Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Does the Internet make us less social?

News.com reported last week that internet use has cut into our social time, more or less making us less social because we spend about three hours a day (is that all?) online. The researchers quoted in the article that
According to the study, an hour of time spent using the Internet reduces face-to-face contact with friends, co-workers and family by 23.5 minutes, lowers the amount of time spent watching television by 10 minutes and shortens sleep by 8.5 minutes.
Well, if these statistics were true, then I'd be spending about four hours less time with my family than before the internet. I hope that's not true!
The report also found some good news
The survey found that use of the Internet has displaced television watching and a range of other activities. Internet users watch television for one hour and 42 minutes a day, compared with the national average of two hours,
I can hear the anti-internet activists striking up their argument right now! Warning: internet use takes Daddies away from families and makes us all more disconnected from each other. I had this debate with some of my students this past semester as well. One student, who was always thoughtful in his blog posts said on his blog that
We are in an age where communication is easier than it has ever been. We can follow the news in myriad mediums. We can send and recieve emails rather than wait for days or months to receive snail mail. But it seems to me that technology leads to a downgrade in communication rather than an upgrade. We spend time every week sitting at a computer communicating in writing precisely so we don't have to sit down in person with people who walk around all day on our same campus.
These are legitimate concerns. Too much of any media can make a zombie of you to some degree and disconnected from reality. However, I don't buy into the argument that using the internet discourages social contact. Rather, I believe it ENCOURAGES social contact! I know much more about my friends and family because of email and instant messenger than I would otherwise because I am a horrible letter writer and phone caller. I still prefer visiting face to face, but when that's not possible, then communicating online is phenomenal!

I responded to this student by saying:
Some people argue that technology increases collaboration and interaction, some argue it doesn't. I think a key is, does the computer-supported collaboration replace face-to-face interaction? If so, then it might not be a good choice. However, does it add interaction that wouldn't be there otherwise? For example, if the choice was no interaction because we don't have time (or whatever our excuse is), or interaction through the Internet, which is better?

Another example, I'm interacting with teachers from Australia and England right now on a project. They met me through my blog, and we are collaborating by working together on a wiki, discussion board, and through email to accomplish a project. I'd never talk to these people for real, so being able to communicate through the Internet is helpful. But I agree that emailing my wife or close friends here at BYU is less effective than actually talking to them."
Another example: I spent two years serving as a religious missionary in Ecuador. I developed many fierce friendships with many Ecuatorians. However, it's been difficult to stay in contact with them because they usually do not have phones, or even mailing addresses. Recently, though, a few of them (mostly the younger ones, attending a trade school of some kind) have started using email. In this way, the Internet is increasing my social contact with dear friends I would not have been able to stay in contact with otherwise.

I seem to be often fielding questions from people who seem so anti-technology ... as if the increase in technology was going to destroy the world. I believe we should understand the danger in any technology and medium, but seek to find ways to use this technology to improve our lives in a positive way. I read today that internet gaming can help immerse students in foreign language learning and this is another example of what I mean. Too much gaming can hurt you, but the technology, used in the right contexts, can be very postive.

That's enough of my soapbox for today! Sorry for the long post!

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