There’s been some contradictory research as to whether the Internet is, on the whole, more socially isolating or more socially connecting. A previous study found that the Internet time was cutting into socializing and television watching. According to the most recent research however, it appears that this isn’t entirely the case. The Internet brings people together, adding one more communication modality to the mix… it doesn’t take anything away. Which is what I’ve been saying all along — the sky is not falling, people are not becoming addicted to the Internet (any more than one can become “addicted” to a book or the telephone), and this not-new-any-longer medium is helping millions everyday deal with health and mental health issues.

According to the Associated Press,

Alone on the internet? Hardly. The cyberworld expands people’s social networks and even encourages people to talk by phone or meet others in person, a new study finds.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project also finds that US internet users are more apt to get help on health care, financial and other decisions because they have a larger set of people to which to turn.

Further rebuking early studies suggesting that the internet promotes isolation, Pew found that it “was actually helping people maintain their communities,” said Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto sociology professor and co-author of the Pew report.

The study found that email is supplementing, not replacing, other means of contact.

For example, people who email most of their closest friends and relatives at least once a week are about 25 per cent more likely to have weekly landline phone contact as well. The increase is even greater for mobile phones.

“There’s a certain seamlessness of how people maintain their social networks,” said John Horrigan, Pew’s associate director. “They shift between face-to-face, phone and internet quite easily.”

Meanwhile, internet users tend to have a larger network of close and significant contacts – a median of 37 compared with 30 for non users – and they are more likely to receive help from someone within that social network.

The latest Pew report, issued on Wednesday, was based on random telephone surveys conducted in February and March of 2004 and 2005. Each year’s survey involved about 2200 adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 per centage points.