ICTs and loneliness

Posted on May 8, 2012  /  0 Comments

Claude S. Fischer wrote one of the most important books on teleuse, America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940, University of California Press. (1992). I’ve owned the book for years; recommended it to many. He knows what he’s talking about. His comments are based on a command of the literature. He is a good researcher who knows how to assess research. He did not make silly claims about women’s use of the phone being non-instrumental unlike some others.

He has written a recent piece in the Boston Review, not based on his own research, but on a range of work, including one of his students.

People using the Internet, most studies show, increase the volume of their meaningful social contacts. E-communications do not generally replace in-person contact. True, serious introverts go online to avoid seeing people, but extroverts go online to see people more often. People use new media largely to enhance their existing relationships—say, by sending pictures to grandma—although a forthcoming study shows that many more Americans are meeting life partners online. Internet dating is especially fruitful for Americans who may face problems finding mates, such as gays and older women. Finally, people tell researchers that electronic media have enriched their personal relationships.

People typically turn new technologies into devices for doing what they have always wanted to do. And people like to stay in touch. A century ago, Americans, especially women, turned two new technologies marketed for other purposes, the telephone and automobile, into “technologies of sociability.” Developers of the Internet meant it to be a tool for the military and for scholars, and only a few imagined it might even serve business. Now users have made the Internet a largely social technology. (Not all new technologies develop this way; books and television are other, asocial stories.)

Worth a read, asocially.

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