Monday, July 11, 2011

The Internet did not raise a generation of loners

The image of the basement-dwelling World-of-Warcraft-playing loner is often shown as an example of the adverse impact of the Internet on social capital and in particular social interactions. Whether this is true is not so obvious, as the Internet also makes possible social interactions that could not exist before, as this blog shows in a limited way.

Stefan Bauernschuster, Oliver Falck and Ludger Woessmann study the impact of broadband Internet on social capital using a natural experiment in Eastern Germany. There, some choice by the telecommunications provider resulted in 11% of East German households to be on OPAL lines instead of DSL, which better supports high speeds. Using the German Socio-Economic Panel, they measure social capital with the frequency of going out, visiting friends and performing volunteer work. They find that Internet access has no visible impact on social capital. To the contrary, for children it seems to enhance social capital, possibly because it makes them aware of new opportunities to interact in real life. This is in stark contrast with television use, which has many times been shown to be detrimental to social capital, likely because it is a one-way communication, while the Internet can build two-way communication.

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