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Internet to Blame for Lack of Close Friends 361

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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  • Uh... okay, sure (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:27PM (#15597312)
    Meanwhile [websiteoptimization.com]

    25% of America has no access to the internet at all.

    A further 30% of America lacks broadband, which often restricts how much one can rely on the internet in a protracted fashion.

    But, yeah, sure, if America is significantly lessened in people that they can talk to, feel close to, or trust in the last twenty years, let's go ahead and blame the Internet...
  • Flipside (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Chysn ( 898420 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:36PM (#15597347)
    As unfortunate as that trend is, it seems to go along with another possibly related thing: folks are putting more and more personal information on their networking sites and blogs, things that they'd be embarassed to tell a "real" friend and downright insane to tell an employer. Off the internet you might not have many CLOSE friends, but on the internet everyone is your BEST friend.
  • Re:Did they consider (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bastian227 ( 107667 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:37PM (#15597352) Homepage
    Or is it the lack of close friends is to blame for the Internet?
  • Alienation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by El_Isma ( 979791 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:37PM (#15597357) Homepage
    I believe that the problem is not Internet, but the increase in population. I have lived in small cities and big ones, and seen other even bigger cities, and you can really feel the difference. In small towns people are friendlier, more relaxed. For instance, you may say 'hi' to anyone you cross in the street and it won't be seen as something strange (in even smaller towns -rural areas- it's more like you must say hi, even if you don't know the other person). In bigger cities, on the other hand, you can feel the distance from other people. It's much more colder. Think Japan, loads of people all together but they try to avoid contact with each other. The "personal space" is a few centimetres around you... The bigger the city, the worse the problem is. Another thing I have seen is that people in bigger cities ignore unknown people more easly. In those cities I've heard other people talk about personal matters without minding who might hear them. In my home town that would be quite undiscrete and considered bad manners. That's my opinion, anyway :)
  • by EMacAonghusa ( 929754 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:51PM (#15597422) Homepage
    It makes sense I think. For many people the internet & it's social communities offer a release. There's just so many more people you can meet online and communicate with. Freindships are formed quickly as it's easy, through various online social groups, to find others with very similar interests to yourself ... which may not always be possible depending on where you live. I think this is the key, personally. On the other hand, it's not a black and white thing and it really depends on the type of person you are. I've met tons of ppl online and i've met many of those personally and we've become strong friends. But I still have my real life friends, those same people who've been these for me for 15-20 years.
  • by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:52PM (#15597424) Homepage Journal
    Some of my best real-life friends were people I initially met on the Internet, or before that, on BBSes. Seriously.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:56PM (#15597444)
    It's not anyone's fault. You're doing what you want to do, right? I spend a decent chunk of time on the internet because it's better than having a lot of friends - having more than a couple of friends is more effort than it's worth, IMO.
  • Re:Alienation (Score:5, Interesting)

    I have a hard time buying this. A quick glance at population growth in the U.S. over the last hundred years [census.gov] reveals that we're really not growing all that fast at the moment -- in the 1950s -- which social scientists note for a very high degree of civic engagement -- population was routinely growing at almost 2% a year. But for the past ten years, it's been less than 1%. Moreover, with birth rates at historic lows, much of the population increase we're seeing is coming from immigration -- communities which by necessity are characterized by dense social networks.

    If there's a culprit to be found in population patterns and geographic movements, it's not so much in urbanization (most cities have been losing people over the last few decades) -- as in suburbanization -- a pattern of life which is characterized by atomization and long commute times, leading Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone) speaks of a "sprawl civic penalty".
  • by cheesebikini ( 704119 ) * on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:41PM (#15597593)
    2 important points to note:

    1) Internet tech doesn't necessarily discourage local, face-to-face friendships. Right -now- the Web isn't used for local connection but I think that's just because of the way it's -framed-, just a momentary lack of vision by the people/firms building it. And I think that's a temporary anomaly that's disappearing as wi-fi and locative tech takes hold.

    Remember the net evolved from a set of LANs, and even as recently as the 80s, the folks who inhabited the dial-up BBS world were very locally-focused (you dialed BBS's in/near your town most often because those phone calls were cheapest) and many of these people got to know the other local BBSers through face-to-face get togethers. These "GTs" were an important part of BBS culture. More recent examples -- Google the study "Neighboring in Netville" to learn fascinating things that happened when researchers wired 1 out of every 3 homes in a typical suburban housing development outside Toronto w/ very simple terminals attached to a basic message forum system tied to a proprietary LAN. The people who moved in weren't techies, but nonetheless after a year this neighborhood was measurably more cohesive and local connections were much stronger than in neighboring unwired subdivisions that otherwise were almost identical in physical structure and demographics. In short: in the wired subdivision a lot more people knew their neighbors and other folks nearby, and the community as a whole was much more politically active in tracking and responding to issues that affected the good of the neighborhood. All because networked communication tech was -framed- as something that connects you to people nearby -- not just as something that connects you to the placeless Web, not -just- something that's for finding people on the other side of the planet who share precisely the same interests that you do.

