My husband and I often have arguments about the impact of computers and mobile phones on relationships. He contends that people are becoming less personal by texting and e-mailing and connecting via Facebook. My position is that while social networks are definitely distracting -- it is SO annoying to me when I'm out to dinner and my companions are texting their kids -- they let nurture long-distant relationships in particular more than would otherwise be possible. It also lets me stay better connected with people who share my somewhat unusual hobby, a cappella music.
As someone whose mother lives in Hawaii, father lives in Floriday and brothers live in California and Abu Dhabi (soon to be somewhere else), I sure as heck know this firsthand.
The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project recently published some statistics about the impact of the Internet on organizations and volunteer groups. Here are some of the high-level findings:
- 68% of Pew survey respondents (both those who use the Internet and those who don't) say the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of their volunteer group or organization to communicate with each other
- 60% say the Internet has had a major impact of their group's ability to communicate with other groups
- 80% of Internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-Internet users
There are actually quite a few other findings, but they really aren't focused on my main thesis, which is this: The Internet has had a positive impact on people using it to connect socially. I know my husband still prefers "in-person appearances." Then again, many of his best friends still live within 10 miles of our home. Mine live in places like Moscow.
Of course, as much as I love Facebook, I also know when to disconnect to give real facetime to whomever is sitting across the table.