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Are You a Hermit?

A recent study claims the Internet robs people of personal interactions. Our columnist begs to differ.

Listen up, because you're about to get hit with some really bad news: The Net is turning you into a recluse, a hermit, maybe even worse. Skeptical? Don't take my word for it. That diagnosis comes from Norman Nie, a professor at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society.

Says Nie, "The more hours people use the Internet, the less time they spend with real human beings. The Internet could be the ultimate isolating technology that further reduces our participation in communities."

Nie backs up his positions with a detailed study and, you bet, when those findings were released, they made news everywhere. "Time spent online means time away from people, TV," warned Reuters in its headline. Should you be unplugging the modem and clicking the off button on your monitor? Believe Nie, and for sure, the sooner you disconnect, the better-for your sanity and your business.

To all of which I say: Rubbish! If anything, the Net is the most powerful tool ever for linking homebased business owners with the outside world. Because of the Net, I am in touch with dramatically more people than ever before. Ten years ago, the life of a home office worker was lonely, no doubt about it, and friends who worked in offices routinely joked about my reclusiveness.

Now I receive 25 to 50 e-mails a day from strangers. I follow up on many of them. Phone conversations result. I sometimes set up meetings I never would have gone to. I can think of three parties I've attended in the last six months as a result of Net-based invitations. Isolated? Reclusive? No way.

Don't listen only to me. Don Heath, president of the Internet Society, a Reston, Virginia, nonprofit company that's been instrumental in guiding the evolution of the Net, says plainly, "The study is biased and misleading. The Internet brings people together. It's causing people to have more interactions in real life than they would have otherwise."

Heath adds, "Those researchers took some statistics and drew a conclusion. But the same statistics would support an entirely different conclusion-that the Internet encourages interaction."

Meanwhile, a March Gallup Poll survey said that a stunning 72 percent of Internet users said the Net makes their lives better. Only 2 percent said it makes their lives worse, according to Gallup.


Robert McGarvey covers the Web-and plays with the latest cool gadgets-from his home office in Santa Rosa, California. Visit his Web page at www.mcgarvey.net.

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