    2) Back to this "Internet to blame" study, note an important point the researchers themselves make: that the wording of the survey questions might have strongly affected the results and their interpretation. (i.e., 2004 respondents might have thought "discussing" doesn't include e-mail/IM.)

  • My thoughts (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AriaStar ( 964558 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:54PM (#15597651) Journal
    With increased time online and increased time at work, people are making more friends online, and it seems rarely every meeting them in person. While I have made my closest in-person friendships due to the internet, and am very close with some people I've met online, but haven't yet met in person (this summer I have plans to meet three of them with whom I am especially close), I've also seen in-person people very dear to me become unable to handle in-person relationships and friendships as they are much more comfortable dealing with people online, their primary mode of contact.

    Internet contact gives them more control as to how much contact, when, the ability to hide faults about themselves that they may not like, therefore not letting others get to know the real person, while others are doing the same, etc., and puts them at a disadvantage for connecting with people within a close proximity on an intimate level or at a real friendship level as they don't have as much control and don't know how to deal with humans being flawed and how to deal with conflicts and such that people tend to try very hard to avoid with online friends. These three things alone indicate a lack of trust in online friends, and a lack of trust of people online can become a general lack of trust in people at all.

    It hurts to fall in love with someone, only to have that person, when he moves cross country and to a place a couple miles from you, decide he can't handle the closeness, and then it's over. It also hurts when you meet someone in person you met online as a friend, and any illusions are shattered, and that friendship ends.

    I count myself excrutiatingly lucky to have so many people, both in person (most whom I met first online or through someone I met online) and online, with whom I can confide about important matters, but it's taken work to accomplish this circle I have now, and it's takena lot of trial and error, and the determination to not hide flaws to put forward only a good foot forward. Truth be told, no one does or says the right thing all the time, and we all have our insecurities. The question is whether or not we are secure enough to let our imperfections through rather than to mask them. This tendency to hide becomes habit that carries over into in-person friendships and relationships.

    This is not to say that all online contact is bad. True, it is easier to keep in touch with friends who have moved away, and we may not always want to peel our butts from our chairs at work to go talk to our bosses, who may not be available at that time, and those little note papers of yesteryear are easily misplaced, when a simple e-mail will due and won't get lost. It can be easier and quicker sometimes to get in touch with your doctor. And sometimes it's easier to make local friends with 10+hr. workdays.

    But it's also true that too much internet use has led to a population of recluses and a loss of personal social skills.
  • by AriaStar ( 964558 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:56PM (#15597656) Journal
    ...an ex-fiancé and I used to both spend so much time online that we could be in the same room and would IM rather than vocally speak to each other. Our housemate found this to be funny, though slightly disturbing, and, in the end, we had such a breakdown in real communication that we broke up (as if you couldn't tell by the "ex").
  • by aslate ( 675607 ) <planetexpress@PARISgmail.com minus city> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:59PM (#15597670) Homepage
    Through the internet i've met a total of 39 people from a forum i frequent. We've met up several times in Europe and there've been other meets in the US and Australia.

    I flew to the US for a week long holiday, with the first weekend spent in NY meeting up with a group of 13 Americans, i travelled with 3 other Brits. We toured 6 states and 3 capitals in a week and it was one of the best holidays i've had. Although i'm only 17 (Started posting at 13) i've grown up with these people. Granted, i went on holiday with a 21, 24 and 34 year old and the next closest to my age was 20 that we met, but i'm great friends with all of these people and we regularly meet.

    If it weren't for the internet i wouldn't be mates with a 34 year old drummer from York. Although i was 13 when i joined, people thought i was 18, we talked to each other because we were interesting and liked the same topics, not because we met in a bar drunk and liked the face sitting opposite us.

    Is it an unusual way to meet people, probably. Is it a flawed way of meeting people? So far, absolutely not.
  • by Das Modell ( 969371 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:05PM (#15597687)
    I don't blame the Internet either. I'm just not really into friends. In fact, I don't even have friends on the Internet except for one guy I talk to occasionally, as unbelieveable as that sounds. I also no longer go to forums (which are breeding grounds for psychotic idiots).
  • Useless (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Nowak ( 872479 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:21PM (#15597741)
    I wouldn't be surprised if most people reported themselves to have less of such friends even without the internet. It's entirely possible that this is how humans, who once used to be in high school or college, see themselves after they hit 30. Or after they hit 50. Or after they his 70.
  • Real Friends for IRC (Score:2, Interesting)

