The study surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,512 adults in summer 2008. It finds that Americans are not as isolated as has previously been reported. People’s use of mobile phones and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. Internet use in general and use of social networking services in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.
The researchers claim that the number of Americans who are truly isolated is at most only slightly higher than it was 30 years ago. Few people have no one with whom they can discuss important matters, and even fewer have no one who is especially significant in their lives. But they do confirm a more pronounced change, over the past two decades, in the size and diversity of people’s core networks.
These paragraphs, I feel, are important:
“Compared to the relatively recent past, most Americans now have fewer people with whom they discuss important matters, and the diversity of people with whom they discuss these issues has declined. There is a wealth of scholarship to suggest that the implications of this trend for individuals and for American society are starkly negative. Smaller and less diverse core networks diminish personal well-being by limiting access to social support. There are simply fewer people we can rely on in a time of need – whether it is a shoulder to cry on, to borrow a cup of sugar, or to help during a crisis.
“Small and narrow core networks also impede trust and social tolerance; they limit exposure to the diverse opinions, issues, and ideas of others. If we increasingly rely and trust only a small inner circle of likeminded others, it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize, accept or understand opposing points of view. A great deal of research has shown that diversity within our closest relationships – even in the age of the internet – is vital for the flow of information, for informed deliberation, and to maintain the participatory ideals of a democracy.”