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UIC News Tips
University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456, www.uic.edu/depts/paff

November 5, 2001 Contact: Anne Dybek (312) 996-8279; adybek@uic.edu


Millions of Americans are turning to the Internet to gain a sense of community, a new report has found.

Eighty-four percent of Internet users participate in online discussion groups, the report said. That means discussion groups draw more Americans to the Internet than other attractions like searching for news or health information or shopping.

Steve Jones, University of Illiniois at Chicago communication professor and department head, worked with the team that collected and interpreted the research data. The findings appear in the report titled, "Online Communities: Networks That Nurture Long-Distance Relationships and Local Ties," released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"Many of these online groups are far flung and allow Internet users to connect easily with others around the world who share their passions, beliefs, hobbies and lifestyles," said Jones. "At the same time, 26 percent of online Americans use the Internet to intensify their connection to their local community by planning church meetings, organizing neighborhood gatherings, arranging local sports league operations, coordinating charity activities and petitioning local politicians."

Contrary to the popular opinion that Internet users are socially isolated and alienated, the report suggests that the technology allows users to be more sociable.

Among the report's findings:

  • Half of those who participate in online groups say the Internet has helped them get to know people they would not otherwise have met.
  • Thirty-seven percent say the Internet has helped them meet others from different generations than their own.
  • Twenty-seven percent say the Internet has helped them connect with people from different racial, ethnic or economic backgrounds.

Many Americans use the Internet to connect with professional and trade associations, hobby enthusiast organizations, religious groups, ethnic and racial fraternal organizations and political groups.

At the same time, millions of Americans connect to groups that they already belonged to before they began using the Internet. They report that their use of the Internet has helped them become more involved with those groups.

The report also found that the Internet is drawing new kinds of people to groups. Young adults and minorities are using the Internet to participate in online clubs and organizations, leading to new forms of community involvement.

Other key findings:

  • Men tend to be drawn to online groups involving professional activities, politics and sports.
  • Women tend to be drawn to online medical support groups, local community associations and cyber groups relating to entertainment.

"The Internet does not simply connect us to computers and Web sites, it connects us to other people," said Jones. "It is becoming an important means by which we keep in touch with friends, family and neighbors."

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