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The Internet

LonelyNet 343

A Stanford University study released Tuesdy found that the Net is causing Americans to spend less time with friends and family. The more time spent on the Net, says the study, the more isolated we are. Is this so? You don't have to be described by pundits, academics and journalists. You can speak for yourselves here:Update: 02/17 04:30 by H :Oh, check out the story about dogs and people on Wired today - it's hilarious.

The Stanford study, prepared by the university's Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, found that 55% of Americans now have access to the Net. Of those, 36% said they were online at least five hours a week.

The study strongly challenged the assertions of Net advocates and enthusiasts (like me) who argue that the Net creates, communicates, promotes contact and is frequently used by people to connect, rather than disconnect with other humans.

According to Stanford researchers, Internet users are lonelier than other Americans, and are spending more time away from them. Interestingly (and, to me, dubiously), the survey defined loneliness in this way: whether you spend physical time with family and friends, whether you attend fewer social events, whether you spend less time reading newspapers and watching TV, shopping in stores, or are working more at home than before. In other words, the survey defines a radically new environment by nearly ancient measures of human contact.

The Stanford study didn't appear to consider e-mail or other virtual contact - gaming, communities, mailing lists, messaging systems, as contact with other humans. It suggested that the Net was invading the home with work and creating a pervasive new wave of social isolation.

Do online contacts - e-mail, communities like this, messaging systems, mailing lists - not count as connective, or as making contact with people? Are virtual friends friends? Is it more social to watch TV or read a paper than to be online, no matter what you do there?

I've met my closest friends online, and joined some of the most enduring communities of my adult life on the Net. From the first, I've seen it as a way for me to connect with other people, not get away from them.

But here's a chance to say for yourselves whether you consider the Net isolating or not, rather than to have studies or others describe that experience for you:

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  • by slashdot-terminal ( 83882 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:02AM (#1264994) Homepage
    I watched the person who released the study and the leader of one of the major research groups on PBS (McNeil/Lehr Newshour).

    They found that young people 16-22 were more likely to use the net socially and increase their social interaction and older people (read adults) were more likely to become isolated.

    Generally this is because older people think in terms of mutually exclusive events.
  • Aren't friends and family people that you keep in contact through the net?

  • I know that the internet has actually *improved* communication between my friends and I. We can talk more often (via email or a IM service) than we would like to before (long-distance). It may not be face-to-face, but is really THAT important?
  • by Snorp ( 63417 )
    I'm not sure about other slashdotters, but I spend a LOT of time online, and I'm not lonely (usually). In fact, most of the time when I'm online, I am sending messages to friends and family. How could this make me more isolated????

  • My family lives about 3hrs away from me, so I don't get to see them often. Picking up a phone a dealing with long distance charges gets expensive. I talk with my family almost daily now, thanks to IM and email. We have more in depth conversations now than when I lived with them.
    Donald Roeber
  • by pb ( 1020 )
    Of course people you meet on the net are people. Yes, online friends are friends.

    If I talk to you over the phone and tell you my life story, did we talk? What kind of stupid question is that? Why should e-mail be any different? I've known people who break up over e-mail. Does that mean they're still going out? Geez.

    And the Wired article is hilarious! Also in the news: people who have been living for longer tend to die sooner! Oh my god! ;)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • by Nonesuch ( 90847 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:06AM (#1265000) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps the study is correct, but their results are backwards?

    I would venture that while many people disagree with the statement "Using the internet makes you into a lonely person", many will agree with the statement "Lonely people are more likely to become Internet users".

    Which is cause and which is effect?

  • My name is Jimhotep and I'm addicted to the "net"

    there, I'm half cured!

    that was too easy

  • Yawn. I cam sum up both these studies, and probably a thousand more on video games and television.

    Whenever I do something, I don't do something else.

    It's about opportunity cost. The hour I a day reading news pages, I could be talking to my family, studying, or doing half a billion things. But I don't want to. I want to rant on slashdot. Is that so frightening? The internet is an interesting place (and especially time-consuming if you're on a modem), and dogs take a large amount of attention and care. So you have to spend a few of your 24 allotted daily hours on them, if you're going to spend any at all. That's a few less hours you could spend doing other things. "Other things" include social interaction.

    Big deal.

  • Since I have articulation problems due to my physical disabilitites, it is hard to socialize in person. However, the chat BBS' and the boom of the Internet has changed my life. I am able to socialize and interact a lot more with people. What pisses me off is that people think I am an Internet addict. I use the Internet more than fun. I use it for work, socialize, news, etc.

    This article is irrelevant to my situation. Anyone feel the same way?

    Thank you in advance for replies. :)

  • by JonKatz ( 7654 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:10AM (#1265004) Homepage

    But on Senior Net on AOL, the elderly are pouring onto the Net. In fact, older Americans are statistically the fastest growing group of people on the Net and Web. They check in with grandkids, mail their own children, connect with one another. This study is wacky to me...older people are prime example of a group that uses the Net to connect with other people.
  • I don't know about lonely, but I know a lot of people who spend 'inordinate' amounts of time on the web that are increasingly uncomfortable when they have to interact in actual reality.

    Of course, I'm not one of them (isn't that always how it goes?). I spend less time with family and friends because of a cross-country move a couple of years ago. I have no really close friends that I've met on the net. Those I consider close are my friends 'back home' and a few of the folks I've met since moving.

    I think I do spend more time online than I used to, but I think that's more a function of having fewer friends in close proximity and, therefore fewer options available.


  • I certainly hope my tax dollars did not get put towards a bunch of lunatics saying that I should rob Peter to pay Paul. God forbid that I should reduce the amount of time they (I) spend with family, friends and -- most of all -- the television. Hey everyone out there, you are too stupid to realize that spending 1 hour on the Internet per week reduces your capacity to watch television by 1 hour per week. You must read this Stanford study in order to really find out what a detriment that the Internet is having on your life. I definitely need to spend less time on the Internet now that I've read this article. Maybe I should get a dog...
  • DOH!
    THis is an excerpt from David Weinberger's monthly zine. It's a paragraph in answer to his father in law, asking him why he spends at least 4 hours a day responding to email

    So, my father-in-law asks why I do this. What do I
    get out of it? Clearly, I get stimulation. And maybe
    someday one of these email strangers will remember
    me and recommend my work to a reclusive billionaire
    who will make me the sole beneficiary of his will
    (well, so long as I can manage to off his cat). But
    those aren't the real reasons. The world is growing
    a new nervous system. The neurons are striving to
    connect. I sense a spiritual mandate so deep that it
    feels biological. We must find one another, rapidly.
    We must grip every hand that we see. This is the new
    evolution. We are building a world that only we can
    build. We are building the real web, the one that
    uses technology for connection the way our souls use
    our bodies. It is joyous.

  • i have a house full of people who use my connection to talk to friends and relatives, we dont lose interaction, we gain it. it brings everyone together, sharing stories and setting up trips. however, i agree the already socially inept will use it more as they get their online girlfriends and boyfriends, who can not go out and talk to people. these people will become more engrossed with the online community, making the internet their only social interaction

  • Think of the ways in which people use the Net to connect:
    kids to parents
    kids to other kids
    kids to grandparents
    friends to friends
    workers to colleagues
    people with culture

    Even business models like EBay and require interaction between retailers and customer..e-mails, reviews, etc.
    Everybody I know on the Net, at any age, connects with people online. I think the problem here is that the people doing this kind of study don't see this kind of contact as with humans.
  • a big surfing habit, and a dog??? Am I doomed to hermitude??

    Just wondering - Keith
  • I've recently cut down the amount of time I spend using the computer at home. I was spending a couple of hours on IRC, answering e-mail and reading various sites.

    Overall, it looked like social interaction. But in reality, I lost touch with many people which live close to me. Instead, I conversed with semi-strangers on the other side of the continent.

    This being said, I met my best friend about six years ago on a BBS. But imho, BBSes offered much more social interaction than anything I found on the internet.

    So now that I have a couple of free hours a night, I can spend it any way I want - take a nap, read a book, go to a movie with my friends or keep up with my old hobbies.

    The hardest part was noticing that I traded my life for the computer.

  • I saw this news item floating around a couple of days ago. The internet has changed my life over the past few years but I would not describe myself as lonely more lonlier than I was a few years ago. I watch very little television these days, probably less than 3 hours per week (which is a Good Thing). I get most of my news from the Internet, I stopped reading newspapers a couple of years ago and I never watch the local news broadcasts. I do catch local news from various radio programs that I listen to during the work day.
    I still spend a lot of time with my friends, in fact we talk much more now than we dis a couple of years ago. It's just easier to communicate via e-mail than it is to try and get someone on the phone. As far as "face to face" contact, i still hang out with my friends every weekend- as much as we did in the "pre-internet" days.
    I've also met some new friends, as I am sure that you all have, via the internet, some of whom live here in Memphis and have become "real" friends.
    I think that some people are just not wanting to accept that the world is changing. I suspect that the lonliest internet users are the same folks that used to spend all of their free time holed up in their apartment watching television. Now they spend their free time holed up in their apartment surfing the internet. Not much of a change.

  • I think the issue is what the groups use the net for

    If it is as a primary method of communication then there could be social isolation occuring.

    If it is used as I use it as an aid to communication and interaction then I would say that the net is actively increasing my social intereaction.

