of individual consumption units by tying multiple units into a single one; television provides an avenue for market-making; "fair and balanced" news reporting reinforces a consumptive status quo; sex sells more than all else...

    No doubt I will be attacked on all sides for even making a post like this one without being able to spend 100 or 1000 pages to discuss it, but so far as I am concerned you are not wrong at all, and I even think that we are saying the same thing... Only to attack the problem from your direction is to need a dozen monographs to explain it, and even then to be attacked from all sides, whereas to follow the Frankfurt school methodology and simply tie it all to measure and increase is to attack a single problem: rationalization/rationality/instrumentality.

    Beneath it all lies mortality, the ultimate absurdity and the one which renders all other arguments moot. Americans are, I find, not at all attuned to such things.
  • by Kohath (38547) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:44PM (#15597826)
    Just ask yourself: how many of these are tied to industry/capital? Constructions of women and the culturally feminine are the primary engines of immaterial consumption; mass-marketing supports consumption and rationalized labor; families dilute the body of individual consumption units by tying multiple units into a single one; television provides an avenue for market-making; "fair and balanced" news reporting reinforces a consumptive status quo; sex sells more than all else...

    Yeah, that's a lot of free-form brainstorming you have there. Some quick counterpoints:

    - Commerce didn't cause feminization
    - Commerce didn't cause people in government to favor handouts in place of families
    - Commerce didn't cause people to forget the difference between right and wrong
    - Commerce didn't cause peace (though it does support peace once you have it)

    Only to attack the problem from your direction is to need a dozen monographs to explain it, and even then to be attacked from all sides, whereas to follow the Frankfurt school methodology and simply tie it all to measure and increase is to attack a single problem: rationalization/rationality/instrumentality.

    So assume the conclusion "commerce is bad" and try to make vague connections to commerce from every other symptom of every other problem anyone can think of? No sale.

    Commerce is part of the problem because commerce is part of life. I even connected it a few times (prosperity, marketing, TV, etc). But commerce isn't the problem.
  • Unimportat stuff? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alshithead (981606) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:54PM (#15597866)
    Slashdot is perfect example of IMPORTANT stuff that gets discussed online. I have a lot of respect for most of the Slashdot community. We discuss politics, science, technology, and life in general with some very thoughtful and insightful comments.

    Of course, Slashdot is a minority example of what's on the web but hey, porn is important too.

  • by bishiraver (707931) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @06:05PM (#15597897) Homepage
    "- Sex has invaded every part of life. (i.e. "Those two guys sure are good friends, I wonder if they're gay? That old guy is being nice to those kids, I wonder if he's a child molester?") The only protection is to never be close to anyone." This is partially, I think, a reaction to close-mindedness in terms of sex. Our government has attempted at every turn to shield us from sex, while extreme violence is blatant in mass media. This creates a culture of fear around sex, when it's not something to be afraid of at all. And because of that culture of fear, people focus on the terrible aspects of it - sex crime - or the percieved notion that they will be come less empowered if gay/lesbian couples are allowed civil unions. American culture isn't plastic because it's "losing family values," it's plastic because of rampant consumerism, stagnant education, and blame-tossing. When "what did britney spears do last weekend" becomes more important than self-advancement, whether in terms of edification or education, you know something is wrong. But the main question is, what is the root cause of this lack of drive? And what can we as a society do to fix it - not what can we as a society get our government to do to fix it? Spend more time with our kids. Get them interested in education. Expose them to culture other than sesame street - take them to kids museums, and when they're old enough, take them to classical music concerts. Instill a notion of self-worth and personal enrichment in them at a young age, and they won't grow up to be glassy eyed corporate whores. Maybe. Or maybe the cycle of cultural degredation is too strong to break - maybe this is why so many people are looking at other cultures for new ideas, whether in foreign films or obscure religions.
  • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @06:29PM (#15597984) Homepage
    I have plenty of close friends. Trouble is they're scattered all over the planet.

    I could never relate to most locals, really. The best friends I have are those I've met online. A few have moved nearby since and I see them often in real-life.

    I don't think the Internet is responsible for a *lack* of close friends.. Just a larger pool of potential friends where you end up meeting much better matches, even if they are physically farther away.

    However, the folks I've met on the 'net aren't any less my friends than folks I've met in person.

