U study debunks Internet survey

Tess Langfus

A recent national survey suggests people are gradually turning into hermits, holing up in their rooms, logging on to the Internet and shutting out the world.
University officials, however, say the Stanford study is based on too much speculation and not enough hard facts, and students say they defy the study’s logic.
According to University Networking & Telecommunications Services, the trend of Internet use by University students has not changed much during the past few years. Nearly 20,000 students log on to the Internet through the University’s system using an outside modem, averaging an hour of access per day.
The more than 50,000 daily logins average 20 to 30 minutes in length.
University students use the Internet more on Sunday and Monday, attempting to catch up on homework, an NTS official said. The time usage evens out during the week, then dips to its lowest point on Friday.
“I don’t sit and waste my time on (the Internet),” said mechanical engineering sophomore Eric Merriman. “Surfing just doesn’t interest me.”
Mass communication graduate student Jill Hugen works in a Murphy Hall computer lab.
“I have a lot of time in here when I could be studying, but instead, I’m surfing the Internet,” she said. “Sometimes it’s for my research, but it’s a lot more fun surfing.”
The Stanford study’s national survey, conducted during a two-month period, asked 2,035 people five questions comparing the time spent with families and friends before and after they had access to the Internet.
Stanford professor Norman Nie, the study’s principal investigator, said the results show the more time people spend on the Internet, the less time they spend socializing.
“I worry that there’s a certain proportion of the population whose social lives are already quite thin, who may … go days at a time without having very much in the way of real, personal interaction,” Nie said.
University psychology and law professor Eugene Borgida disputes the validity of the study.
“We all know (the Internet) has a huge impact on our culture, but how that filters down to the level of individuals to individual human relationships is now the subject of a lot of serious inquiry by social scientists,” he said.
Borgida said interacting on the Internet does not necessarily mean there is less human socializing because it could be viewed as another form of interaction.
For the past four years, Borgida, along with political science professor John L. Sullivan, has been working on an unrelated Internet study through the University’s Center for the Study of Political Psychology.
The seven-year study is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Researchers follow several groups of people during two-year periods using a multitude of extensive surveys, focus groups and interviews to determine the Internet’s impact on political participation and social well-being in communities.
Individuals surveyed are questioned about their attitudes and beliefs regarding the Internet, as well as how they use the system.
Unlike the Stanford research, the University study will use the information to interpret the impact of the Internet on society rather than on an individual level.
Borgida said early results of mail-in surveys show communities that believe the Internet is a necessary tool for the advancement of the public good are more likely to use computers.
“It may be … that we’ll learn that the Internet has certain kinds of functions that are really bringing people together,” he said.

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