The most frequently cited benefit of the internet was in helping people tap into social networks, and I don’t just mean MySpace or Facebook. For many internet users, their social network consists of their email contacts list, but they reap similar benefits. American communities are transforming. People communicate and maneuver in multiple social networks rather than being bound up in one solitary community that is defined by where they live. Yet people’s networks continue to have substantial numbers of relatives and neighbors — the traditional bases of community — as well as friends and colleagues. People are able to maintain active contact with sizable social networks by using email and the internet, even though many of the people in those networks do not live nearby. And by the way, internet users are not shut-ins, confining themselves to their screens. To the contrary, we find that the more that people see each other in person and talk on the phone, the more they use the internet. Let me say that again: the ore social you are offline, the more you use the internet. And the more they cultivate their ontacts, the more likely internet users are to reap the benefits: People use the internet to seek out others in their social network when they need help.
Visit the Pew/Internet & American Life Project to read the report Internet Usage Trends: Through the Demographic Lens.