Internet Isolating Users, Study Says

Washington Post - February 16, 2000


Palo Alto, Calif. - The Internet is turning people into more solitary beings. It's also causing them to spend more hours at the office and to take the office home with them at night.

Those are some of the conclusions of a study of Internet users conducted by Stanford University's Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society.

"We're moving from a world in which you know all your neighbors, see all your friends, interact with lots of different people every day, to a functional world, where interaction takes place at a distance," said Norman Nie, a Stanford political science professor and director of the institute. "Can you get a hug, a warm voice, over the Internet?"

A quarter of the survey respondents who use the Internet more than five hours a week said they spend less time with friends and family, either on the phone or in person. Ten percent said it had reduced out-of-home social activities.

Employers, however, benefitted. A quarter of the respondents said the time they spent working at home had increased, while their hours at the office had either stayed the same or actually gone up as well.

Two-thirds of those surveyed spend fewer than five hours a week on the Net, and their behavior changed little. But the longer people have been hooked up to the Net, the moe time they spend on it, the study found. So Nie predicted the anti-social trends would only increase.

Critics dismissed most of his conclusions.

"The assertion that the Internet is socially isolating has not held up to serious scrutiny," said Donna Hoffman, co-director of the eLab at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.