    I think one of the biggest problems is that people see the net becoming a primary social interaction device rather than as a tool to enhance,rather than replace traditional communications.

    Also it would be interesting to see the study to see how it defines online use and online interaction.

    I would hypothesise that if you broke down the results into categories based around what people mainly use the net for then you would ge tmore interesting and more informative results.

    Firstly I would say that people who primarily use e-mail would probably use it as a communication enhancer to catch up with people and arrange face to face meetings.

    People who primarily surf or use IRC and talkers maybe the ones who are less inclined to use it for enhancing IRL experience.

    Although it would be a less attention grabbing headline

    'People shown to derive variable benefit depending on context of internet use...'
  • I personally believe the antisocial geek hermit phase something that teenagers go thru, and is just a phase. I remember articles in the newspaper about internet addiction - and I say, so what? it was a great lerning experience. It was also a good opportunity to be intraspective. Maybe in adults its longer lasting and more damaging, but for teens and young adults, a year or two long addiction to the net, and a drop in social activity may not be such a bad thing. :)
  • by tuffy ( 10202 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:16AM (#1265015) Homepage Journal
    • Dogs never require electricity, only a steady supply of food.
    • Dogs never require a reinstall. The first setup and they're good for life.
    • Dogs never require an upgrade (unless you want a BeoWOOF cluster of them).
    • Dogs are much softer than the internet.
    • Dogs are always the right temperature. They require no more cooling fans than you do.
    • Dogs never require overclocking. If they're not running at the right speed, simply work on the leash a bit more.
    • Dogs never need backing up. Their flash memory is good for life.
    • Dogs never need a password. Using newfangled biometrics, dogs will always know who you are.
    • Dogs will give you exercise. The internet will not.
    • Dogs are also much better to look at than the internet. The skin they have is good enough.
    That's why I'd rather spend my day with a dog than on the internet ;)
  • Some people at Carnegie Mellon University are also investigating the social consequences of net usage ( check out the HomeNet project here []). They have also concluded that Internet usage leads to less interpersonal physical contact. They also observed that interpersonal communication is a stronger driver for internet usage than than entertainment or information searching.
  • <AOL>Me Too!</AOL>
    I live about 10-12 hours from my parents. I usually call them about once a week, but IM with my Dad two or three times in between. It's also easy for him to e-mail me pictures (although I need to teach him about JPG compression), so I can actually see the new quilt my Mom has been working on. Mom got on IM for the first time last night, and seemed to enjoy it.
  • "Aren't friends and family people that you keep in contact through the net?"

    No, that's an old MCI Marketing strategy....


  • The phone takes people away from f2f contact as well..does that not count as human interaction? And what about the time ON the phone, as pb suggests?
  • Generally this is because older people think in terms of mutually exclusive events.

    That's an utterly unfounded statement. "Mutually exclusive events"? Come on now,.give your parents credit for thinking rationally, at least. The real problem lies in the fact that the percentage of adults using real-time interaction tools on the 'net hasn't yet reached critical mass. The critical mass I speak of is that moment when there's just enough of your friends already doing it so that you want to do it yourself. Then positive feedback forms, and there's an exponential explosion.

    The first age group, HS/college, to reach this critical mass with respect to real-time online communication hit it around summer of '97, when ICQ exploded into the millions. As the previous reply points out, we're now seeing a boom in the senior citizen population (I believe I've heard the following at least 2 times in the past week: "Oh my god, hell just froze over; I got an ICQ message from grandma"). My guess regarding the (unexpected, for me) fact that senior citizens got here faster than the middle-age population is that it's probably explainable by them having more time available to learn these technologies.

  • by 348 ( 124012 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:18AM (#1265021) Homepage
    Jon Katz's Lonely Hearts Club thread

    It was twenty threads ago today,
    AC's began throwing flames his way
    They've been flaming Jon and his style
    But they're guaranteed to raise a smile.
    So may I introduce to you
    The flame you've known for all these years,
    Jon Katz's Lonely Hearts Club thread.
    We're Jon Katz's Lonely Hearts Club Band,
    We hope you will enjoy the post,
    We're Jon Katz's Lonely Hearts Club Band,
    Sit back and let the AC's go.
    Jon Katz's lonely, Jon Katz's lonely,
    Jon Katz's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
    It's wonderful to post here,
    It's certainly a thrill.
    You're such a zealot audience,
    We'd like to mod you up with us,
    We'd love to mod you up.
    I don't really want to stop the trolls,
    But I thought that you might like to know,
    That the author's going to post a troll,
    And he wants you all to post along.
    So let me introduce to you
    The one and only non-geek here
    Jon Katz's Lonely Hearts Club thread.

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:18AM (#1265022)
    We're constantly scanning for new ideas on the web, e-mailing people, and interacting both in video games and in online forums like this one.

    But let me guess, unless it's in meat-space, it doesn't count? The "older" generation(s) will always have a problem with the "younger" ones - saying "it wasn't that way when *I* was a kid". Well, duh. And it never will be again. That's part of the unique condition that is part of life. When we're 40 years old people on slashdot will harken back to the good old days when processors were made out of silicon and we had a vast "internet". The kids of that day will laugh at us because they weren't around to see it - they'll have optical processors that interconnect to everything, and fiberoptic will be everywhere. Nanotech will be building factories that improve themselves, and we'll still be working 60 hour work-weeks while government proclaims us "Happiest Times Ever!"

    It's culture-shock, and these researchers need to recognize that. Sure, according to their calculus we ARE spending less time interacting with people. But we're replacing that by interacting with people ONLINE and their IDEAS instead. Wouldja rather we go out dancing every evening and have ice cream socials?

  • Forgive me for posting to the main thread as my post will echo many sentiments already expressed. However, I couldn't respond to everyone.

    WOW! A short Katz piece. Seriously, this study definitely assumes that while we're on the net we're not communicating with friends and family. I think many of the sites I go to with active messageboard systems (such as this one), promote friendship. You get to know the people who come and post on the sites you go to. I've had someone from Slashdot contact me about a post I made for a story, and it was amazing, someone that I could have started a dialogue with (I didn't, but I could've).

    As far as family? I live in Colorado, and most of my mother's side of the family lives on the east coast. I'm not good at letters, and phone calls get too expensive. I can stay in good contact with my entire family, using the 'net. So what if I spend 30 hours a week on it? much of that time is spent cultivating new friendships, and adding fuel to old ones.

    The sense of community people feel here at Slashdot and at other, similar sites is unique to our age, and I think it should be held up as an example of how telecommunications was MEANT to work. This is what people talk about when they say Global Village (a few spammers and flamers aside).
  • How many hours do people spend watching Television a week? Certainly, 3 hours watching the tube is about as useless as 3 hours surfing the web. Now, I rarely watch TV nowadays, but I'm online a lot (not only to post on /., but I have to work online as well).

    Isn't the web just replacing TV as Amercia's favorite time waster? Or are most poeople wasting time on BOTH now? ^_^

  • Anything that gets people to spend less time watching TV is a good thing. Check out this powerful anti-TV "essay" [].
  • I feel very sorry for a bunch of researcher who really don't understand what socialising is. Chatting with my friends online is very similar to chatting with them on the phone. I have travelled a lot, and have recently moved back to the US. If I were to rely on the telephone to talk to them, I'd go broke. If I sent mail by post, I would communicate less.

    Then there's also the fact that I'm extremely busy. I have lots of work to do at my job. When people can e-mail me events instead of trying to get a hold of me on my busy phone, then I can schedule time to spend with them. I can plan my life and fit socialising in, without necessarily excluding work or other friends.

    Yeah, I used to work with academians. Like people who hide in books and labs should tell us how real life functions.

  • Hey, Jon! Nice to see you down here in the trenches with the rest of us! Hopefully, getting more involved in the discussion forums will help your image problems here.
  • by KaCee ( 142522 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:23AM (#1265029) Homepage

    If the 'net isolates people, then I must be a living anomaly. My ex-common-law husband (with whom I'm still a close friend) and I met on the 'net in 95. I just went all the way to marry my new love, whom I met online in 98. The first was in the same city, the second was in the US (I'm in Canada, but moving down there in a few weeks). Yes, my new hubby and I have met in person many many times and spent a lot of time together, but we first bonded as close friends online because we met in a newsgroup that interested us both.

    So if the researchers are all worried that Internet communication lacks "warmth" and human closeness...well...ahem...let's just say my new hubby and I have proven that deliciously wrong. *grin*

    The study is meaningless, IMHO. They took people without 'net connections and hooked them up, then asked them if they did other things less. Well duh. There are still only 24 hours in a day, and if you're spending time doing _anything_ more, you're doing the rest less. And plenty of studies show that, particularly with kids, what's being given up for 'net time is TV time (ie as cited in Growing Up Digital [] by Don Tapscott).

    These studies only show a change in behaviour, and conclusions drawn from individual changes are spurious at best.

    -- Kimberly "happy geek" Chapman

  • Being away at school, the internet is my primary means of staying in contact with friends and family who aren't attending my school. I can't afford $100+ phone bills, or try to visit everyone every weekend. It just isn't feasable.

