3 minute read

The Internet and Our Social Lives

Last Updated: July 16, 2021

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Report highlights the benefits and pitfalls of time online

Every year the Center for the Digital Future at USC (the University of Southern California) releases the results of their international study of the effects of Internet technology on our individual and social lives. This project, “Surveying the Digital Future,” is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies of its kind.

How has the Internet impacted us socially? Does time online displace face-to-face time with friends and family? How do social networks like Facebook impact our offline friendships?

There is both good news and bad news from the USC report: the Internet has helped to forge new and more conversant connections between people, but there is also a growing concern about the Internet displacing family time.

Michael Gilbert, senior fellow at the Center and author of The Disposable Male, says, “We need to make sure families are reinforced rather than weakened in the digital future,” but he believes Americans’ use of social networks and online communities has begun to displace the time families spend face-to-face.

Below are some results from the survey of 1,926 Americans over the age of 12.

General stats:

  • 82% of Americans use the Internet.
  • 100% of those 23 years old or younger go online.
  • 56% of Internet users age 16 and up said communication technology makes the world a better place. This is down from 66% in 2002.

Social networks:

  • Nearly half of those who go online have used free micro-blogs like Facebook or Twitter.
  • 58% of Internet users say they use social networks or video sharing sites (like YouTube) at least once per week, which is up from 44% in 2008.

E-mail:

  • 96% of those who go online use e-mail.
  • E-mail users maintain weekly e-mail contact with an average of 6.7 people, which is down from its 8.9-people peak in 2006.

Online communities:

  • 16% of Internet users belong to an “online community.”
  • Of those who are involved in online communities: 49% said their community involves their hobbies, 36% said their community was for social purposes, and 22% said their community was related to their profession.
  • 31% of those who belong to an online community log in every day, and half of online community members say they meet in person with members of their online community.
  • 91% of online community members say the Internet helps them stay informed about social causes, and 71% said they participate in social causes new to them since they became involved in online communities.
  • About half of those involved with an online community value it as highly as their real world communities.

Family Time:

  • Since 2007, there has been a sharp drop-off in the amount of face-to-face time families spend together in Internet-connected households. In the first half of the decade, family face time has dropped from 26 hours per week to 18 hours in 2010.
  • 47% of Internet users said they sometimes or often feel ignored because another member of the household spends too much time online, but many also report the Internet has no effect or a positive effect on contact with key groups of people in their lives (family, friends, people who share hobbies, political beliefs, religious beliefs, and professional interests).
  • 69% of parents think their kids spend about the right amount of time online, and 28% think their kids spend too much time online.
  • 87% of adults said the children in their households spend the same amount of time or more time with friends since using the Internet. But there has been a steady increase of parents reporting their children spending less time in person with friends since gaining access to the Internet—from 7% in 2000 to 11% in 2010.
  • 57% of parents restrict Internet use as a form of punishment, and this percentage has been declining since 2007.
*Source: “2010 USC Annenberg Digital Future Study Finds Strong Negative Reaction to Paying for Online Services,” USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, July 23, 2010.