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Publications - Abstracts:

Core Networks, Social Isolation, and New Media: How Internet and Mobile Phone Use is Related to Network Size and Diversity


Evidence from the US General Social Surveys (GSS) suggests that during the past 20 years, people have become increasingly socially isolated and their core discussion networks have become smaller and less diverse. One explanation offered for this trend is the use of mobile phones and the Internet. This study reports on the findings of a 2008 survey that replicates and expands on the GSS network methodology to explore the relationship between the use of new technologies and the size and diversity of core networks. The findings conflict with the results of the 2004 GSS, i.e. we find that social isolation has not increased since 1985. However, the current study supports the conclusions that the size of core networks has declined and the number of nonkin in core networks has diminished. Mobile phone and Internet use, especially specific uses of social media, were found to have a positive relationship to network size and diversity. In discussing these trends, we speculate that specific social media provide for a 'pervasive awareness' within personal networks that has increased the specialization of close ties. We argue that this same pervasive awareness provides for heightened surveillance of network members, the result of which is a higher level of perceived diversity within networks based on metrics that include political affiliation.

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