    by livingdeadline ( 884462 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:30PM (#15597775) Homepage
    Dunno about normal persons, but I was never able to get close friends until I got broadband and started to IRC with people I had daily contact with at school. Screen + irssi has for me become a great and natural way of keeping in touch with people, but usually it's really hard to explain to social and or non-technical folks that internet isn't only a toy, but a new and efficiant way of dealing with real life matters. Of course, some people probably rely on teh intarwebs as a faked social network rather than a way of communicating with people they've met IRL. I'm sure that more or less random smalltalk is nice and all, but it doesn't even serve the same purpose, living a life with the people around you isn't relevant online. Besides, to really know people with whom you communicate only online is extremely difficult, and the sad thing is that even some young people find hard to believe that "this chat thing" is not only for flirting or getting help with homework. MSN/AOLers need to be converted to IRC users and there should be at least one channel for every high school. Or something. Really.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:36PM (#15597788)
    Could it be so simple? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/happiness_fo rmula/5012478.stm [bbc.co.uk]
    This could explain the variance between urban and rural, as well as the timescale of this social change.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @06:44PM (#15598030)
    I can tell you right now that for my entire life I've lived in communities in which telling my friends I wanted a sex change wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Now, telling my friends I had been born again...Christianity caused a number of my nearest and dearest to run in the other direction faster than I thought possible.

    I snapped out of it, but I never really trusted them again.
  • LotR? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ClamIAm ( 926466 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @06:44PM (#15598035)

    Tolkien often said that the ring was symbolic of "the machine". There's a passage in the book that talks about how anyone who wears it will have their life extended, but it will be a shallow one. This article makes it sound like he was right on.

  • Re:Did they consider (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @07:01PM (#15598098)
    Contrary to what this article suggests.. when I was 12 I got into trouble for something I didn't do. There was of course no way to prove that(didn't have the money to go to trial, just barely had enough for a lawyer to get me a plea bargain) --- but anyway, I ended up getting house arrest(1 yr), probation(1 yr), and a parent to be with me anytime I left the house. Also had a court order to stay away from one of my longest running friends to this day, a close friend from Kindergarden to 7th grade when the incident happend. Needless to say when my parents were at work, I was to stay home. I also wasn't allowed to play 'violent video games' like Counter-Strike, but before the shit hit the fan I had befriended a female through the HL1 mod 'Firearms' and over the years we've become best friends. I've only met her face to face once, but she's honestly the best friend I have, and vise versa. Which is a big thing to say, because we both have many good aquaintences and more than one true friend.

    But because of my use of the internet, I have met about 5 of the closest friends I have. I don't know what the hell they're saying about a lack of close friends because of the internet.. that's bullshit. I know many people who've met their closest friends on the internet through things/places that both of them have a lot of interest in.

    Maybe social networking skills I can see deteriorating.. people not knowing how to deal with real people because they're used to typing out emotion and not 'reading' body language and tone of voice. But then again I know people who spend their time on the internet and they don't get out much, and thus don't have close friends. Which is a shame. But here I am 5 years later and I'm BACK on probation(today is my 3rd day, 2 yrs this time...) and won't be going out much because I don't want to get into any more trouble while I'm on probation and get my shit fucked up again.

    All I can do is just remind you all to take things with a grain of salt. Everybody has an agenda, everybody has their point of view, and everybody has their opinion. Just take those into consideraton when you read studies and crap like this. Cheers.
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:03PM (#15598288)
    Lots of non sequiturs here. I'll ignore them.

    Enduring adversity does not appear to have any appreciable impact on their character.

    You probably have a different definition of character that I do. I'm not taliking about political beliefs. I don't confuse the two.

    Ordinary trials of life, like temporary difficulty paying for necessities, lead to people learning how to take care of themselves in tough situations. It leads to an understanding of the value of help from family and friends. And it leads people to value something besides their immediate whimsical happiness. That's what I mean by character in this context.

    And in this context, someone with character would be more likely to be a good friend.

    Peace deprives people of having to die, maybe, but it never hurt anyone's ability to bond socially.

    Are you saying that war doesn't lead to people sharing a common cause? Because it obviously does. And having things in common helps people to bond socially. It's silly to argue. And I don't understand why you'd want to.

    That aside, the worst people I have ever known were those with "resolve" and "steadfastness."

    So don't make friends with them then?

    But if you make friends with shallow, flighty, lightweights then they'll abandon or betray you at their whim. It doesn't seem wise.

    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.

    I think you miss the point. The loss of right and wrong is the problem. Someone who doesn't know right from wrong can't be a trustworthy friend.

    I know you have a big political axe to grind, but it's off topic.
  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @10:39PM (#15598800) Journal

    Well, if you tell them you want a sex change, you're probably not going to try to convert them to going down the same road ...

