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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 08:02 GMT
Internet serves as 'social glue'
Women in a bar
E-mail cements rather than replaces offline friendships
The internet has played an important role in the life decisions of 60 million Americans, research shows.

Whether it be career advice, helping people through an illness or finding a new house, 45% of Americans turn to the web for help, a survey by US-based Pew Internet think-tank has found.

It set out to find out whether the web and e-mail strengthen social ties.

The answer seems to be yes, especially in times of crisis when people use it to mobilise their social networks.

New community

In the past, it has been suggested that the internet and e-mail could diminish real relationships.

But the report, entitled The Strength of Internet Ties, found that e-mail supplements rather than replaces offline communications.

"The larger, the more far-flung, and the more diverse a person's network, the more important e-mail is," said Jeffrey Boase, one of the report's authors.

21 million Americans use it to get additional career training
Helps 17 million when dealing with major illness
17 million use it for choosing a school for a child
16 million use it to buy a car
16 million use it for a major financial decision
10 million use it for finding new place to live
8 million use it when changing job
7 million use it to cope with family illness
Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

"You can't make phone calls or personal visits to all your friends very often, but you can 'cc' them regularly with a couple of keystrokes. That turns out to be very important," he said.

The old cliché that times of crisis reveal who your real friends are seems to hold as true in cyberspace as it does in the offline world.

"When you need help these days, you don't need a bugle to call the cavalry, you need a big buddy list," said John Horrigan, associate director for research at the Pew Internet Project.

The internet is providing Americans with a path to resources, whether it be dealing with family crises or finding a new job.

The reliance and accessibility of the web is creating a new social phenomenon according to sociologist Barry Wellman.

Co-author of the report, he identifies what he terms as the rise of networked individualism - where users of modern technology are less tied to local groups and increasingly part of more geographically scattered networks.

"This creates a new basis for community. Rather than relying on a single community for social support, individuals often actively seek out a variety of appropriate people and resources for different situations," he said.

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