Talk to Me Online


Internet Use Replacing Other Forms of Communication

If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you're not alone.  And yet - you ARE alone...

- Jack Handey

San Francisco - E-mail has far eclipsed hand-delivered letters in sheer volume, and there are even signs that it's pushing other kinds of communication out of the way as well.  A series of studies released this week painted a picture of a public often overwhelmed by the flood of electronic messages flowing into their computers, but eager to use it at home and on the job.

It remains the killer application of the Internet, even as new applications grow.  A study by the Stanford Institute of Quantitative Study of Society found that 84% of Internet users said they used e-mail.  However, much of it just goes unanswered, said the Novato, California-based Brightware Incorporated, which makes software for handling corporate e-mail.

In its annual survey about how quickly companies respond to e-mail messages, Brightware found companies falling further behind than a year ago in responding to simple information requests.  Most American workplaces have e-mail services, and using the corporate e-mail system for personal use is considered okay by a majority of employers, according to a survey from Irvine, California-based Thomas Staff, a professional services and software firm.

"Companies feel that as long as employees are getting their work done, they have no big concerns about personal emails," said Douglas Slack, Thomas' president.  Indeed, some companies even view personal e-mail as an educational force, since it boosts employees' technology skills and leading to a more productive workforce, said Slack.  But in larger companies more familiar with the Internet there are more reservations about use of the corporate computers for personal messages, he added.  Smaller companies may just be unaware about how pervasive and time consuming it's becoming.

The growth of the Internet in the workplace "is much bigger than we expected," said Slack.  Thomas surveyed 850 Southern California companies, using Market Research Associates, and found that 85% use e-mail.  That compares with previously reported national averages of 50-60%, said Slack.  The Stanford survey took a broader look at how the Internet is changing people's lives, and found that it's becoming a pervasive influence at home as well.

"Internet time is coming out of time viewing television but also at the expense of time people spend on the phone gabbing with family and friends, or having a conversation with the people in the room with them," said Professor Norman Nie, whose sampled included 4,000 adults in 2,000 homes.

The growing use of the Internet might be helping people stay in touch who are long distances apart, he said, but it also could be hurting the "quality" of interaction, and leading to more isolation.  "E-mail is a way to stay in touch, but you can't share a coffee or a beer with somebody on e-mail or give them a hug, he added.  "The Internet could be the ultimate isolating technology that further reduces our participation in communities even more than television did before it."

While e-mail is the biggest use of the Internet, more than 1/2 the people who use the network engage in some kind of information searching, reading or Web surfing, the Stanford survey found.  Internet stock trading has gained a high profile in the stock market's rally of the past year, but it's not much of a factor in most peoples' lives.  Only 4% said they use the Web to trade stocks, and just 7% use it for banking.  One in 4 buy things over the network - about the same as number who use "chat rooms," which are inhabited by 22% of users.

While Internet e-mail is becoming as commonplace as the telephone, there are still dark fears about threats lurking on the network.  After a year in which computer viruses and hacking incidents became front page news, companies are far more worried about outsiders abusing their computer systems than about employees misusing them.

Seven out of 10 companies said they are more concerned about security than they were a year ago, and 2/3 have written policies about e-mail.

Brightware said that more companies should have a policy of responding quickly to e-mails, or customers may become angry about being ignored.  "With over 300 million e-mails being sent per day in the US, I'm deeply concerned that some major corporations seem to be ignoring this global phenomenon," said Brightware Chief Executive Chris Erickson.  His survey found only 1 in 3 of Fortune 500 companies responded quickly and accurately to simple queries, like where the company is located.  "There's no excuse for that," he said.

Source: Health Headlines Reuters/AP Full Coverage 16 February 2000

Of Course, Some People View This Differently:

Internet Isolation Survey Dismissed as 'Non-Science'

by Ron Harris

San Francisco - A new study claiming increased Internet use causes decreased face-to-face social interaction was roundly criticised by detractors as non-science.

"Presenting it as a scientific study is a bit of a reach.  It's preliminary work and it doesn't tell us much," said Howard Fienberg, a research analyst with the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington DC.

The study was released Wednesday by researchers at the Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society.  It surveyed 4,113 American adults in 2,689 households.  Respondents were provided with free Internet access and WebTV connections to facilitate the survey.  The study found that too much time on the Internet makes some people reclusive and less likely to interact with people face to face.

"The Internet could be the ultimate isolating technology that further reduces our participation in communities even more than television did before it," said Norman Nie, a Stanford political scientist who conducted the study of the Internet's impact on society with professor Lutz Erbring of the Free University of Berlin.

About 1/3 of respondents said they were online five or more hours per week.  Of those people, 13% said they spent less time with family and friends, 26% talked less to family and friends on the phone, and 8% attended fewer social events.  The study also found that most surfers use e-mail and have increased their online conversations with family and friends.

Fienberg suggested a more random selection of survey respondents studied over a longer period of time would produce more accurate indicators of Internet use and social effects.

The study prompted author and Internet use expert Jakob Nielsen to question its designers' definitions of human contact.  Nielsen said the definition should include Internet-based environments such as chat rooms, message boards and e-mail.  Nielsen said concepts of contact used in the study were ill-defined.  "How do you define what you count as personal contact?" he asked.  "You could have had some other report 100 years ago that said the telephone would cause a loss in social relations and human contact.  The big problem is that the definitions do not hold in the new human experience."

In addition to scaling back personal contact, the study showed that 1/4 of regular Internet users who are employed increased the time they spent working at home; 60% of those same regular Internet users also said they watched less television and 1/3 said they spent less time reading newspapers.

The survey's work was done by InterSurvey, a Menlo Park company which Nie co-founded.

Source: NandoTimes 16 February 2000 © Nando Media and Associated Press

The shopping mall may be a shallow and artificial place to go, but at least there are other people there.  You have a chance to meet and touch them, talk and laugh with them.  The alternative e-mall cuts us off from human contact.

We must take care not to become order processors in an electronic warehouse, filling out our own paperwork and shipping supplies to ourselves.  Ordering online is pretty much the same as digging your own grave, only you don't get the fresh air and beneficial exercise of shovelling the dirt.  But it DOES save gas...

An Original

At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance
will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.

- Friedrich Nietzsche


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