Got more friends? You can thank the Internet

Pew study shows benefits of being social online far outweigh drawbacks

Over the next decade, the benefits of being social online will greatly outweigh any hindrances that come with it, according to a study.

With tools like e-mail and social networks at hand, people have a low-cost means of connecting with new people, as well as with old friends, irrespective of geography and normal time constraints, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In a survey of 895 Internet experts and users conducted between December 2009 and January 2010, 85% said they believe the Internet will be a positive force in their lives in 2020.

About 14% believe the opposite, saying the Internet will mostly have been a negative force by the year 2020.

"Most of the people who participated in the survey were effusive in their praise of the social connectivity already being leveraged globally online," the study noted. "They said humans' use of the Internet's capabilities for communication -- for creating, cultivating, and continuing social relationships -- is undeniable. Many enthusiastically cited their personal experiences as examples, and several noted that they had met their spouse through Internet-borne interaction."

However, the Internet wasn't coming up as a positive force for everyone in the survey.

Some respondents said the Internet robs them of time they would have otherwise spent on face-to-face relationships. Some also noted that the Internet fosters mostly shallow relationships, may make people feel more isolated and can expose people's personal information.

This Pew study is one of the more positive reports that have come out about the Internet and social networking use.

A study released in March by Retrevo Inc., a consumer electronics shopping and review site, showed that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are occupying more of users' time - to the point of obsession.

In the Retrevo study, 48% of those polled said they update Facebook or Twitter during the night or as soon as they wake up. And 32% said interrupting a meal for a message is OK, while 7% said they'd even check a message during sex.

Last October, a U.K. study showed that people who use Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites while at work extract a heavy cost on their companies.

Employees who use Twitter and other social networks in the office are costing U.K. businesses about 1.38 billion British pounds, or more than $2.25 billion annually, according to London-based Morse PLC, an IT services and technology company.

And last summer, a report from Nucleus Research showed that companies that allow users to access Facebook in the workplace lose an average of 1.5% in total employee productivity. The survey also showed that 77% of workers who have a Facebook account use it during work hours.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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