    -Z
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @06:48PM (#15598043)
    Ahh, but the fact that you want to 'be there when they don't deserve it' changes everything. Because then you do deserve it and the people who are there for you are correct to be there for you.

    In my mind, you're mischaracterizing a discussion about trust as a discussion about rational/irrational behavior. It seems to me that you simply want the default attitude of society to be one of trust (i.e. to give the benefit of the doubt to those who have not proven their worth or have temporarily proven their unworth). To illustrate the difference between trust and rationality, what are your answers to the following questions:

    Would you help a stranger who has stated the intention of murdering your family?

    Would you help a stranger who has stated the intention of calling his wife to pick him up?

    Both of the these cases involves a stranger who, by definition, has not proven that he deserves anything from you. But, I (and I assume most people) would take the attitude that aiding the former is irrational and aiding the latter to be rational. There's nothing remotely irrational about either of these two attitudes; it's merely a question of the degree of trust. And, in fact, aiding the second stranger has been shown to be extremely rational, even if people don't know it when they practice it. The 'trust-and-verify' strategy is one of the more powerful strategies in game theory. Many people would have learned it by experience even if they knew nothing about the theory.

    Finally, if your corner of the world really does have a shortage of people you can rely on, maybe it's time you began mixing with a different group of people?
  • it's just laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuzieQueue123 (984811) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @07:19PM (#15598149)
    Think back to a time before Google. When you watched a movie and thought the actor looked familiar, but didn't know who it was. You called a friend, told them to tune in, and they told you who it was. Usually this would prompt a conversation and maybe some plans to hang out. Now, the instinct is to look it up online. No social interaction necessary. Instant gratification.

    Enter MySpace. Now if you want to know what your friends are doing, you just look at your event invites. If you don't want to go, there's no need to make excuses over the phone. Just say you forgot to look. You don't have the benefit of that friend pulling your leg telling you it just might be fun. It's easy to miss out on things this way. But it's SO much less of a hassle, right?

    The flow of information has gone from push to pull. You can now look up only what you want to see and ignore everything else. Even searches about heated topics like war, religion, etc - the result of your search depends on how you perform it. People aren't often challenged by new and opposing information. They have enough online friends that share their opinions. When you talk to people in the real world about the same subjects, you are getting a somewhat random mix of opinions. You risk having to defend your view and even having to change it. Online friends are easier to deal with because you've pre-screened them based on their interests.

    Look at radio. It used to be that we were given a set of songs that were repeated over and over until we liked them or tuned out. The only way to hear new music was to go - gasp - OUT to a bar or club. Now we can download just the songs we want, or check Pandora for recommendations.

    My point is that people are lazy. It's natural to look for the path of least resistance. Often times, the internet is that path. The internet only got as popular as it did because of this. It's not a chicken-egg thing. People created the internet. We only have ourselves to blame for the isolation. We asked for it.

    Is it really such a bad thing? We look back fondly on a time before the internet. We think that time was wonderful because it no longer exists. We remember study groups at the library and honestly think they are better than independent research online. But we forget how interaction with others often slows down our individual progress. You're only as strong as the weakest link. If the collective knowledge of your own pool of friends is all you had, would you know as much as you know now? Or is it that we are starting to believe that knowledge isn't all it's cracked up to be? What can you do with it when you are all alone?

    Maybe it is better for people to help each other, to strengthen the weakest link instead of tossing him overboard as dead weight. Sure, that's better for society. But not for the individual. What we are seeing now is the struggle between the two. At the moment the individual is the one who is winning out, and that is why Americans are perceived as shallow and selfish.
  • by vga_init (589198) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @07:25PM (#15598165) Journal

    - Widespread prosperity shields people from the ordinary trials of life that build character and bring people together.

    I've met a lot of people, including people who live or have grown up outside of the United States. Enduring adversity does not appear to have any appreciable impact on their character. On the other hand, it has more to do with personal values and the way they were raised. I've noticed that in general people who have suffered more "trials of life" actually are more poorly adjusted and have more personal problems and flaws in their character.

    - Peace deprives people of the bond of a common cause

    Why don't you just wear a sign on your forehead that says "Bush 4 Life"? Peace deprives people of having to die, maybe, but it never hurt anyone's ability to bond socially.

