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It's official: "Using the Internet seems to cause isolation, loneliness and depression." At least, that's the conclusion of a two-year Homenet study at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, undertaken by Professor Robert Kraut and his colleagues. The study, funded by the IT industry and the National Science Foundation,followed the social and psychological effects of Internet use by 169 people from 73 families in the Pittsburgh area. The researchers were surprised at the result. Kraut observes that the early history in the use of the telephone shows how misled telephone companies were by the initial usage. Early home telephone users were business and professional people, but there was mis-marketing because it was not appreciated by the telephone companies that other people would like to talk by telephone for no very specific reason. Use of the Internet at home leads to a decline in conversation and other social behaviour. Online friendships through chat groups and email are weaker than personal relationships, it was found. Teenagers are apparently the most vulnerable to adverse effects. Kraut recommends having the computer in a living area rather than a bedroom, to maximise social contact in the family. Shallow relationships were also characteristic of Web friendships, and resulted in a feeling of isolation. The research team believes that the negative effects are caused by Net time diminishing the time available for real life. Parents questioned about the teenage use of the Internet formed the view that Internet access is a better way for their children to waste time than watching television. ®

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