    I don't spend my time trying to meet a lot of new people online. I'm not into IRC, and just chatting with any random(joe). I prefer more private type instant messaging services like ICQ, (, licq is great) where I can require authorization for people to contact me. It keeps me in constant contact with anyone I choose. (And plus it isn't too hard for those not as interested in computers to use.) And then there is e-mail. Together they do a great job of keeping me in touch with people I wouldn't usually be in touch with.

    Now for friends on campus, the internet is taken out of the equation, because the cost of staying in contact is far less.

  • And then those lonely people will find more social interaction on the 'Net than they had in their lives before. I think it's a good thing. You can actually make friends in chat rooms and develop relationships this way.

    I use the net mainly for news and information gathering, kind of like hanging out in a giant library with to-the-minute updates of magazines & newspapers, plus a reference section like you wouldn't believe. The other primary purpose is email to keep in touch and make arrangements with other people to go out, have meetings, get together, etc.

    Of course, the entertainment on the 'Net isn't all that bad either.

    Funny, that stuff about dogs. I haven't seen my dogs in over a month (they live at home with my parents), but I do have pictures of them up on the net. I found out in email from my dad that one of them's sick, so I'm going home this weekend where I'll have tons of social interaction (of the researcher-acceptable kind).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Consider this: If all the baby-boomers go online, get lonely, and kill themselves, we won't have to deal wit funding their Social Security in 20 years!

    It's a win-win situation!

  • The more time you spend on the Net, the less time you spend with friends.

    The more time you spend reading, the less time you spend with friends.

    The more time you spend on contemplative walks in the woods, the less time you spend with friends.

    Simply put, we have a finite amount of time to work with, and any time we choose a solitary activity, we also choose a more "lonely" life (Something I think anyone with a modicum of intelligence would grasp immediately). This is not a bad thing -- solitude is something I value far more than social contact, and if I didn't spend time on the net, I'd be spending time curled up with a good book or out back in the smithy (alone) pounding iron or taking a leisurely hike up Acadia Mountain (again alone).

    Why does anyone make a big deal out of this? Some people choose to be less social than others, and our activities reflect that. Time spent on the net is just another such activity...and I balance that time with my other interests, just like everyone else.

    -- WhiskeyJack

  • You all are like addicts. Thinking up all the excuses of why you are not an addict, and someone else is.

    I will make the first move:

    "I am an internet addict. It started out innocently enough. I took my first download back in 1986 from a Clarkson computer center machine. But after that first taste, I couldn't help myself. I bought a 1200 baud modem, but that wasn't enough. I mortgaged my VW to buy a 3600 baud modem, and my dog then left me. I really started going downhill fast in 1994 on a Windows 3.1 machine running Super TCP/IP, when the company that I work for installed a T1 line. Since then I have become more and more addicted, spending hours reading technology web sites, catching up with friends via email, and improving my job skills. I am so ashamed of myself that I have come to Web Addicts Anonymous (WAA!) for your support and help.

  • by object.orient() ( 150871 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:32AM (#1265048)
    Long time reader, first time poster, but when I saw,
    But here's a chance to say for yourselves whether you consider the Net isolating or not, rather than to have studies or others describe that experience for you,
    I had to respond.

    It occurs to me that the people doing these studies have to be extroverts. (Extroverts are people who seem to gain energy from being around other people; introverts are people who gain energy from doing things -- including just resting -- without other people around. See [] for more.)

    This study is blatant in its disregard for introverts like me. Being around other people is often a physically and psychologically draining experience for me. This is because, for whatever reason, spontaneous conversation does not come easily. I find myself searching for a topic or something interesting to say. When I finally find something, the moment has passed, or (worse yet) I have to then edit it to make sure it doesn't sound self-absorbed and that I have formatted it correctly so that it is really understandable. This makes it very difficult to "mingle" at a party, and I end up having that "alone in a crowded room" feeling.

    When I write something, however, the words flow more easily because I know that I can and will go back and edit later, before sending/publishing.

    Because of this, the 'net has been an indispensible tool in my attempt to communicate and do so effectively. If I had to conduct all business conversation in person or on the phone I would be much less effective than I am using email.

    The same is true for certain personal communications. Live, real-time conversation is difficult and draining. Therefore, I'm not as likely to do it. By using email to contact friends, I'm much more likely to actually stay in touch. Since email is so much quicker than the post, real conversations can happen without taking weeks to finish.

    So, while the extroverts may look at folks using the internet and say, "Argh! They have no human contact," the introverts look at them and say, "Hey! They're finally able to talk to people."

  • I tend to think it simply gives people with less confidence a chance to speak and be heard.
    This is one of the main reasons I started a weblog. I've never been very social, and have always have had difficulty expressing myself. One of my main motivations for weblogging is to get into the habit of writing something for an audience (probably very small; I don't collect hit data) every day.
  • God knows I don't have a social life. But then again, I've never found the idea of getting wasted on a weekend night appealing. I've also found that most people are simply so different from me that it is just not enjoyable to hang out with them. I don't spend time with my family since its so dysfunctional. So I guess I'm a loner.

    But without the net, it would be much worse. I simply wouldn't be in touch with anyone. The net doesn't replace what I would have otherwise been doing, it creates something for me to do. I know this because at various points in my life without a computer, I would spend too much time watching TV or playing video games or what have you.

    The study was done wrong. Those more likely to use the net are also more likely to be lonely in the first place. The study says that people who spend more time on line spend less time with friends. The reverse is what they really discovered. Those who spend more time with friends spend less time on the computer.

  • How many hours do people spend watching Television a week?

    The difference here is that watching TV can be a shared experience which encourages human to human interaction. How many times have you snuggled up w/ your loved one to watch a movie? Now, how many times have you snuggled up w/ your loved one to surf Slashdot?

    The problem becomes that surfing the net is a personal thing only. And it can hamper relationships. It's happened to me many times, since I'm on the web 10+ hours per day (since it's my job and all). I have stepped on a few women's toes because of it and had other joke that my computer was my "real" girlfriend.

    For those of us like myself who think with a one track mind (if, then, else) the web can really suck you in if your not careful and ruin a lot of "real world" interaction.
  • I don't even know what they look like, and in some cases if they're even male or female. Does any of this mean that they're not real friends? For all I know, one of them could be an AI program that passes the Turing test.

    Does it matter?

    I enjoy talking to them and they with me. We have lots of fun together on the net. These are people I never would've met in person as they are scattered about the globe, while I hate the hassle of airports and rental cars and travel.

    Let's turn the question around: Are internet-phobic people with only local friends "isolated" because all their friends are from the same area, think alike, live alike, work together, etc., and therefore don't bring up any new points of view or help expand one's mind by exposing one another to radically different cultures and ideas? Having only local friends thus limits your world view. Now who is really isolated? I wonder.

  • > It may not be face-to-face, but is really THAT important?

    Well, yes.

    There is something that face-to-face interaction provides that email just doesn't. I suspect that a majority of the /. crowd will miss this because they tend to be more introverted than the average population (actually, I'd bet my lunch that the average /. poster is a INTJ on Meyers/Briggs). I know people whose idea of social gatherings is to get a party together in Everquest or meet someone on a MUD. You might argue that this techically qualifies as social interaction (it does), but it's also really sad. Also, it might fit the technical definition of social interaction, but not the spirit in which the author meant it.

    Sitting behind your computer and firing off the occassional IM while mudding is not a healthy way to live.

    Setting aside the "I met my wife online" case studies which /. will no doubt be flooded with, you've got to realize that spending more than a hour or two per day on the net will generally be destructive to your social life. Email doesn't let you bond with other people. You might have interesting conversations, but you'll never have social experience unless you get off your ass and out of the house.


  • by LLatson ( 24205 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:38AM (#1265059) Homepage
    This is an excellent point. It seems that maybe the researchers have fallen into a statistical trap.

    Repeat after me:
    Correlation does not imply causation.

  • Other surveys have indicated a 59% increase in the number of men that look like Brad Pitt..
  • When I first got online many years ago (BBS's, not the net), I discovered that there was this huge proportion of deaf people online. It was actually pretty c00l - though when they came to real-time gatherings, most of the rest of us couldn't talk to them directly, but online, no interpreters were needed.
  • I don't know why people bother with this. First off, this is a measure of =quantity=, NOT =quality=. If people spent 5 hours/day less together, and those were the 5 hours they would have spent arguing or fighting, you've massively INCREASED the quality of the time they DO spend together, AND INCREASED their closeness.

    People bicker and argue when they feel hemmed in. When they don't have those walls around them, there is a chance that they'll actually be a lot more pleasent to be around, and also that they will get more out of the interaction.

    Personally, I'm going to wait until someone bothers to do a study on the stuff that matters, rather than on the numbers which don't.

  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:50AM (#1265070) Homepage
    There is a point where introversion crosses over to social anxiety disorder. It's an unreasonable fear of social situations (you've probably seen some drug company's commercials about the subject).

    Now, I'll admit that I'm a bit of an introvert. I feel, however, that my previous overuse of the computer/net has pushed me farther and farther towards an unhealthy level of introversion.

    IMHO, moderation is important when discussing personality traits. You don't want to be too much of an introvert nor a sociopathic extrovert; it's far better to be just mildly in one or the other camp.

