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Pew Internet on "Social Isolation & New Tech"

Boy_book Profound changes always bring with them differing perspectives on their impact and whether the new is the enemy of the old or simply something different. The explosion in the use of social networking, social media, mobile phones and smartphones, online gaming and more, has seen no shortage of people offering up differing perspectives on whether these changes are positive or negative, and the only shortage has seemed to be a lack of solid research and good data.

I've witnessed, and been engaged in, vigorous debates about whether the "always on, always connected" lifestyle is driving those who use these online social services toward a life that isolates them from others. Those in the Luddite camp lament the loss of in-person connections while those holding progressive views see technologies as simply augmenting and enhancing human relationships in ways never before possible.

What if the reality showed that our use of mobile phones and the internet is increasing our social connections and engagement with other people?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project just released a study which finds that, "...Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks."

This report (PDF) is filled with nuggets to satisfy the Luddites and hand-wringers such as, "In-person contact remains the dominant means of communication with core network members. On average, there is face‐to‐face contact with each tie on 210 out of 365 days per year" or for the progressive among us "Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. For instance, frequent internet users, and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.

It's worth a read to help you deepen your understanding about the accelerating change toward social engagement online and what it means for those whom you're teaching and preparing for a connected and lifelong learning life.

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