    I think that's what offends a lot of people about born-again fundamentalist evangelicals - the lack of respect for other people's beliefs. The evangelicals don't see it - they believe its God's command.

  • by tom6a ( 871216 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @12:23AM (#15599077)
    According to a January Pew/Internet Study, online activity enhances social contact rather than promoting isolation. According to the report, email and the Internet supplements rather than replaces offline communication. 'The larger, the more far-flung, and the more diverse a person's network, the more important email is,' reports Jeffrey Boase, co-author of the study. For example, people who e-mail their friends and family at least once a week are 25% more likely to have phone contact. Internet users, on average, have 37 close friends instead of an average of 30 for non-Internet users. In addition to enhancing social networks, the researchers also discovered that 45% of people turn to their online network to help make major life decisions such as dealing with a major illness, choosing a school, making investment decisions, changing jobs or finding a new place to live. Blog Post: http://www.omninerd.com/news/news.php?nid=509 [omninerd.com] Study: http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/172/report_displa y.asp [pewinternet.org]
  • by superguido7 ( 972186 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @12:43AM (#15599134)
    One case does not disprove anything, especially considering how unusual your case is in that you seem to have had the funds to travel the world.
  • social crisis ahead (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kailash badu ( 981792 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @01:39AM (#15599275)
    Internet not only cut us off from the people we really need to meet up, it also got also to get along with people we should really care about. We break away from our parents, friends, and spouse and chat with someone whom we have never met in real life. we feel safer because we don't have to assume any responsibility there, talk whatever you can , whenever you can, and when you grow out of the relationship, just walk away scot free. So personal relationship are really weak and flimsy these days. Every one seems to be chasing instant gratification. I see a social crisis ahead of us, when we will identify hollowness of instant gratification. There would be too little people who really care about us.
  • Mars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by umbrellasd ( 876984 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @02:36AM (#15599419)
    On Mars we absolutely hate this kind of thinking. We like pull technology. We like the ability to choose what we listen to, and we prefer that people not push their idea of reality on us "for our own good", but if they try to that is OK because we will just walk away. The pushers will mistakenly identify that as isolationism, but this is a mistake: such people are not lazy and they are not isolated.

    On Mars, people seek what is new and different. Martians enjoy exploring both sides of an argument, and they are not intent on isolating themselves from anything that is not them. Well, some Martians are--but, that is how they wish it. On Mars, people are allowed to be isolated, if they want, but other Martians don't judge them or spend time trying to educate them about the error of their ways. It's each Martian's responsibility to identify and mend the error of their own ways, if there are any. As a consequence, Martians are about as unlazy as you could imagine, because they know their own progress in life is entirely up to them.

    Martians are very kind and understanding people; they aren't shallow or selfish. They just insist on being who they are, and they don't accept the judgement of others about how they live their life. That doesn't mean that Martians have no respect or understanding for the importance of community. What it means is that they understand the value of accepting what is different, perhaps more than people that spend their time labeling others with words like "lazy", "shallow", and "selfish". Martians know that what might seem lazy to you, may just be work that you are failing to see.

  • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @02:54AM (#15599458)
    While I'm not sure about the merits of being peer-pressured into doing something you don't want to do, I think you're definitely off the mark on the push/pull dilemma. If anything we are more constantly bombarded with data we either don't agree with or find outright offensive to our values, a good amount of it is such utter bullshit that I would argue no one would even sat it in a face to face environment. With close friends you have a sort of pre-selected group of people who think alike, they may disagree, but never about anything 'important'. With any given search of something on the internet you're going to get every random opinion that may exist (along with 10% obligatory porn). Gradually, as with anything else, you learn to filter out sources of opinions that bother you, in the end I think it's a wash.

    I'm not sure why Americans in particular are shallow and selfish as the internet is catching on comparatively slow here. If the article premise is true, and the internet is tearing apart human social fabrics, then you'd think Koreans or Chinese would be the most shallow and selfish. Not something I've personally experienced

    To be slightly polemic (and borrowed slightly from Asimov), if you extropolate technological advancement to the end state, where anything can be had, what would you consider to be utopia? Some people envision the perpetual party state, having fun with friends and living closely with their peers, bound together by social laws and manners. Others might envision complete self-sufficiency, the anti-society, with no undesired external contacts and absolute freedom. I'm not sure that anything is wrong with either end state, we could site pro's and con's to either one, I personally favor the latter.
  • by flibbidyfloo ( 451053 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @03:31AM (#15599512)
    I believe this may be a misreading of the report. I heard the authors today being interviewed on NPR and the interviewer specifically asked them if the internet had anything to do with the decline. It sounded to me like they were saying that they didn't find a specific correlation between internet use and the reported drop. They cited numerous other causes, like greater geographic distribution (suburbs, etc), and greater racial diversity. I think the study was only in the US, also.

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