Volume 93, Issue 78

Thursday, February 17, 2000


White Paper talks reveal concerns

Breast cancer study pays off

Research projects rake in funds

Harris speaks out on gun control

City task force targets housing

Gas prices lead to finger pointing

Internet use decreases social interaction


Caught on campus

Internet use decreases social interaction

By Paul-Mark Rendon
Gazette Staff

Spending too much time surfing the cyber-waters of the web could shrivel up your social life, according to a new study from Stanford University.

Released yesterday from Stanford's Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, the study reported people who spend more than five hours per week online, outside of their job hours, tend to spend less time interacting with live human beings, said Cathy O'Toole, spokesperson for the institute.

The study surveyed a random sample of 4,113 adults in 2,689 households in the United States. Approximately one-third of those surveyed reported they spent more than five hours per week on the internet. Of this one-third, 13 per cent said they spent less time with family, while eight per cent said they attended fewer social events, O'Toole said.

"One of the things the researchers have argued is that it's pretty hard to multitask with the internet – it's mostly a solo activity."

The study is touted as the first of its kind to examine the possible adverse effects of spending a significant amount of personal time online, O'Toole said. "We're not arguing the internet has no good aspects, but there are possible consequences people have not anticipated," she said.

The findings were not much of a surprise to Xinyin Chen, a psychology professor at Western, who said the linear relationship between more time on the net and less time with people was simple to understand – but there was more to it. "What is interesting is, to what degree the amount of time spent on the net has an impact on the person's family and friends," he said. "There's a quantitative aspect, but what's more interesting is the qualitative impact."

Allan Gedalof, an English professor who specializes in popular culture studies, said he believed interacting with other "live" humans was essential to learning things about oneself which could not be learned via the internet. "If you spend most of your time in front of a machine, how do you learn who you are?" he asked.

O'Toole said the study's aim was not to find out the specific adverse effects, but to red-flag their possibility. "It's important to keep in mind there's an element of social isolation with the internet. [The internet] is not all bad – but there could be some bad things."

Sociology professor Samuel Clark echoed Gedalof's concerns and said a phenomenon materializing with the rise of internet culture has been a blurring of the line between mass media and live, face-to-face interaction. "Often [people] lose the ability to distinguish between that world and the rest of the world they live in."

Still, Lee Nordstrom, a third-year kinesiology student, said it was not difficult to find a balance between time spent in cyber-space and time spent in the real world. "I spend probably five to seven hours a week on the net. I don't see it growing into a problem," he said.

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