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7/6/2010
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Most See Internet As Positive Social Force

In spite of security, privacy, and other concerns, 85% believe that the Web has and will continue to enrich their personal relationships, according to a Pew study.

The Internet will do more social good than harm over the next decade, according to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University.

In fact, 85% of the 895 Internet experts and users polled agreed that, "In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage, and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future."

Study participant Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said, "The net is about people connecting online, for commerce, politics, and personally, and we already see that enhances real-life relationships. Location-based social networking, in particular, will be a big part of our lives."

Often using their own experiences as examples, respondents cited their ability to stay in touch with family, reconnect with old friends and former colleagues, communicate with people in other nations, and follow their interests and hobbies.

"It's now easy for me to find people who share characteristics or interests, whereas for much of my pre-Internet life I mainly felt like I didn't fit in anywhere. Also, it's made it easier for me to find and interact with many types of people who are very different from me, giving me a wider range of experience," said respondent Amy Gahran, contributing writer at eMeter, senior editor at Oakland Local, and co-creator and community manager at Reynolds Journalism Institute.

On the other hand, only 14% believed the opposite was true, and that the Internet has mostly been a negative force on their social world, according to the report.

Yet even those who credit the Internet as a powerful and benevolent social force voiced concerns. Individuals could become isolated or the art of conversation could be lost, said some. Other major worries included privacy and security, time lost online, and the changing nature of friendships, according to the study.

"Social networking encourages people to have a greater number of much shallower friendships. Insofar as online interaction replaces real-world interaction, the Internet is a negative force in the social world. I know what 15 of my friends had for breakfast, but I don't know whether any of them is struggling with major life issues," said survey respondent Gervase Markham, a programmer for the Mozilla Foundation. "If this trend continues, people in 2020 will have hundreds of acquaintances but very few friends. However, acquaintancebook.com doesn't quite have the same ring to it."

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