A few years ago a surprising survey discovered that people who spent a lot of time on the Internet were a lot lonelier than people who didn’t spend much time on the Net.
This was an unexpected find because many people view the Internet and e-mail as a great way to make and keep connections with other people.
So what is the truth? Does spending time on the Internet actually make people more lonely?
Or did this study simply show that people who are already lonely spend a lot of time on the Net? As happens so often, the technology itself is neutral; whether it is good or bad depends on how the technology is used.
The day can fly by very quickly when you spend time on the Internet, whether you are looking for information, or visiting a chat room. Using the Internet, you can easily find people who share the same obscure interests you may have, such as raising Abyssinian cats, or studying Florentine tapestries.
Through the Internet you can find another person who is struggling with an illness or problem similar to yours, and who understands exactly what you are going through.
The vastness and the speed of the Internet means you can hook up instantly with people on the other side of the world and have lengthy conversations with them about intimate matters you have never discussed with anyone else.
The anonymity of the Internet can be a double-edged sword. You can feel safe revealing your innermost self to a total stranger because he lives five thousand miles away and you will probably never meet him.
You might believe you can tell him your innermost thoughts, even those you can’t tell your husband. You may feel encouraged and supported by a person you have met on-line in a way that you don’t believe you are supported by any of the people in your everyday life.
Your Internet friends may find it easy to offer you support and encouragement because they will never have to back up their typed words with any real action or commitment. Talk is cheap, and supportive talk on the Internet may or may not be sincerely offered.
It’s true that some relationships that start off on the Internet will develop into long term on-line friendships that last decades, even if the two correspondents never meet in person. And in some cases these on-line relationships will also successfully transform into friendships in the off-line world.
But the kind of interaction you get on the Internet lacks some of the most important aspects of a friendship–the interaction with a real live human person.
You don’t get to experience a friend’s face light up with a smile because he is happy to see you. You don’t get to take part in shared activities, and develop a history together. You don’t have someone put their hand on yours as you exchange confidences.
You don’t even know that your Internet friend is really who he claims he is! You don’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything your on-line friend says about himself is true.
Although the Internet is a unique and useful means of communication between people, don’t use it as a complete substitute for live social contact. Balance your on-line activities with activities that involve meeting and interacting with real live people in your local community.
Don’t use the availability and ease of Internet relationships as an excuse to avoid some of the more difficult, yet ultimately more rewarding work of developing relationships with the people you already have around you.