    - Feminization weakens us by favoring consiliation and non-confrontationalism over resolve and steadfastness

    Looking back at the very recent cold war, I'd say these "weak" values managed to save us from destroying civilization. Favoring consiliation and non-confrontationalism has nothing to do with feminizim or the female sex; you're assigning your own conservative cultural values to other people. Maybe you are taking this for granted, but it's a gross error. That aside, the worst people I have ever known were those with "resolve" and "steadfastness." Intelligent people naturally favor more clever solutions than simply using power to force their own "rightness."

    Open up a dictionary right now and look up the word "conciliation." You spew all this crap about creating bonds and bringing people together, and then you outright denounce conciliation as a weak feminine value? Go figure.

    - Government policies have undermined the importance of families on dozens of fronts

    You're not specific enough--examples please.

    - Right and wrong have given way to "political awareness" tests. Say the right things and you're golden.

    You always have to please authority--that's life. Of course, you loath having to pay lip service to a culture that is not your own, and you have a strong urge to devalue you it and attack it, citing "political correctness" as some sort of liberal conspiracy, making yourself look like the brave little guy sticking it to the man. Spare me.

  • Re:Alienation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @07:30PM (#15598178)
    Another factor to consider in this is fear. The news on TV is quite skilled at engendering a free-floating dread in the populace. Look at how kids get raised these days: kept indoors all the time, watched over like hawks, and any neighbor that so much as says hi to the kid is immediately suspected of wanting to kidnap, rape, and murder the kid. All because the TV news implies every night that it's happening everywhere!

      It used to be that parents let their kids go out and actually ROAM the neighborhood. I remember twenty-plus years ago, I'd come in for lunch, then go back outside and run around with my friends and sometimes my parents wouldn't see me until dinnertime, or even later. I look around the neighborhood where I live today, and only the latino kids get that sort of free rein anymore. I guess the Spanish channel's news is less horrifying. I know it all seems to have started about the early-to-mid 80's, with the fake scares about razors in apples on Halloween (a story pushed by crazy anti-halloween loons, who were afraid that Satan was coming for their children; a story they pushed right onto the front pages) and the rise of the aforementioned hysteria about the pedophiles in the woodwork.

      As the kids of that age have grown up, it's not surprising they've got a smaller circle of friends, and hey, that all started about the time the internet did!

      I firmly believe that the greatest problem in the world today (and in the United States most of all) is fear. It's the stark terror, deep inside, that causes people to argue that placing sensible restrictions on possible abuse of government power is going to cause crazed muslamoid islamobogeymen to kill people by the millions; it's what lies behind both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict; it's what fuels the repressive governments in North Korea and Iran; in a thousand ways, in a thousand parts of the world, it's fear that destroys us.
      - mantar
  • by McLuhanesque (176628) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:16PM (#15598342) Homepage
    Like the one published at the beginning of the year by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
    The Strength of Internet Ties [pewinternet.org], authored by Jeffrey Boase, John Horrigan, Barry Wellman, and Lee Rainie found "The internet and email aid users in maintaining their social networks and provide pathways to help when people face big decisions" The press release [pewinternet.org] that publicized the report says, "One major payoff comes when people use the internet to press their social networks into action as they face major challenges. People not only socialize online, but they also incorporate the internet into their quest for information and advice as they seek help and make decisions. ... One major benefit comes when people want to mobilize their networks as they face problems or significant decisions. The Pew Internet Project survey finds that internet users are more likely than non-users to have been helped by those in their networks as they faced important events in their life. "Internet use provides online Americans a path to resources, such as access to people who may have the right information to help deal with family health crises or find a new job," says John Horrigan, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet Project."

    The Duke/Arizona study is flawed in its analysis, as it interprets correlation as indicating causality, a common mistake among quantitative researchers.
  • Re:Alienation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by beadfulthings (975812) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:17PM (#15598348) Journal
    While I can agree with your points about population increases, I believe that many cities are becoming re-urbanized. Formerly working-class or poor neighborhoods are undergoing rapid gentrification. There are many reasons for this--houses can be bought cheaply, updated, and resold for a profit. People are beginning to find it's convenient to live near where they work. If your neighborhood has been re-gentrified, the crime may be all around you, but chances are it won't be on your block.

