e aimed in this project to discover the effects of the Internet on the social lives of Stanford undergraduates, defining students' social lives as the means by which they interact with other people, whether in person, over the phone, by email, or via Internet chat applications. One of our primary goals, therefore, was to compare the amount of time that students spent socializing to the amount of time they spent on the Internet, in the hopes of revealing whether or not the Internet has an impact on the quality of their social lives.
We predicted that more hours of Internet use would correlate with:
We also predicted that the following groups of students would spend a greater amount of time on the Internet, and would therefore exhibit the above behaviors:
Finally, we hypothesized that students would be more likely to characterize other people as being isolated by the Internet, but would be less likely to characterize themselves as being subject to the Internet's possible negative social effects.
Our results are based on a survey of an accidental sample of 236 Stanford University undergraduates. With the aim of revealing the relationship between student's interpersonal interactions and Internet use, we designed a short survey in which to gauge the amount of time students spent socializing and using the Internet. Our survey consisted of a combination of multiple-choice and free-response questions, with 23 questions total, in which we asked students to estimate the amount of time they normally spent on the Internet and in social pursuits. In addition, questions asked students to evaluate the ways in which the Internet has positively and negatively influenced the ways in which they communicate and interact with others. Please see "Survey Notes" at the bottom for more details.
Why Study Stanford Students?
The population which our survey targets represents a highly specialized group of Internet users. Stanford undergraduates are young, most of them between the ages of 18-22. They have access to the Internet in their rooms, and connect via high-speed connections. Their classes contain online information, notes, and even lectures. They are living away from friends and family, with whom they desire to keep in contact. Stanford students also take advantage of the fact that their friends and neighbors enjoy similar situations, and therefore are likely to communicate with peers via email and chat software, such as AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ. The current generation of Stanford undergraduates also represents one of the first groups of people to have "grown up" using the Internet. Although there exist undergraduates whose first significant exposure to the Internet has been at Stanford, many of these students have a general awareness of and proficiency with the Internet that the older subjects of previous studies never had. In addition, Stanford's geographical, cultural, and ideological location in the center of the Silicon Valley makes the Internet an integral part of Stanford students' daily lives.
The past decade has witnessed the rise of the Internet from a small cluster of academic and government institutions to a worldwide network that transcends international boundaries. For many people, the Internet has enabled new forms of communication, namely email, to become as vital in certain spheres as the telephone. As new technologies continue to develop, the Internet promises to continue to assume a more and more ubiquitous role in the world economy, in the workplace, and in people's private lives.
The ubiquity of the Internet on the Stanford campus, in which the Internet figures as a prominent and frequent means of communication, serves as a miniature model of the world of the future. While previous studies have examined the social implications of the Internet, their target populations have often been older and inexperienced Internet users. The people of the near future are likely to live and communicate in an environment in which the Internet is a regular institution, a focus of their means of work and socialization. By examining the effects of Internet use on the social lives of Stanford students, a population with uniquely high exposure to the Internet, we therefore hope to throw light on the ways in which the growing ubiquity of the Internet might effect possible changes in people's social patterns in the near future.
We distributed surveys to a variety of Stanford houses, such as Lantana and Castaño, Roble, Lagunita, Yost, Narnia, Tri-Delt, Kappa Alpha, and to a crowd at a Stanford basketball game. In total, we distributed about 800 surveys, all of which were paper copies, as opposed to being online. Our survey relies on accurate self-reporting, which is not necessarily completely reliable. We received 236 responses.
Athough we did collect slightly more than 236 completed student surveys, we had to discard some of the data. Some people misinterpreted the questions and did not answer them logically. For instance, one person reported spending 100 hours per week visiting friends. This figure was completely absurd compared to every one else's response. Such a disproportionately large number impacted all of the other calculations and averages in the wrong direction, so we had to discount that particular survey. Other similar results required us to discount a handful of surveys.
Another issue we encountered upon reviewing the surveys was that many people did not answer every question, omitting their gender or the number of hours they use the Internet each day. Thus, when computing all the totals in the Excel Spreadsheets, it was necessary to go through each person and check whether or not he or she answered that question. We had to take this into consideration when computing the averages at the end. Another issue was that some people did not respond with concrete answers on quantifiable questions. For example, on a question that asked how many hours per week someone visited friends, some responses were "lots" or "innumerable." Thus, we had to omit these people when doing any calculation involving that question. Thus, when looking at the breakdown of some figures that indicate how many people the calculation was based upon, it might not always add up to 236 people. For instance, any figure that involves the amount of time visiting friends will not be close to having a total of 236 people because there were many invalid responses for this question in particular.
There were also a number of written responses on the survey that were unable to be quantified. We do not have any data tables for these types of responses. However, we did review them and have made light of them in our discussion of the survey.