Net user's blues

Is it true that web surfers are prone to `down' time?

A STUDY carried out in America has found that the phrase "to get connected" is perhaps more than a little euphemistic. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that, far from enhancing ties with the outside world, home use of the Net can breed isolation and depression.

Their findings appear to challenge the popular concept of the "virtual community", where a support network of virtual mates is always there to ease the user's path through life.

The research, published in the journal American Psychologist, was carried out for a study dubbed "HomeNet", designed to look at the impact of the Internet on the social life and mental wellbeing of the average American. Some 169 human guinea pigs in 73 formerly Internet-free homes were recruited for the study.

Feedback from the group has revealed that, while the majority of users were quickly hooked on the Net, the increased time spent at the computer was accompanied by a decline in interaction with family and friends. A rise in the reported incidence of loneliness and depression followed.

Teenagers, who tend to use the Internet in longer bouts than adults, were found to be the most vulnerable to negative effects. After two years, the team found that they could predict the changes in a user's emotional state according to the number of hours spent online.

Professor Bill Scherlis, who worked on study, confirms the disturbing results but says he hopes it will not be used as a stick to beat the medium. "We should simply become more discriminating in our use of the Net," he told The Independent. "The challenge is for us to become better users."

The increase in signs of depression among the study group can be clearly associated with their use of the Net, Scherlis says, because of the number of controls that the team introduced during the trial. There was no question, for example, that the study group happened to be full of people who were predisposed to depression. Yet, he emphasises, the findings of HomeNet should be seen in context. "It was a very mild effect, but it was statistically significant," he says. "We want to explore it further, so all other interpretations are speculative at this stage."

On the up side, the urge to communicate has been underlined by the study as the main human motivation for using the Net, as opposed to, say, simply information gathering. The problem is, Internet contact does not appear to be as valuable a form of communication as many of those it replaces.

Bob Kraut, the professor of social psychology who led the research, explains the displacement that may occur in some users' lives, regardless of the fact that they think they are keeping up lots of friendships by e-mail. "People can't easily report on what they are giving up," he says. "For example, I find the Internet very convenient for keeping up with colleagues from my old job. The question is, does the time and energy I devote to these e-mail messages hinder me from forming strong friendships with people in my current workplace or community?"

Professor Scherlis thinks Net users are often deceived into believing they are strengthening their relationships through the Net. What they don't spot is the fallout around them in the real world. "The research shows that although Internet use is in fact a socially positive experience, it may not be as positive as other activities it replaces," he says.

"Sociologists distinguish between the kind of friendships you have with people who might actually offer to drive you to the airport and those you have with people you might just say `hi!' to when you pass in the corridor."

The $1.5m study was funded in part by a consortium of IT companies, including Apple Computer, Hewlett Packard, Intel Panasonic and Lotus Development Corporation, who may now wish they had not bothered.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?