Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

More time online hurts real relationships?

Posted on Friday, April 27, 2007 by 2 comments

Refrigerator Rights reports…

A newly released study at Standford University acknowledges what we already know – an increasing number of people say their personal relationships have suffered as a result of their use of the Internet with many confessing that they are discreet about their online habits. This is certainly not a surprise to anyone that follows cultural trends. Our immersion in electronic media comes at a price – and that price is almost always the decreasing amount of time we spend with other people. It is an argument to become more intentional about our social world – building Refrigerator Rights relationships. You can read about the study through this link.

I agree. (FYI, if someone is friend-enough to walk into your home and help himself to something from your fridge, then he’s said to have “refrigerator rights.”)

That said, it’s also interesting to note that our members report that using Front Porch Forum works in the opposite direction, i.e., our internet service leads to more face-to-face time with neighbors.

Posted in: Community Building, Front Porch Forum, Neighborhood, Social Media


  1. Kevin Harris says:

    Whoa there, looks like selective choice of evidence to support preferences… The article, in a somewhat alarmist way, is talking about mental health, and a certain proportion of people have mental health difficulties. It says ‘About six percent of people surveyed … said their personal relationships have suffered as a result of their Internet use, and nine percent reported actively hiding their online habits at home or at work.’ This in the context of increasing proportion of population using online. Not a big deal.

    There is a real danger that the argument about face-to-face communication being more ‘authentic’ than online (as it is often put) comes across as trite gospel, but it’s pretty unconvincing. Apart from anything else, it’s worth thinking about how disabled and expecially visually-impaired people feel about it; and the many others who simply feel less comfortable with engaging with others in jolly-chummy backslapping style but who benefit hugely (in terms of self-esteem and confidence) from connections made and developed online. Refigerator Rights’s impromptu parties (replicated commonly on college campuses all round the world, I’m sure) are to be welcomed and applauded, but that doesn’t mean either that this style of interaction suits everyone or should suit everyone, nor does it mean that online connections (with or without f2f) are necessarily damaging.

    It’s great to be good at local social interaction, but important to recognise that to many people it don’t come easy. Meanwhile we should celebrate the fact that others perhaps less clubbable now have alternative means (like front Porch Forum and similar systems) of establishing connections, which weren’t there before.
    (BTW there’s a 2003 paper about f2f, online and ‘community’ on my site at

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks Kevin… is it too late to amend my initial post? I have to admit to only reading the paragraph quoted above and not the actual study.

    I recently analyzed the past six months of postings on one of our neighborhood forums. I found that 50% of the neighbors (about 175 out of 350 members) had posted a message in that time. This seems much higher than what I’ve read about other online social media.

    Our neighborhood forums feel more like a block party than a large public meeting. That is, most people feel comfortable chatting with neighbors at the annual summer picnic, but only certain folks will feel compelled to stand at a microphone and give testimony to a committee in an auditorium fill with hundreds of people. Front Porch Forum is more like the block party, many online social sites feel more like the large public meeting.

    Regardless, I concur with Kevin’s points. -Michael

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