Effects the Internet Has on Levels of Social Involvement
New advances in Internet technology have allowed Americans to engage in faceless
communication. In a society where meeting people online is commonplace, social implications
evolve. Two articles taken from the American Psychologist, “Internet Paradox: A Social
Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being?” and “The
Internet Paradox Revisited” study the effects Internet use has on an individual’s level of social
“Internet Paradox” examines the social effects of the Internet through the use of a
longitudinal study of 169 people in 73 households during their first one to two years online.
The findings indicate the Internet has effects on an individual’s social involvement. Greater use
of the Internet was associated with small, but statistically significant declines in social
involvement as measured by communication within the family and the size of people's local
social networks, and with increases in loneliness, a psychological state associated with social
involvement. The researchers have also concluded there are at least two mechanisms through
which this phenomenon occurs: displacing social activity and displacing strong ties.
Displacing social activity explains how individuals, instead of devoting time to social
activities, spend more time on the Internet. However, there is a problem with this explanation.
Research findings also indicate that most people use the Internet for social activities rather than
for web surfing. Therefore, Internet users are more socially involved than if they were not online.
The difference is the quality of the online interaction, which can further be explained by the
second mechanism, displacing strong ties.
Displacing strong ties explains how individuals are substituting poorer quality social
relationships for better relationships, that is, substituting weaker ties for stronger ones through
the use of the Internet. Examples of strong ties are situations in which participants kept up with
physically distant parents or siblings, corresponded with children when they went off to college,
rediscovered roommates from the past, consoled distant friends who had suffered tragedy, or
exchanged messages with high school classmates after school. However, most online
relationships represent weak, rather than strong ties. Examples of these weaker ties include a
woman who exchanged mittens with a stranger she met on a knitting Listserv, a man who
exchanged jokes and Scottish trivia with a colleague he met through an on-line tourist website,
and an adolescent who exchanged fictional stories about his underwater exploits to other
members of a scuba-diving chat service.
Consequently, this article found that increased use of the Internet causes a decline in
social involvement. Most Internet users are socially involved while online, however, the social
ties that they form online are weaker than those formed in other social forums. The general
premise of the experimenters who performed the study in “The Internet Paradox Revisited,” is
that if communication dominates Internet use for a majority of its users, there is a good reason to
expect that the Internet will have positive social impact. However, whether the Internet will
have a positive or negative social impact, may depend upon the quality of people’s online
relationships and upon what individuals relinquish to spend time online. The study follows a set
of people in the Pittsburgh area who were chosen because they had recently purchased a
computer. The Internet usage of these people was monitored, and a group, consisting of people
who had recently purchased a television, was used as a comparison to those with new
computers. Also, the differential effects of individual differences in extroversion and perceived
social support on the effects of Internet use were examined. There were a couple of differences
from the original report findings, such as, previously reported negative outcomes of the
experiment had disappeared. The report found that there are negative outcomes of online
relationships early, but as time goes on the relationships become more positive. Also, heavy
Internet use was associated with greater stress, less local knowledge, and a lower desire to stay in
the local area. The study of extroverts yielded information showing that there was an increase
in community involvement and self-esteem, and a decline in loneliness and time pressure.
Contained in these two research papers, "Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That
Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-being?”and “Internet Paradox Revisited,” a
distinct, but logical disparity is built on the corresponding research. Both of these findings give
credence to the notion that the growth of the Internet and other similar technologies “transform
economic and social life”. However, the degree to which, and the way in which these
transformations occur is argued. Both articles suggest that Internet usage noticeably affects
interpersonal communication, social participation and interactions, and civil responsibilities, but
generally on opposing fronts.
The first research by Robert Kraut and others essentially argues that even though the
Internet has allowed for greater social access with less effort and at lower costs in terms of
personal communications, this existence has contributed to an inventory of social ills. They
argue that the increased time spent on the Internet contributes to loneliness and depression
because of “physical inactivity” and “lack of face-to-face social interactions”. Ultimately, they
argue that concentrated use of the Internet helps to generate superficial and unaffectionate
relationships and further encourages “civic and social disengagement”.
On the contrary, the research material by the Carnegie Mellon University team highlights
important discrepancies with respect to the previous article. Unlike the researchers in the first
article, the University team reasons that the rapid growth of the Internet has braced “positive
social impact”. Their research subscribes to the fact that the Internet has helped foster new
personal relationships, regardless of distance or time. Whereas, the researchers in the first
article argue close distance, and face-to-face relationships tend to have the strongest bonds.
These two articles have shown that both positive and negative implications exist as a
result of Internet use for social involvement. As communication advancements continue, so too,
does the debate over the effects the Internet has on individuals levels of social involvement.