    Like I've mentioned in another post in this thread, I know people for whom the net defines their social life -- talking with people on Everquest or a MUD is the only form of social interaction they get. I can't see how that could possibly be healthy -- it leads to a loss of basic social skills and tends to be accompanied by a lack of exercise and (sometimes extreme) weight gain. Some /.'ers might see themselves in this and/or might think that this is an okay way to live if you want to, but I can't imagine that shutting yourself off from society is the road to mental health.

    Granted, I'm citing extreme examples here. It can be seen, however, in more mild cases in one form or another.

    Let me wrap up by suggesting that people use the net to avoid person-to-person interaction. You can argue that emailing someone is just like talking to them at dinner, but it's a pale substitute. Net-based interactions are not just "safe", but they allow you to reduce the person you're interacting with to just an object, an abstraction.

    There must be more to life than that.


  • The 12 suggested steps for Slashdot Addiction

    We admitted we were powerless over Slashdot--that our lives had become unmanageable.

    Came to believe that Karma greater than ours could restore us to sanity.

    Made a decision to turn our will and our posts over to the care of Taco as we understood Him.

    Made a searching and fearless moderation of our threads.

    Admitted to AC, to ourselves and to the other 500, 000 Slashdotters the exact nature of our flames.

    Were entirely ready to have Hemos remove all these negative karma hits.

    Humbly asked Roblimo to remove all moderation.

    Made a list of all persons we had flamed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    Made amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure the karma rating.

    Continued to take other posters inventory and when we were wrong promptly denied it.

    Sought through trolls and flamebait to improve our off-topic contact with Slashdot, as we understood it, posting only for knowledge of nerd news and the stuff that matters.

    Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to Slashdotters, and to practice these principles in all our posts.

  • While I'm certain you must be joking, I still can't help but respond.

    Your argument doesn't exactly hold up. It is ilogical to say someone is something simply because they deny it.

    If I were to call you a VB programmer, you might deny it and respond with reasons you are not. However, that in no way implies that you are a VB programmer who hasn't come out of the closet. You might be, but you might not be--the truth can't be determined from the fact you deny it.

    Or maybe I'm just an addict making more denials. ;)
  • I don't deal with social groups well in person. I am fine with small interactions, 2 or 3 people, and I can do public speaking and/or teaching, but it's really not my thang to be real outgoing in meat life. What I do know how to do is stuff I specifically learned to do and isn't the most comfortable thing in the world, as I'm basically a very introverted person.

    LOTS of people, geeks or not, are very introverted people. Being online is a way to begin interacting with other people in an "introverted" way. Cause hey, you're at home alone focused on this machine in front of you, so you can take the time to explore internal landscapes before responding in a way that you can't do face-to-face.

    Myself... there were several major advantages to online interaction beyond the fact that I got to connect in my prefered introverted mode. First off, in my very first chat I found several other Heinlein fans - more than I'd met offline in my entire life. Online was a place where I could sort by similar itnerests much more eaisly than real life, particularly for eclectic and unusual interests.

    Secondly, online I could have a public conversaiton with a group and multiple private conversations simultaneously. You can't do this offline. Even sitting in the same physical room with the same people isn't as good, because you can't participate in many threads at once offline.

    Third, while I can't type as fast as I can think, I can type a LOT faster than I can talk. Online communciation allows me to increase the quantity of my communicaiton tremendously.

    Connecting with people online *IS* connecting with people. As many folks do, I have many acquaintances, but only a handful of very close friends. Of my 4 most intimate relationships, 3 of them I originally met online - 9, 7 and 3 years ago, respectively. Only one was originally met in meat life, and that was through one of my online friends who worked at the same company as him.

  • by jetson123 ( 13128 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:56AM (#1265081)
    It's dangerous to draw conclusions about scientific studies from press releases or news articles. However, there are some general points to keep in mind. Furthermore, Nie, the director of the institute where the study took place, seems to make some pretty definitive statements about it that pretty clearly indicate his interpretation, an interpretation I find questionable.

    First, the most glaring one is the inclusion of television viewing. Television is probably the most intellectually worthless, un-social and passive activity one can engage in (that isn't to say one should never watch television; after all, the occasional ice cream is great fun even if it is nutritionally worthless, but too much ice cream leads to obesity). Just about any Internet activity is more social, more interactive, and more stimulating. There is good reason to believe that the Internet primarily displaces television viewing time, and that's altogether the best thing that can happen.

    The Internet also displaces traditional newspaper reading. Good: newspapers have had a hold on the information business far too long. The Internet offers more variety of information and more ability for dialog than traditional newspapers.

    Another issue, of course, is that the study does not appear to take into account social interactions over the Internet.

    Even if the study had found that there is a negative correlation between time spent on personal social interaction and time spent on the Internet, that doesn't imply a causal relationship.

    I think a study like this needs to be carried out with great caution and without bias. From what has been reported, the study does not appear to support the conclusions attributed to it. And based on its likening of non-social activities like television viewing and newspaper reading in the category of "social interaction", it seems like the authors of the study had definite biases.

    The study basically just seems to be saying that the Internet is taking away time from the things that people used to do. Well, big surprise. If you spend a few hours on the Internet per day, that's bound to happen. As long as it's television and newspaper time, I think that's hardly a loss. And it seems pretty likely that the Internet causes people to read and write more than in the past, as well as exposing them to new ideas. And that's a big win from my point of view.

  • by philg ( 8939 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @08:57AM (#1265083)
    "What pisses me off is that people think I am an Internet addict."

    Well, you are. The problem lies not in the fact that you're an addict, but that people don't seem to realize what an addict is.

    According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary [], to addict oneself to something is "to surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively". An addict (the noun) is simply a "devotee".

    People are addicted, in the strictest sense, to all kinds of things -- chocolate, the morning paper, stamp collecting, C programming.

    The word, however, has a pernicious pejorative use as someone who devotes him/herself to something to the point of causing him/herself (or others) harm. This is convenient to people who are disturbed at what someone does -- they can label them an "addict" and suddenly that person loses the right to do what they are doing.

    This mechanism is most evident in American attitudes toward drugs and drug addicts. (Many of whom do injure themselves and others for their addictions; many, however, do not.) However, the same thing is at work all over our society.

    Some of the most effective members of society have been addicts -- some things can only be accomplished by obsessive devotion to a cause. Addiction, by definition. Ted Williams was addicted to hitting baseballs. Most of the people in public office -- heaven help us all -- are addicted to politics. (As opposed to fair government addicts, whom I would gladly elect.)

    But it doesn't have to be an obsession. It can simply be a habit. I'm an email addict, by that definition; I check to see if there's something new all day, whenever I think about it. I'm not obsessed about it; it's just easy to check, and keeps me up-to-date on correspondence. So I've cultivated the habit. If I weren't addicted to email, a lot of people would be irritated that I didn't do something for them in a timely manner.

    Next time someone calls you an "internet addict", ask them if they have a favorite TV show. Or if they enjoy their job. Or if they're married. Show me someone totally unaddicted to something, and I'll show you someone with no hobbies, no passionate attachments, no connections to anything -- someone, in short, with real problems.


  • Friend of mine met someone in a newsgroup. Needed my help to get a chat set up. A few months later he took a vacation, met her. Not long after that they got married.

    It was strange meeting her and saying, "You know I was the guy that showed your husband how to use newsgroups, and then how to use chat?"

    BTW you are the only person that I have seen describe a past long-term live-in boyfriend as, "ex-common-law husband".


    PS Good luck on your marriage. I would try to think of some good advice, but I remember how much that sort of thing irritated me a decade ago next Tuesday..and yes, there is a reason that I can name that date so easily... :-)
  • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @09:02AM (#1265089)
    Were we lonely and isolated before getting on the net? I was. The net has helped.
  • by MoNsTeR ( 4403 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @09:03AM (#1265091)
    I don't think that spending lots of time online causes people to spend less time with friends and family. Rather, people who tend to spend little time with friends & family are the ones who spend lots of time online. If the internet had been widely available when I was in middle school, I would have spent immeasureable time on it, because I had few friends or other interests. Even now in college, I spend a lot of time on the 'net simply because I have nothing else to do.

  • I don't know about "Lonely people become Internet users", but I certainly agree with your basic point. I'm not sure that the Internet causes people to avoid human interaction, but I would say it's possible that people who want to avoid human interaction use the Net more. Further, there's something I don't believe was covered by this study. I don't want to avoid human interaction; I want to avoid unnecessary human interaction. That is, I want more time to spend with my wife, with my family, with the people important to me. My bank teller and the clerk at the local Fry's Electronics are not important to me, so interaction with them can be minimized and I don't care. So instead of spending two hours looking for the exact book I want, I can head over to Fatbrain, order it, then spend time with the people I care about. That's not detrimental to human interaction; it's a positive move.
  • I've just finished writing an undergrad dissertation on the linguistics of one particular type of Internet chat (telnet talkers, to be precise), which involved doing a lot of background research on net communication in general, and I agree with every word FreshView said. This study frankly makes my blood boil because it's Just Wrong. If the Net contributes to social isolation, why are there 151* newsgroups and countless support groups, women's groups, fan organisations and so on based on the web? Why does chat- that's real-time interaction with real, live people, folks- make up a ludicrously large percentage of total bandwidth usage[1]? Why do the users on all the talkers and BBSs I use spontaneously organise RL meets?