    My own city of Baltimore is a real case in point. Our neighborhood was historically made up of blue-collar workers who worked on the nearby waterfront in assorted canneries and maritime occupations. It's situated between the well-known neighborhood of Fells Point to the west, and a solidly ethnic Greek neighborhood to its east. Housing prices have skyrocketed here. Old, small rowhouses are purchased and promptly demolished in order to build the urban version of the McMansion--a house that sits on a rowhouse footprint and goes straight up, sometimes for four or five stories. (Some new homes have elevators.)

    The result is a sort of urban bedroom community. The streets, shops, corner stores, bars, and restaurants are deserted during working hours. No one is out. There are no children to speak of. It doesn't foster social networking. I don't know either of my next-door neighbors, nor do I know the people in back (whose McMansions tower over and dwarf my traditional rowhouse back garden). The best way to get to know people here is to own a dog. You walk to the dog park and can become acquainted with your fellow home-office workers and the few young mothers and retirees still left here.

    This is happening in neighborhoods all over town, including the "artists' colony" area where loft space used to be cheap but is now beyond the reach of the young artists. Re-gentrified urban neighborhoods are ghost towns by day and automobile-congested rolling parking lots by night. All the ills and isolation of the suburbs have followed the middle class folk who are moving back into town.

  • by thomasa (17495) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:23PM (#15598587)
    I think the decline of social clubs and organizations has been going in for many
    decades. I would blame, not the Internet but Television, The Interstate highway
    system, and Subburbs. I think they are way our of date in their study. There
    used to be tons of social networks, organizations and support groups in society.
    Now days no on belongs to them. E.g., the Jaycees, The Odd fellows, The Daughters
    of the American Revolution, other civic organizations, etc. If I were dictator
    of this country, I would ban Television.

    Quote from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital [wikipedia.org]
    Social capital "refers to the collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other," according to Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and the concept's leading exponent (though not its originator). According to Putnam and his followers, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. Putnam says that social capital is declining in the United States. This is seen in lower levels of trust in government and lower levels of civic participation. Putnam also says that television and urban sprawl have had a significant role in making America far less connected.
    Unquote

  • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:47PM (#15598667)
    Shrinking social networks? Not for me! I'm 47 and feel zero nostalgia for pre-internet days. I found them suffocating. Thanks to computers, I keep in touch with my friends worldwide that I would otherwise forget to write to. I can meet someone when I travel or deploy, then keep in touch for many years.
  • by drDugan (219551) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @01:32AM (#15599259) Homepage
    There is one word that is VERY important in this discussion, and I don't see it much on these pages:

    CORPORATIONS

    So in most cases, nobody makes any money when people can connect and help each other feel good and solve each other's problems. Now, if they are connecting and buying coffee, or they are coming togther and buying entertainment, or they are coming together and buying a meal -- then somebody's making a buck. Or maybe they are coming together in a college classroom, or a dance class, or meeting at the mall. there is a buck there too. Let's not even start with bars.

    The one thing I see more and more is the wholesale cash-for-connection thing in the US that is not in other parts of the world. Basically you have to pay to have any place where you can meet *new* people and socialize.

    The other affect corporations have is that they keep most people SO busy working to survive, there is little time or energy left to have many friends. This may be toward a demographic older than most /. readers - but I know in my life, the more the work-a-day world takes my time, there is less time for friends. This also is almost uniquely American.

    Finally, the rise in corporate power has further stratified society along money lines. In the US we have more financial difference between the top and bottom since the early 1900s. There is virtually no middle class anymore. What this leads to is a reluctance of peopel to reach out to others, for fear of crossing the (now huge) social chasm created by wealth disparity.

    I think the rise in power of corporations is largely to blame for destroying the social networks of people - as much or more than the "Internet". Basically, the Internet to me is near-free, near-instant, widely available communication. By ITSELF - more communication will help people connect to more people in more meaningful ways than ever possible before. We have only seen the first 2-5% of what is possible because of the Internet. Instant communication will break down all barriers eventually and lead to abundance.
  • Re:Alienation (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25, 2006 @03:26AM (#15599503)
    That is an example of a reasonable fear. It's also a very different sort of thing -- a canyon is not a human being. If Homer's afraid of falling to his death in a canyon, he's still not likely to 'protect' himself by lashing out wildly at the canyon in an attempt to harm it before it can harm Homer. Neither would the canyon be liable to respond to that lashing-out by developing a fear of Homer and striking at him in 'self-defense.'
    An unreasonable fear would be if Homer lived in daily dread of the canyon's existence, went miles out of his way to avoid seeing it, and lobbied the government to build a miles-long wall around it to protect the city. He'd be treated as a crackpot (or should). It's okay to be afraid of things, but it's bad to let fear rule your very life. It's far worse, however, if you let it rule the lives of others.

