Almost Warm And Fuzzy

computer with giant eyeball on the screen
Concerns the Internet revolution has dehumanized America may be unfounded.

Nearly two-thirds of all Americans have ventured online, and the majority of them deny the Internet creates social isolation, according to a study released Wednesday by the University of California in Los Angeles.

For instance, more than 75 percent said they do not feel as if they're being ignored by relatives and friends as a result of chat-room activity. In fact, the majority of Internet users said e-mail, Web sites and chat rooms have a "modestly positive impact" on their abilities to make new friends and communicate more with family.

But the Internet has only been a popular communication tool for the past five years, cautions UCLA researcher Jeffrey Cole. Cole, the lead researcher of "Surveying the Digital Future," believes the Web will have profound long-term effects that most users can't yet detect.

"The Internet changes everything from our values to communication patterns and consumer behavior," Cole said. Spending long hours surfing the Web "can even change how many neighbors we recognize by their faces," he added.

The study focused on the opinions and online habits of 2,096 respondents - both Internet users and nonusers - who mirror the nation's ethnic, economic and geographic makeup.

More than 70 percent said children's grades are neither helped nor hurt by Internet activity. Nearly two-thirds said they now buy less from traditional retailers, as opposed to shopping online.

CBS News Computer Consultant Larry Magid reports lack of privacy was the greatest concern. About two-thirds of Internet users agreed that people who go online put their privacy at risk, the study showed.

"What we've found is that almost no one is afraid of the government monitoring us," Cole said. "They're afraid corporations are watching what they do."

Cole said he hopes to continue the study over the next 10 to 20 years in an effort to address more issues relating to the technology.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said the report supports his own findings that the Internet is a tool that unites more people than it isolates.

"There is some evidence that people make and sustain long distance friendships online," Rainie said.

Here are some highlights from the UCLA study, on exactly who's online, what they're doing there, and how the internet revolution has affected their lives.

Internet use:

  • 66.9 percent of Americans use the Internet.
  • 54.6 percent use e-mail.
  • 51.7 percent of Internet users purchase online.
  • 86.3 percent of Americans with college degrees use the Internet.
  • 70.2 percent of users have only some college experience.
  • 53.1 percent have only high school diplomas.
  • 31.2 percent have less than high school experience.
  • 78.7 percent of adults say children in their households spen an appropriate amount of time online.
  • 11.2 percent say children spend too much time online.
  • 10 percent say children spend too little time online.
  • 70.5 percent of adults say the grades of children who use the Internet stay the same.
  • 26.2 percent say grades improve.
  • 3.3 percent say grades decline.
Top five Internet activities:
  • Web surfing or browsing, 81.7 percent.
  • E-mail, 81.6 percent.
  • Finding hobby information, 57.2 percent.
  • Reading news, 56.6 percent.
  • Finding entertainment information, 54.3 percent.
Social interaction:
  • 75.3 percent of Internet users say they never feel ignored by another household member spending time online.
  • 18.4 percent say they feel ignored sometimes.
  • 6.3 percent said they often feel ignored.
The UCLA study was funded by the National Science Foundation as well as America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp., the Walt Disney Co. and Sony, but Cole said no questions were influenced by the sponsors.

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