    And think about, say, a transvestite living in a small, provincial town. Sometimes the Net can be the only line of contact with people who won't censure or ostracise you for being different. I really think the Net can be a gateway to finding a group where you belong, as well as the best way to stay in touch; I've even seen people learning how to socialise effectively through experiences on the net. (Hey, it helped me ;)


    [1] I can't remember the precise figure, 28-30% maybe, and I don't know how it was arrived at either, but I think it was cited in a book edited by Susan Herring called 'Computer-mediated Communication [blah blah long academic subtitle blah]', published in 96.

  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @09:12AM (#1265101) Homepage
    The problem with the net is that it implements another level of abstraction -- the people you talk to are just another step away from seeming "real".

    Consider: If you were going to blindside your s/o and dump them, what do you think would be the easiest way?

    Over the Phone
    Send them an Email
    Send a "Dear John" letter
    Do it in person
    Remember, I didn't ask which you would do, just which would be easiest to do. I suspect that tied for the easiest would be the email and letter, followed by a phone call, with the "in person" method being the most difficult.

    Why? Well, from your perspective, each provides a barrier between you and the other person. In person, you have to see exactly how the dumping effect the other -- any pain, betrayal, tears or hurt are there for you to see, knowing that you've caused it. Over the phone, you can at least hear these things, even if you can't see their face or look them in the eye. Email and letters, however, provide the ultimate in abstraction. You don't have to see their immediate reaction or emotions; you might get a "You Bastard/Bitch" response, but that's far easier to deal with than immediate pain.

    I'm not trying to dwell on breaking up -- this abstraction concept will apply for whatever emotion you consider -- happiness, love, etc. Would you talk to you s/o over the phone or over the dinner table?

    I suspect that people use this advanced level of abstration to avoid socializing. Over email or IM, the other person is reduced to an object or an idea, often with no face to go along with it. That's why people can flame so terribly and say things they never would in real life -- it's not just because you're not afraid of getting a broken nose, but because that person is not fully a person to you.


  • Also, if push comes to shove, you can eat your dog.

    "Sorry, old boy, but it's mighty cold and it's either you or the Dell-- And I don't got a recipe for Dell-gravy."

  • What a revelation! It just hit me - all the things I do to avoid "human interaction":

    1 - Sleep 6 hours
    2 - Run 2 to 3 miles a day
    3 - Work 8 to 10 hours a day
    4 - Bathe
    5 - Brush Teeth
    6 - Toilet Breaks
    7 - Think about how to make the world better
    8 - Read a book, newspaper, online article
    9 - Worry about finances
    10 - Feed the cat
    11 - Take out the trash
    12 - Talk to out of town family on the phone

    Is it just me or have you noticed that about half of all surveys are below average lately?

    This just in: Half of all divorcing people are men.
  • News Flash! New study concludes that University professors are more concerned with PUBLISHING a study, than with reaching worthwhile conclusions!!

    So the net gives people something else to do besides socializing. So what? It's no different than television, or book for that matter...

    "That there Guttenberg is polluting the children's minds, keeping them from fornicating in the corn fields..."

    Perhaps another point of view is needed. These researches seem to presume, or at least imply, that net-people SHOULD spend lot's of time with other humans in meat-space. They seem to suggest that being a social butterfly is good and normal, while being an introverted thinker is somehow inferior.

    I wonder at what coctail party they discovered this... Oh, wait, it was done late at night, poring over print-outs all alone, eyes blurry with statistical findings.

    News Flash! New study finds that behavioral researchers are asocial introverts. They should be profiled and monitored, just in case they all turn into unabomber copycats. Remember, Ted Kaczynski had a PhD in math, and was an introvert.
  • On the net, no one knows who you really are. You may make friends with someone sharing common interests (like video games or Sailor Moon or whatever), and then later, waaay down the line, find yourself on the blunt end of cease-and-desist orders or facing "angry parents" or interrogation or questions from police regarding your "relationship" with your net friend who may, in reality, turned out to have been a 14 year old girl. I never asked her her age. It wasn't relevant to our mutual interests. Now everyone's looking at you like some sort of pedo/pervert when all you wanted to talk about was wheather Sailor Jupiter or Sailor Mars has the stronger attack.

    I fear we're in a climate ripe for legislation to make it "illegal" to contact minors on the net without parental permission. Of course, the "but how can you know and what if kids lie about their age" issue will be doged by the wording of the law to make all net friends a risky venture.

  • I'm going to a wedding in May. I'm going from Eastern Canada, the groom's going from Western Canada, and the bride is from Australia.

    We all met through chatting on the internet, where we also talk with Americans, Scots, Aussies, New Zealanders, Brazillians, an Armenian and others.

    I originally moved to Canada, because I came over to visit another friend who I met over the internet.

    Me & my friends certainly know a lot more about the culture of other countries than I would have done without the Internet.

  • It's an unreasonable fear of social situations (you've probably seen some drug company's commercials about the subject).

    Yes, it's called Social Anxiety Disorder, or SAD, for short. I laughted my ass off when I saw that commercial. I guess I'm not sad. It's up there with ADD (attention deficit disorder) in my book. "Well, if the kid has an attention deficit, don't you think you should give him/her some attention?"

    (and I'm sorry if you are SAD, laughing helps)

  • by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @10:00AM (#1265138)
    It's easier to clean up if a process core dumps.
  • I agree completely, BBSes DO offer much more social interaction...I always found them the best of both worlds. I met most of my friends on my "pre-internet" days. I did all the things with them on the BBSes that I do today on the net, chats, discussions/posts etc...but since it was a tighter, LOCAL community we always had face to face events and parties, which helped cement online relationships.
  • I have a rich social life: I go out with friends several times a week (usually for brunches and dinners and films), I have an active romantic life, I travel a lot for work, and I'm generally out-and-about. I don't go to clubs or parties any more, but I am definitely not a shut-in.

    That said, there are some sorts of social interaction that are better served in an electronic medium. Round-table discussions about a topic of interest, especially more intellectually intense and referentially rich ones, just work better in that medium. I have a tendency to get tongue-tied at times in person, especially in larger groups.

    One sort of conversation that is possible in chat (I participate in private chat channels with bright, sophisticated and mature people, so YMMV) is the conversation-with-pasted-URLs - it isn't possible in real life to have that sort of real-time citing!

    Make no mistake, I don't think that there's a replacement for F2F relationships when it comes to matters of personal growth and emotional health. Text doesn't convey the gestures of support and sympathy that are the basis of such relationships. But most social time isn't spent in that mode, anyway, and for the renaissance of the culture of the salon, the online world has a lot to take credit for.

  • The internet is yet another layer of separation between humans. Yes, it is a wonderful tool. But it also makes it very easy to distance yourself from real life - especially for those who may lack well developed social skills. While email/chat/etc is nice, it's no substitution for face to face interaction. At least with the telephone you are interacting voice to voice - you can hear inflections that don't translate well to type (I don't care how many emoticons you use). But as I said, to truly to connect to someone, you have to be face to face.
  • The media loves to publish these here today gone tommorrow studies, on trinkets of human behavour. They are infamous for suggesting that correlation = casuation, even though anyone with some sense of science will know that to be false. Loneliness is a multi-faceted definiton, in this case they define it as not physically being w/ others. what about things like loneliness due to lack of intimacy? of course, getting into that requires you to have a quantifiable objective for poor intimacy, opening another can of worms. This study is like trying to predict what leaf falls first from a tree reliably, and it falls flat on its face.

  • ``Interestingly (and, to me, dubiously), the survey defined loneliness in this way: whether you spend physical time with family and friends, whether you attend fewer social events, whether you spend less time reading newspapers and watching TV, shopping in stores, or are working more at home than before. In other words, the survey defines a radically new environment by nearly ancient measures of human contact.''

    It seems that performing nearly any of the activities that they use to decide that you're not socializing means that you're not doing any of the others. While I sometimes read the newspaper while listening to the TV (and watching when something catches my attention), I rarely

    • watch TV and shop in stores (unless I'm shopping for a TV :-))
    • socializing with friends while I'm watching TV (that's rude)
    • socializing with friends while reading the newspaper (that's really rude!)
    Nearly all of these activities are mutually exclusive. If I say `yes' to one, I'm saying `no' to all the others. How does that affect their result, I wonder?

    If the author's of this study are watching this site, here's some reasons I do or don't engage in these ``social'' activities:

    • physical time with family and friends -- I get to spend most weekday evenings with my family. Weekends usually has one or both sets of grandparents over to visit. Getting together with friends is more difficult. Their families make plans and avoiding conflicts can be difficult. Sometimes business travel gets in the way. And just when do the author's of the Stanford study do their grocery shopping?
    • social events -- If you mean getting in the car and driving to some event? Gee that happens less and less and it's not because of the internet. Blame it on the fact that parking costs are ludicrous and gas prices have gone up 30 cents a gallon in the past 6-8 weeks. Also with the traffic in most metropolitan areas getting to be nearly 24 hour gridlock, you almost need to take a day off from work to get to the event. Yes I do get out but it's usually only every couple of months to see a band making a rare, late night appearance at some small club.
    • reading newspapers -- Part of my daily ritual. I either take it to the office and read it over lunch or read it when I get home from work. Hardly ever miss it.
    • watching TV -- Back when I had cable (before it got to be too expensive and repetitive), I decided that C-SPAN was more entertaining than 99.99% of everything that was on network TV. As of late, our TV viewing is about 50% broadcast content (mostly the evening news and Sunday morning talk shows for me, cartoons for the girls) and 50% rented and purchased videos... and the latter is becoming more and more dominant. (Not everybody loves Raymond and if I want to hear anything about sopranos I'll turn on the local classical music station)
    • shopping in stores -- Been to malls lately? The parking stinks, the selections stink, the prices stink, and they don't call them `malls' for nothing.
    • working more at home than before -- than before what? I try very hard and, to date, have been very successful in not bringing work home although I occasionally work at home on those rare occasions when I'm not sick enough to be bed-ridden but too sick to be in the office. It's a good time to catch up on documentation.