      You see, while fear is a very useful emotion on the individual level, when it becomes a collective fear shared by many people, it tends to grow rapidly out of control and harm people. I can't think of a single instance where being afraid of an entire group of people did society more good than harm. The fear of criminals makes more dangerous criminals, the fear of foreigners leads to isolationism, wars, and genocides, and fear of Communists/Capitalists nearly destroyed the human race itself during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
      The Israeli/Palestine conflict consists of two frightened sides both certain that they are the innocent victims, but if they just kill enough of the other guys, the other guys will be too afraid to hurt them anymore.
      What's the solution to all this irrational fear? Hell, I don't know. It's kind of like inflation, once you start going down that way, it's awful hard to turn around.
      - mantar
  • by hey! (33014) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @12:31PM (#15600892) Homepage Journal
    I could never relate to most locals, really. The best friends I have are those I've met online. A few have moved nearby since and I see them often in real-life.

    Therein lies the rub.

    Leaving aside all the things that friends do for you that require physical presence (e.g. visit you in the hospital after the car accident, feed your pet iguana while you're on vacation), it means that more than ever, birds of a feather flock together.

    Friendship used to be 50% affinity and 50% propinquity. People used to have some friends who were mostly affinity (my friends I see at the monthly meeting of the the local chapter of the Christian Republican Golfers )and some friends mostly by propinquity (my next door neighbor, who's a lesbian Democrat labor activist and used her trusty swiss army knife to get my broken down car started when I was running late for the big job interview).

    Being friends with people who you couldn't relate to beforehand broadens your mind in the way that mere access to the wealth of information the Internet provides can't. It's all too easy to be like a person in a exotic foreign bazaar who heads right to the McDonald's for a Big Mac. Pretty soon your circle of friends contracts until you and your asscoiates in the Virtual Jihadist club reinforce each other in a very peculiar and narrow minded world view. You no longer have people who have both conservative Christian Republicans for friends and liberal gay Democrats. We stick to our golf buddies or fellow lesbian separatists.

  • by Nutrimentia (467408) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:06PM (#15602858) Homepage
    Being friends with people who you couldn't relate to beforehand broadens your mind in the way that mere access to the wealth of information the Internet provides can't. It's all too easy to be like a person in a exotic foreign bazaar who heads right to the McDonald's for a Big Mac. Pretty soon your circle of friends contracts until you and your asscoiates in the Virtual Jihadist club reinforce each other in a very peculiar and narrow minded world view.

    This is an excellent point that continually is missed by most everyone. Not only has increased use of the internet for socializatoin lead to a decrease in the quality of friendships, it's made it more difficult to access to wider viewpoints. Most of the comments thus far on this story miss the point that it isn't contact with others that is under analysis, it's the quality of the relationship. For those of you shrugging off this news with the attitude that you've got more and better friends thanks to the internet, ask yourself how many of those friends you can talk about serious problems with. How many of them provide the emotional support that we depend on in extreme situations? I'm not at all surprised that the article reports that families are becoming the only contact of this caliber.

    But above and beyond that, the internet, in all of its glory, its very susceptible to becoming an unintentional and unrecognized echo chamber. It's all too easy to spend time on sites that have information that conforms and confirms our cherished beliefs and attitudes. People have to make an effort to read about a variety of viewpoints, but that doesn't happen as much as it ideally would. There are associated risks of these echoes building up and more and more issues become polarized as a result as well.

    I'm not saying that the internet is bad or that we need to find a way to "fix" this problem. But I do think that these trends are real and have real effects on the meatspace society we inhabit as well. For the most part, it is just going to result in a change, neither really better or worse, just different. But it may have a measurable, or at least significant, impact on people, either as communities or on an individual level, be it the fraying of civic ties or simply not having anyone to turn to in times of crisis and need.

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