Online Social Networks: Good For You

Communicating with each other online might turn out to be more than just a fun way to spend time — it may keep us sane, or even save our lives.

An article in the Archives of General Psychiatry says that lonely individuals may be twice as likely to develop the type of dementia linked to Alzheimer’s disease in late life as those who are not lonely. This is disturbing when you also realize that Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, according to an article in the Washington Post.

A sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States. A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

Internet to the rescue: Online communities are in some ways helping to fill this lack of North American social networks. This growth of community can be seen in online gaming, in online media, in online dating and other emerging online communities. Certainly, communities online have been around since the days of dialup BBSes, but their accessibility and ubiquity continue to grow.

However, there will always be a need for local, physical community, which needs to be interwoven with the online.

“That image of people on roofs after Katrina resonates with me, because those people did not know someone with a car,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped conduct the study. “There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants.”

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