    I looked at a few of the study's graphs and noticed that it appears that their conclusions would especially of interest to the phone companies. Horrible, horrible! People aren't talking to their friends and family on the telephone! Now neither my wife or I have seen a compelling need for a cellular phone yet (If I'd stayed in the consulting field I suppose that would change my mind) so the phone company thinks we're some sort of freaks of nature. Bet this study spurs the phone company to increase their advertising (and cold calls at dinner time). We'd much rather have high speed 'net access and do emails to friends and family instead of dropping everything and trying to carry on a converation while I'm frying bacon or giving the kids a bath (``Sorry I can't talk right now. Could you possibly call again at some other inconvenient time?''). Lately, it seems that no phone in the house, a high-speed internet connection (server in the basement), and an unlisted cellular phone would be the best choice for us. If we could only get affordable dedicated service in our area.

    Finally, I saw one of the author's of the study on PBS and he was such a pompous #$%. Seemed to spend most of his time telling everyone that they were right and everyone else's studies were wrong. If you want to find out what's driving indicuduals away from their friends and families look to the ever increasing demands on our time made by businesses.

  • by locust ( 6639 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @10:27AM (#1265156)
    In fact, older Americans are statistically the fastest growing group of people on the Net and Web.

    But, aging baby boomers (largest portion of the population) are making older Americans the fastest growing portion of the American population. So the question has to be what fraction of the aging population is getting online, and is this larger or smaller than those of other populations. I would suggest that, by such a (normalized) metric young people (k-12) are the fastest growing segement, as more and more schools get wired.


  • SAD also stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression caused mainly by a lack of sufficient light that accompanies the winter seasons.

    So I guess it's a good thing English supports overloaded Macros.

  • Recently, I was reading an article by L. Sprague DeCamp about author H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, if you know anything about him, loved to write letters and help people with writing, but he was also a loner who felt like an outsider most of the time. DeCamp described him as having a schizoid personality, which is not the same thing as schizophrenia but rather a common personality type. The schizoid, basically, spends an inordinate amount of time living inside his or her own mind, and thus is not very connected with "the real world."

    Obviously, there was no Internet when Lovecraft was writing (well, unless the Fungi from Yuggoth had a secret network set up), and yet he still had this type of personality. In fact, I suspect a lot of truly dedicated writers do, writing is hard work that requires dedication and a distraction free environment.

    In my case, I consider myself a socially awkward extrovert. I like people (well, some people) I like talking to people and finding out what they think about things. I even like arguing about things with people, but I'm very bad at forming social relationships. I suffer from agoraphobia, large groups of people make me uncomfortable and impatient.

    The Internet has a lot of levels. For example, I'd bet a lot of todays surfers have never been on a MUCK. Is MUCKing social or unsocial? In my case it started out social and ended up being both social and unsocial so I gave it up. Still, I'm still friends with one person I met on a MUCK, so it wasn't a total loss. The same thing is probably true of the more advanced... er, MUDs? Can I call EverQuest a MUD? I mean it is a Multi-User Dungeon, right?

    Now when I was a kid, who rarely connected to Compuserve (they charged too much) or local BBSs on my Atari 800, computer use was a 100% unsocial activity.

    1. It made you a freak to the non-computer users at school.

    2. You spent your time playing Enchanter or Ultima III rather than getting fresh-air, or else (in my case) delving into the mysteries of Player-Missile graphics (anyone remember them? They were a variation on Sprite graphics Atari used...)

    3. You, yourself, might get annoyed that other people weren't into computers, and dismiss your peers as "boring."

    Of course, nowadays everyone uses computers, so I think the mere fact of being a computer enthusiast won't make you a social outsider anymore. In fact, I'm betting there is a bias in this study, because the people who wrote it are probably a little on the older side, that computer enthusiasts are introverted loners who have no friends and sit alone in dark rooms with their computers. Actually, I think, too, that everything about computers is more social now... look at the fact that even great games like System Shock II feel the need to add multi-player patches to improve the game.

  • I stopped at the local deli last night to get sandwiches for my wife and I (to consume while we talked at home) and saw a young couple sitting at a table and watching TV while they ate. Were they socializing? They were out in public but not interacting with anyone, including each other.

    Isn't any interaction, including email in private, better than absorption to an outside entertainment in public?
  • Yes, I'm quite familar with its normal interpretation. I like to look at the causes of things, rather than the symptoms. The actual disease (although I hesitate calling it a disease) is not nearly as prevalent as it is diagnosed, and well, it just basically disgusts me that people (doctors, teachers, parents) would advocate medicating a child with behavior modifying drugs, simply because a child can't sit still and concentrate.

    It just so happens that the technical name for this disorder points exactly to it's solution.

  • I strongly beleive social skills and conversation CAN be learned and you CAN become comfortable with such things.

    Its just a people interaction thing, and YES I think you need a degree of human interaction in your day. Or you lose touch with some important emotions.

    Can you see me crying as I write this? Can you look into my eyes and hear my tone of voice and see how difficult something is to talk about to me?

    Nope. Not unless you are a very eloquent and expressive writer and even then. A simple look on my face can convey more meaning than a well written paragraph. I like my time on the net as much as anyone else because I enjoy reading but it CANNOT and WILL not replace the fact that humans need personal interaction with other humans. Sure im interacting and I am making you think but I find it truly hard to beleive that you can find total personal fulfillment over the internet.
  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @11:06AM (#1265175)
    For me, being on line is almost exclusively a social activity. I post to Slashdot, Usenet and several mailing lists. I am carrying on a correspondence with lots of people. In fact, I suspect that a subtle part of the appeal of the Free Software community is the desire to talk to people like ourselves. We aren't all socially inept just because we're nerds. We're intense and passionate about our interests, and they don't happen to be the same as those of the guys watching the game at the sports bar down the street.

    I've talked about this before. The Net has made possible communities without location. Slashdot is an excellent example of that. We have quite a range of personalities here. We have a few shared interests about which our interest ranges from serious to passionate. But we speak the same language. I dug up an article,The Outsiders [], last year about the difficulties that highly intelligent people ave socially. It debunks the theory that it is due primarily to social ineptitude. Instead, the author theorizes, with studies to back him up, that the problem is one of gradual alienation because of differing rates of development in childhood and different interests.

    I have thought for years that most self-selecting non-mainstream interests tend to attract groups with an average intelligence higher than that of society as a whole. I emphatically do not mean that any given member of such a group is exceptional by association. But there are two reasons corresponding to the low and high ends of the spectrum. At the low end, there is a question of ability and opportunity. The self-selection process tends to weed out the least able. At the high end, the article that I cited above points out that the highly intelligent tend to have many interests, often too many for the time that they can devote to them. Thus, through both ability, and desire, they are more likely to participat in many interests.

    One important fact to consider is that most human characteristics that can be measured quantitatively fall on a bell curve statistically. There are fewer individuals at the high and low ends of the curve. If the article (The Outsiders) is correct and there is actually a communication gap between people of radically differing intelligence, then finding people to talk to requires a larger population for people at the extremes. The Net does exactly that. Not only are there a huge number of people easily accessible here, but it is easy to find communities for nearly any interest.

    Far from being a lonely place, the Net is perhaps the medium of choice for forming communities out of widely scattered people with unusual interests.
  • This study's definition of "contact" is ridiculously outmoded. We have brought the world closer together by communicating online. I regularly participate in online games that include chat (Diablo and Battlezone) and have struck up friendships with several people this way.

    In April, my best friend (in person) and I are travelling from Florida to Tennessee to meet IRL with other gamers for a LAN gaming competition that will include Battlezone and Unreal Tournament. I would never have taken such a trip if it wasn't for online relationships.

    This study sounds like just another way to hype the scarier potential aspects of the Internet (e.g. watch out or the next generation will be reclusive and socially retarded due to lack of social interaction.) BS.

  • I urge you to do an expirement...

    This is good advice. I recommend it to prople who is introverted and the introversion is having adverse effects on their life. (I have tried it in the past, but it's just not for me -- and I do not believe I am really adversely effected.)

    At this point I think I should stand back and, in my best Keanu Reeves voice, say, "Whoa." The response to this topic is impressive, but I didn't expect this level of response to my post. The people referring to Social Anxiety Disorders are correct about the seriousness of those disorders. However, there is a vast expanse between feeling "drained" by being around people, and having that evolve into something that should be labled a disorder. So, while I do not have a psychology degree, I'd suggest to the introverts out there: Don't let introversion ruin your life, but also do not automatically let others tell you that there's something wrong with you because you're not a social butterfly. If friends and family -- people you respect -- begin to act worried, that is the time to reevaluate things.

