A cartoon doing the rounds
on Twitter on Wednesday compared the way we listen to music, watch films and read the news 15 years ago to today. Now, of course, those are all things we do alone while plugged in to a computer. Beyond the punchline, is there some truth in the assumption that despite our hyper-connectedness, we are potentially more isolated than ever?
Research by Pew
claims that online social networks
do provide genuine emotional support and well-being, including advice, information and companionship. Using an established system of measuring well-being, Pew found that internet users felt it provided significant emotional support for them, particularly through social networks and particularly through Facebook.
There's an important distinction there; it was not that they found that users of Facebook were
better supported emotionally, but that they reported that they felt
they were, and in two key categories of emotional support and companionship. Pew described the sensation of well-being as equivalent to around "half the boost in total support that someone receives from being married or living with a partner".
The average American, Pew found, has 634 social ties from family and close friends to colleagues and acquaintances. But the average internet user has 669 compared to 506 for those who do not use the internet. Nearly half of all US adults, or 47% of the population, use at least one social network, and 56% of those are female.
Facebook is by far the most dominant, used by 92% of people who engage with online social networking
, with 29% (still) on MySpace, 18% using LinkedIn and 13% on Twitter. In the popular imagination MySpace might appear to be dead, yet according to Pew's research it still has more than half the user accounts of MySpace.