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Monday, August 31, 1998 Published at 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK

Talking Point

Does surfing make you sad?

Surfing the Internet could damage your mental health, says a new American study.

The research from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh suggests that hours devoted to surfing the Net can increase depression and loneliness and weaken family ties.

It is thought to be one the most comprehensive surveys of Internet usage and its social impact to date but what do you think of its verdict?

Does the Web fill you with woe? Should it carry a health warning? Or are the researchers doing the Net and its users a disservice?

Professor Robert Kraut, one of the report's authors, takes the results seriously. Sad, isolated and stressed - that is what the Internet can make you, he says.

He explains that many people go surfing to be sociable. But the relationships they find are less authentic, take more effort and create weaker ties than those in the real world.

Critics of the Web agree. They argue that virtual communication is no substitute for regular eye-to-eye contact. They say cyberspace surfers should get real and come back down to earth.

But a worldwide army of Net users would beg to differ.

They argue that there is nothing more sociable, accessible and mind-expanding than the global Net community.

Many say that all the information and knowledge about the real world you could ever want is there to keep you alert and out of the doldrums.

And all the hundreds of ecstatic couples formed on the Internet say that far from being shallow, online relationships are more deep, open and fulfilling.

What do you think?

Does surfing make you sad?

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