NEW YORK -- Far from encouraging social isolation, the Internet enhances communications with friends and families, according to a study released today.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project also found women are more likely than men to credit the Internet for improving ties.
''It's clear that the Internet is being woven into people's most important relationships,'' said the project's director, Lee Rainie.
In February, a study by professors at Stanford University and the Free University of Berlin found that too much time on the Internet makes some people reclusive and less likely to interact with people face to face.
The Pew study of 3,533 adults seems to dismiss that notion.
It found 72 percent of Internet users visited a relative or a friend a day earlier, compared with 61 percent for nonusers. Internet users also were more likely to have phoned friends and relatives.
Steven Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said the Pew findings help bring balance to the debate on the Internet's social impact. He said the new study confirms his own research that Americans are learning to treat the Internet as a communications tool as fundamental as the telephone.
Fifty-five percent of Internet users say e-mail has improved communications with family and 66 percent believe contact with friends has increased because of e-mail. Among women, 60 percent reported better contact with family and 71 percent with friends.
But much of the e-mail exchanges are in the form of jokes, news tidbits or family announcements. The study found most e-mail users still reluctant to use the Internet for advice from family or to discuss upsetting or worrisome topics with friends and relatives.
The survey also found online use among women reaching par with that of men. Women now make up 50 percent of the online population, although men go online more frequently.
On the Net:
Pew Internet and American Life Project: http://www.pewinternet.org
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