    (For the record, I am only slightly anti-social due to my introversion. In fact, I'm getting married this May.)

  • heh i spend at least 17h a day, 7 days a week, its possible because i dont have a job or a life, but when people talk about 5h being alot that makes me laugh, heh, see im laughing

    (who did they survey? i just saw a survey on some site this morning asking how many hours a week you spend online, over 43% choose over 10 (i laugh at 10 too))

    heh 5 hours a week heh

    $mrp=~s/mrp/elite god/g;
  • Exactly, your post is the point I was trying to make.

    Simply because a child doesn't fit into what is considered "normal" operation, he is therefore given a disorder and medicated.

    The thing that makes me so angry about it is that most of the kids who exhibit the symptoms (which are really just normal kid things taken to the nth degree) are in fact gifted themselves and acting up to stimulate their brain enough to stay happy. Do you know how many times I got in trouble in school, just entertaining myself? I knew what the lesson point was 5 minutes into class and had 55 minutes to kill. Luckily I was given a chance to attend a gifted program once a week ("REACH", Reaching Excellence is Academic (C)someting Holistically) where I was given free reign to basically be an 8 year old geek (trig worksheets, logic problems, computers to programs on, stuff to disect, books to read) with all of the stimulation I could ever want. All of this helped me. What else? Exercise, tons of it. After school I would run around constatnly for 4-5 hours till dinner. What else? Video games, studies have shown that flashing lights and quick visual movements helps kids with ADHD brain patterns to reach a level of stimulation that they can find happiness and comfort in. (although some would say video games just add to the problem, for the record I still play Quake, and it still works as anger/energy management) Regardless, if I hadn't received special treatment and attention I would have made life extremely difficult for everyone else around me. (some would say I do that anyway)

    Did I have ADHD? Good question, and thankfully one that never got asked. I thank all that's good and holy that I wasn't behaviourally modified as a young child. I could go into all that my mom did too (a single parent with 5 kids) but this isn't the place for it.

    TO reiterate

    My wife and I both work and she is even considering quitting her job (she is a coder geek like me) and home-schooling him.

    If the choice is between this and drugs, which do you choose? Seriously? Some children just require more attention. It applies to those on the low end of the bell curse, why shouldn't it apply to those on the top?

    As our society moves more towards two working parent families just to "keep up" then problems like this will continue to grow. Remember how Americans work all the time? How much does that "cost"? I think it's a lot more than most poeple realize, and because it isn't counted in dollars and cents, it's ignored.

    That's too bad because there are a lot of children with this problem, many of them are never recognized or treated.

    And they make it through school, grow up, slow down, and fit in fine. You have to ask yourself, is the kid the problem? Is the school the problem? or are they just a problem when mixed together. I've also read case studies where the behavior problems were caused by a schoolyard bully. Causing a smaller child to become withdrawn, lash out, and *gasp* not get good grades in school.

    Whether you believe it or not, I do have a great deal of sympathy to the real issue. It only takes so many reports of 9 year-olds becoming suicidal after their "meds" are taken away, to form an opinion. It only takes so many friends, and watching how different they are "on" or "off" thier drugs, to realize that this is something that shouldn't be trifled with.

    Sorry if I've offended you, this wasn't, and I'm not, a troll.

  • Look at the numbers. A whopping *1/4* of the respondents reported fewer face or phone contacts, and all of 1/10th of respondents reported fewer out-of-home activities. *That's* the dramatic effect the web is having? These guys should get a clue, they decided the results of this study before they took it. The most dramatic effect the web is having is in reduced TV watching, not social interactions. I e-mail my parents more than I ever called them. I can keep in touch with friends cross-country who I would otherwise probably just fall out of touch with. I wish that e-mail had been comnon when I was an undergrad, maybe I'd still be in touch with people I knew in high school.
  • "If the railroad had not been invented to move my son away, there would have been no need for the telephone for him to talk to me."

    100 years ago you befriended and socialized with those who lived close to you. You had no choice. Walking 100 miles was not an option. If the people around you were jerks or uninteresting...oh well. You were stuck.

    The car has opened our options. We congregate with people we actually like and share interest with. Unfortunately, home builders don't generally bother with front porches anymore, because no one uses them. No one sits on their porches to talk to the neighbors walking by, because all the neighbors have driven to be with the people that they actually find interesting. This lack of direct socialization have made neighborhoods lonelier and less friendly.

    Enter the internet with the ability to connect people even more precisely and over a larger area. The local landscape becomes even lonelier and less friendly.

    Should the government take away our cars and ISPs and make us all shake hands with our neighbors? Or should we all just accept that people are choosing who they wish to relate to, and the boring people next door are loosing out?

  • by Mister Attack ( 95347 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @01:06PM (#1265234) Journal

    Whoa there, cowboy. The man is right (for about 90 percent of kids diagnosed with ADD). I would suggest getting your hands on Real Boys. It's part sociology, part parenting manual, but the author has a lot to say about the teachers who call a kid ADD at the drop of a hat, rather than talking to him (they're usually boys) and finding out why he doesn't feel the need to sit still and lower his voice. I should know - I was "diagnosed" with ADD once upon a time by an idiot teacher. Just because I didn't want to sit and do place value practice (523 = 500 + 20 + 3) when I could be productively taking square roots or solving systems of linear equations. 90 percent of the time, all a so-called "ADD" kid needs is more attention, someone to figure out what he needs and isn't getting.

  • I saw that piece too (and I'll take a second to plug the outstanding Newshour to anyone that's interested in balanced, in-depth news coverage:BTW, Robin McNeil retired a few years ago and is no longer affiliated with the Newshour, AFIK)

    I'd have to agree that I've allowed the Internet to supplant part of my non-virtual social life. However, the Internet has had a drastic and positive effect upon other areas of my life.

    An example: Anyone familar with GoVote.Com, the site devoted to American politics? The site is amazing: large amounts of information about each of the Presidential candidates, backed up by quotes from the candidates themselves, as well as frequently updated links to major Online news source news stories about the candidates and the elections. Finally, somewhere I can go to find out each candidates position on a very wide variety of issues.

    Where did we go to get information of that sort before the Internet? Nowhere, unless you chose to buy a handfull of newspapers on a daily basis and read every election-related article, hoping to achieve some sense of balance. Think of the expense and time involved in all of that. Now, imagine imagine all of that information at your fingertips, laid out for you, all virtually for free, and you've begun to understand the power of the Net. Perhaps that's a bit cliched, but it's still true: the Internet truly has the potential to change all of our lives for the better...

    Unfortunately, I've allowed the Net to negatively impact certain aspects of my life. In one or two aspects the negative impact has been drastic, particularly the gut I've grown since becoming attached to this damn keyboard. However, I'm confident that I'll correct for those things in time. Eventually, life will become more balanced.

    Finally, I think it's important to remember that the study is one of the first of it's kind on such a scale and, by the researcher's own admission, was limited in the breadth of it's conclusions. In other words, the study merely gauged one aspect of the impact of the Iternet upon users, albeit an important one. The extent to which "Virtual" socializing might have replaced socializing face to face was not a factor.
  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @04:26PM (#1265256) Homepage Journal
    I don't count as some sort of average person, because I am a geek-type person with Asperger's Syndrome (a sort of autism), but I've found that before I had Net access, I became increasingly more isolated, unable to cope with the typical demands of social interaction. Upon discovering the net, I found that text-based interaction was a lot easier, and I went through advocacy newsgroups, MUCKs, IRC and all, getting more and more comfortable with the idea of interacting with other people.

    By now I seem to have reached a sort of equilibrium state. It includes interacting with people IRL (which was not the case before I was online!) but more often interacting online. It is not that the Net has taught me to deal with people face to face like it was a stepping stone: rather, the net is a more suitable mode of interaction for me- and _having_ that, I end up being more confident and comfortable in general, and am able to _also_ interact with people to some extent away from the computer. That is still less interaction than your average person, but I'm not your average person.

    I don't know how well that answer fits into the original study context. It seems that if 'more REGULAR HUMAN INTERACTION, whee' is always better, then I will always fail to be 'better'. My level of healthy interaction is a particular level, not just 'more is better'. I also have a level of interaction on a more detached, impersonal, 'literary' level, and typing words into the Net fills that need far more than face-to-face communication does. They do not exclude each other if things are going well- one will make up for a shortage of the other, but I can't thrive on just one or the other.

  • Everybody in America howls at the very thought of an eight-year-old kid ever once taking a sip of beer (my father, who was born in Paris, drank 1/2 water and 1/2 wine at dinner every night past his fifth birthday) and there are decades-long prison sentences waiting for anyone caught supplying that kid with just one marijuana cigarette. But no one in this country full of idiots looks askance when parents by the million farce their sons as though they were the fucking Christmas turkey with daily doses of Ritalin, just because their kid acts like boys have always acted from before the beginning of recorded history.

    Now have you ever taken a dose of Ritalin yourself? I have, once, about twenty-five years ago. Did you ever read the famous urban legend about a guy who strapped a JATO unit to a Chevy Impala? It's my experience that Ritalin straps a JATO to your cerebral cortex. That's one single dose, not the one thousand doses those poor kids get in less that three years of this so-called "therapy."

