When one imagines an Internet user, the image that appears may be that of a solitary individual staring at a computer screen at an unbeknownst hour. It's a lot like the lonely Internet user that Robert Putnam described in Bowling Alone. In the book, he suggested that Americans were steadily becoming less engaged in group activity and that we, as a society, were losing our sense of social capital; we were bowling alone.
Yet, with the advent of the social networking and the popularity of information sharing and interpersonal communication, this depiction and the idea of "bowling alone" seems irrelevant. A new survey from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, shapes a different view of the Internet user. It's one of highly social creatures both on and offline.
"Social capital is an important matter in a networked age, and operates in a different matter than in the tightly knit era of the past," says Lee Rainey, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
In the survey administered by Pew, respondents were asked about active participation in 27 different types of groups in addition to their interaction with the Internet. The groups ranged from formal groups such as church organizations and more informal do-it-yourself groups such as book clubs and gaming communities.
Pew found that 80 percent of Internet users participate in groups, as compared with 56 percent of non-Internet users.
Twitter users were the most social. 85 percent of them were involved in group activity offline, followed by 82 percent of social networking users. The results from the survey identify the use of social media and online activities as helpful in the process of disseminating information and engaging group members.
"The virtual world is no longer a separate world from our daily life and lots of Americans are involved in more kinds of groups," said Rainie. Interacting on social networking sites is part of staying informed; the survey found that 65 percent of social network users read group updates and messages on these sites.
Group participation is not the norm for everyone. Rainie pointed out that "25 percent of respondents did not belong to any groups and of that group one fifth mentioned lack of Internet access as part of the reason why they are not involved."