May 10, 2000 - The Net can be a positive means of communicating and socializing with family and friends, according to a study released Wednesday.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project 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.
Project director Lee Rainie said since most of the e-mail was informal, the study found most e-mail users were reluctant to use the Internet for formal discussions with family and friends.
The survey 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 Rainie.
He added that families and friends are close to begin with, so it made sense that the Internet would not always make them closer. The important finding was the increase in contact.
But back in February, a study by professors at Stanford University and the Free University of Berlin found that too much time on the Internet made some people reclusive and less likely to interact with people face to face.
The Pew study of 3,533 adults seems to contrast that notion.
Steven Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said the Pew findings 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.
Women are moving quickly to the Internet, reports CBS News Correspondent John Hartge. In fact, the study found that women used the Internet more than men.
Rainie told CBS Radio News that "there are an incredible number of women coming online: nine million women have come online in the past six months." Women now make up 50 percent of the online population, although men go online more frequently.
Women were more likely to seek health and religious information, research new jobs or play games online. Men were more likely to get news, sports and financial information, as well as shop and trade stocks online.
The random survey was based on telephone interviews conducted in March by Princeton Survey Research Associates.
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