Down time on the Internet Personal computers: Loneliness and isolation cited by academic study of online users.

September 05, 1998

THE GLOBAL village can be a lonely place, especially on the interactive Internet. Too little meaningful, personal contact occurs with others in remote e-mail and chat-room "conversations." Net-users have become too focused on solitary Web surfing.

Contrary to expectations that the Internet expands social interaction, a study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that people become sadder, lonelier and more depressed the more time they spend in front on their computers on-line.

The academic study is not definitive (only 169 people in Pittsburgh participated in it over two years) but it opens the issue to further discussion and examination.

Researchers did not say the Internet connection was more harmful than passive TV watching or obsessive reading, both solitary pastimes.

They based their psychological conclusions, though, on well-balanced people who connected to the Internet for as little as one hour a week, hardly excessive use.

While fraud, pornography, personal abuse and other anti-social elements have been identified as harmful effects of the computer connection, the Internet is generally thought to be beneficial in expanding knowledge and communication with other people.

The Carnegie Mellon report points to another, broader danger: shrinking personal contact with immediate friends and family.

Many people value the Internet as an easy tool for communicating with distant relatives and friends, easier than writing letters or telephoning.

Some find it more convenient for obtaining data, names, legal forms and the like. These are not inherently isolated pursuits. But the university study did not closely distinguish between types of Internet use by test subjects; the mood change was apparently widespread.

Awareness of this potential problem should help Internet users moderate their time on the Net and balance their terminal time with face-to-face relationships.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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