    I shudder to think what it's got to be like kicking a chronic, iatrogenic stimulant-drug habit like that. But of course the American medical profession, one and all, don't give a fuck, not so long as the cash keeps rolling in.

    Yours WDK -

  • by FallLine ( 12211 ) on Thursday February 17, 2000 @05:48PM (#1265268)
    Language has evolved over many thousands of years, we, humans, are social creatures. It is not too much of a stretch to assume that active personal communication is a fundamental element of mental health. When you hear a voice, that is a function of human evolution--it evokes emotions in the listener...many times, even if they don't understand the language. Whereas text based communication simply lacks this--it is a strictly intellectual abstraction.

    These online chat methods are not merely the same human emotions and discussion over a different medium (text). One key difference is that, on all these online forums, the user only conveys the sentiments or emotions that he POSITIVELY asserts (e.g. types). Additionally, online communications are essentially one dimensional--it lacks the depth. Think of how many ways a simple word, such as "yes", when uttered in voice can be interpreted. It can convey depression, happiness, cluelessness, etc. It resonates in the human mind...internet/text based communications do not. Additionally, the very nature of discussion, and who you talk to online is vastly different. While online communication may be great for intellectual pursuits, there generally isn't that same emotional content there. You might talk about computers, your favorite sport, your job, your girlfriend, etc, but it is a generally a rather shallow coverage (despite what many will say). Nor are you talking to those whom really know you in person (e.g., family, friends, co-workers, etc).

    The internet has both positive and negative potentials for society. I can easily see, how a person who is unable to communicate sufficiently in person (e.g., hearing problems, speach impediment, horribly disfigured, freshly moved, diseased, you name it), may find comfort online (I certainly did at one point...more of an intellectual/thrill seeking kind). But for the general population, I think the net effect of frequent online discussion (say, >2hours a day) is largely harmfull. Even those with problems, may be better advised to avoid online chat entirely. My reasoning is, that, most of these people are just partially "flawed" (you know what I mean), yet they have a hard time communicating with others in "real" life, due to lack of experience and confidence. What mediums such as IRC allow them, is an easy out. While IRC may not rise to the same heights of real interpersonal communication (they might not necessarily have much experience with this), it is EASY. It is a form of instantaneous gratification.

    Any time, day or night, IRC is there...essentially the same any time. It is consistent. It is risk free (well, in the short term atleast). When one gets bored of one channel, or forum, they move on to the next, many times juggling more than one in an attempt to maximize pleasure. It is "sticky" in a way...enough to keep the user (addict?) on his console at odd hours. Unfortunately, enough to keep the user from going out, and trying to develop something of a social life.

    I call this addiction--it ruins lives. What many people fail to realize, is that even though this behavior may ultimately result in being LESS happy/healthy, many users continue on. Much like the lab rat wired to recieve electric stimulation if they push one button, and food if they push the other,...the rat starves itself by focusing just on that stimulation. Or like, what i'm sure many of you are familiar with, in your approach to exercise. Most people understand on some level, that if they exercise enough, they feel much better throughout the day. Yet most people are too lazy to exercise regularly...exercise hurts...and sitting in your ass is, in the short run, much more appealing. Likewise, these people become socially sedentary, to the point where socializing is difficult, yet they continue on their same path.

    I believe time will tell. In five to ten years, society is going to see a whole new crop of addict, of social problems, resulting from this kind of internet usage. People who're on IRC now, for 4+ years, are most likely going to be on IRC (or the equivalent) years later. Think about what kind of parents these people will be if they're still involved in IRC heavily. I wouldn't at all be suprised if it results in record numbers of sociopaths. Even though society may not initially identify heavy internet usage as an addiction, or an unhealthy thing (might possibly be equally enamored with the "geek" of today), it will feel its impact. While most people aren't going to have MAJOR problems, it'll be a HUGE jump relative to other forms of addiction (not to mention that these people will come from many different classes and cultures). I think it's impact will be perhaps more severe than television (though many think TV is harmless, I think it's had some very negative effects on certain portions of society), both in penetration, and in who it sucks in.

  • I get on IRC, atleast I used to. I'm not gay, or any particular sort of freak by any means. I initially started out on IRC to get jaurez, music, hack, etc...but it evolved into sort of a form of distraction for me...a way to pass time in a new city, where I knew virtually no one. At some point, I realized that it was hurting me, and made various attempts to change (both my particular activities on IRC, and more recently, a complete ending of IRC alltogether)

    Additionally, both gays and geeks manage to find more meaningfull forms of social interaction. I can't claim it's easy, because I have no experience with it. However, the fact of the matter is that many people do it. I don't believe IRC is healthy for most everyone in the long term, including your "geeks and gays".
  • I can see where certain social "outcasts" may find IRC rewarding, if taken in moderation. As it can provide an outlet that social norms may not allow to the same extent and frequencies.

    But the IRC "lifestyle" (where the bulk of your "social" existence revolves around IRC) is not healthy.
  • What's the opinion on fancier chat systems - CU-CMe, voice chat, avatar chat, as compared to IRC-type systems? Would you prefer voice over typing? Video/voice over voice only? Avatar worlds with chat []? If you had voice chat, would you want a voice-changer option? Does existing voice chat suck? What if you have decent bandwidth? What happens in a group of people? Do the social conventions change with the technology? Do you want role-playing with your chat? Or would you prefer vanilla IRC? I might have to do some work in this space, and I'd appreciate comments.
  • "Healthy is a state of mind"

    It can't get more correct than that. Though I agree with you, what may be a healthy social lifestyle for you may not be for the next person.

    If someone enjoys doing something, doesn't harm others in the process, and makes them happy; then what is the problem?

    For some, the anonyimity(sp?) of communicating thru a computer often gives people more courage to open up to others more so than face to face. I consider myself to have a decently healthy social life, but I spend a good quantity of time conversing with my current friends online. It helps out our friendships more.

    Of course like most of /.ers i was a big part of the old BBS scene. Most of my current friends that I have today were people that I *first* met thru email or in chat sessions. That was over 8 years ago.

    If it makes you happy, run with it.
  • try saying that three times real fast!

    I loved it when they came out with 'pay at the pump' self service gas stations so now I don't have to deal with the lousy cashiers who can hold you up if they don't like your looks - and we just got grocerys with 'u-scan and bag', altho there you still have to get in line to pay the lousy cashier :( - other than that they're all just a bunch of random stupid people who drive like idiots :) Who'd want to associate with them?
  • If you're a social outcast, try a different social environment.

    It is far easier finding social environments you fit into on the Net than offline, especially if you're an over-intellectual/bookish/geeky type. Just join some mailing lists (or in the old days subscribe to some newsgroups) and get involved in conversations; and there are forums for everyone, because the space is vast. Whether you're into mediæval warfare or typography or 70s prog rock or trainspotting, you can surely find people who share your interests; whether they live in Milwaukee, Manchester or Madras doesn't really matter as long as they speak your language.

    In Real Life, your social sphere is constrained by geographical factors. Had you lived a century ago, you would most likely have never travelled more than a few miles in your life. The only people you'd know would be from your village/town. Which means that if your interests didn't sync with those of people nearby, you'd be out of luck. In the past century, transportation technologies have expanded this social sphere, but it's still there. And you can't just grep Real Life for other underwater macrame enthusiasts.

    The key is to have a broad range of interests, with some that aren't too esoteric. If all you care about is hacking your customised Linux box, you're not going to be the life of the party, and probably won't have much to talk about with most people. However, if you can talk about other things more involving than the weather and yet not hopelessly esoteric, you can find common ground. These may range from movies and music to philosophy and the meaning of life. And if you don't have anything to say, listen and ask questions. You may learn something.

    One key to not being an outcast is to not place yourself in specialised social environments based around interests you don't share. If you hang out with a group of wargamers (for example) and have no interest in wargaming, you'll be left out of the common milieu, and be by definition an outsider. You'd be better off in more general environments, where there are more unfixed variables.
  • Your argument is thought out very well with good supporting evidence, however the point you only touched on, and actually is where the real problem lies, is the thin line that exists between addiction and obsession.

    True. But my point is that people who attempt to make hay on this issue use the implicit "obsessive" connotation to scare everyone, then support it using statistics like "people spend more than five hours a week -- every week! -- on the Internet." That's hardly obsessive. But they can get away with calling it an addiction, which they do.

    People do obsess [...] and in an effort to prevent it, or at least make it a controllable addiction, we need to study it and understand it.

    A good point. But I'm sure you'll agree that this study demonstrates very little. The fellow I was replying to is a good example of how it misleads the casual reader into thinking that a natural -- even healthy -- phenomenon is a frightening crisis. The "addiction" rhetoric -- a common ploy nowadays -- is a willful attempt to exacerbate this.

    A more interesting study (IMO) would correlate subjects' test scores on accepted psychological assessments of social adjustment to time spent online, and activities engaged in while online. Further refinements might account for the changing nature of "social adjustment" on the Internet. Rhetorical tactics like the usurpation of the word "addiction" do nothing to help us understand the weaknesses of current research and come up with improvements like this. They only generate alarm.


  • This is soooo confusing. I think I'll wait a few days for the dumb version on [].

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle