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Introduction ::.

The growth of the Internet over the last ten year has led to enormous social change. The Internet has led to unprecedented access to information, provided innovative communications technology in the form of email, chat rooms, and instant messaging, and has transformed the social behaviors of millions of online users. Despite being touted as a revolutionary social medium, an alarming 1998 study showed a disturbing link between Internet usage and social isolation. (1) While further studies have muddied this link, some have confirmed this trend in younger users, while others have indicated problems of Internet dependencies and the promotion deviant behavior.

In 1998, the HomeNet Project at Carnegie Mellon University published a landmark study of internet usage and psychological well being. The study was performed over the previous two years with families in the Pittsburgh area, indicating a causal relationship between internet use and isolation -- a revolutionary conclusion at the time, given the general belief that the nature of the Internet and the development of social technologies would grow and enhance social networks.

After the HomeNet study, other researchers began documenting the changes in social behavior that is a direct result of Internet use, and also began focusing on the perceived negative aspects. In 2000, Norman Nie, director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, reported on the changes in social behavior as a result of Internet use. In the survey, 25% of respondents reported that Internet use reduced face-to-face communication with friends and family, as well as time spent outside of the home. Most respondents also noted a decrease in time spent watching television or reading newspapers.(2)

The difficulty in relating these past studies to current times is that Internet technologies are evolving rapidly, and some social communication tools that are common now were only in its infancy during these original studies. For example, instant messaging, which is prominently featured in Nie's 2005 report on social behavior, was not mentioned in his original 1999 report. In fact, the first commercial instant messaging program, ICQ, debuted in late 1996 and did not gain prominence until the late 1990's. (3) These rapid changes in technology has been cited as an explanation for why identical studies to the HomeNet Project performed two years later did not show the same relationship with social isolation.(4).

The development and widespread use of social technologies, including instant messaging, web logs, and chatrooms, has changed how we interact online and has allowed us to become less socially isolated. However, these technologies are not consequence-free, as they can lead to less face-to-face interactions, anti-social behaviors, dependence on the Internet, or Internet Addiction Disorder.

(1) Kraut, R., Patterson, M., et al. "Internet paradox. A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?"American Psychologist. 53 ( 1998): 1017-31.

(2) Bower, B. "Survey raises issue of isolated Web Users." 26 Feb 2000. Science News Online . 27 May 2005. <http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20000226/fob8.asp>

(3) "The ICQ Story." ICQ.com . 30 May 2005. <http://www.icq.com/info/icqstory.html>

(4) Murray B. "Time Has Taught Us To Build Better Web Bonds." Monitor on Psychology 33 (2002)