Back in the day, it was assumed that heavy Internet geeks were a bunch of basement-dwelling, trenchcoat-wearing, socially maladjusted introverts.
However, a new study from the Pew Internet Project shows that geeks, including IM users and bloggers, are more likely to help neighbors, get out of the house, volunteer, and behave as upstanding members of their IRL communities.
One of the most interesting findings of the study completely neutralizes the stereotype of the antisocial tech geek. "Mobile phone use, internet use, frequency of use, or participating in social networking services, blogging, photo sharing, or instant messaging, was found to have no relationship with the likelihood of face-to-face contact with neighbors." That is, Internet geeks are as likely to know and speak to their neighbors as are non-geeks. Factors such as age, marital/cohabitation status, and gender have a much greater impact on local social activity, actually.
And although the study found that Internet users were less likely to rely on neighbors for help, its findings also tell us that frequent or dedicated Internet users are a mighty friendly and helpful bunch when it comes to giving support to neighbors. Bloggers are almost 80 percent more likely to do small favors for their neighbors than other groups, and they're 84 percent more likely to help a neighbor care for a family member, e.g., offer babysitting help. And while Internet users, including photo-sharing folks and IM fans, are more likely across the board to help and hang out with people in their neighborhood, the study also showed that Internet users are almost 50 less likely to lend neighbors money. Insert a pun about teaching a man to phish here.
Folks who use sites such as BuildingBulletins or NeighborGoods to connect with people who live near them are also more likely to engage with their community, especially in terms of actively discussing community issues, listening to a neighbor's problems, or helping a neighbor with chores or errands.
Bloggers and mobile phone users are also 72 percent more likely to belong to a local group or organization such as a charitable organization, a youth sports league, or a religious group. For example, an average single, white person with no children has a 40 percent chance of belonging to at least one local voluntary group. However, that chance increases to 54 percent if that person users a mobile device and 72 percent if that person is also a blogger and frequent Internet user.
Another fascinating set of findings completely negate the stereotypical image of Internet geeks as agoraphobic recluses. Internet and mobile users are far more likely than non-users to hit up coffee shops, parks, and restaurants in their communities. Internet users in general are around 50 percent more likely to find themselves in public places than non-users, and bloggers specifically are 60 percent more likely than non-bloggers to spend time in a public park.
The study concludes, "As with other local community activities, the relationship between Internet use and participation in public and semi-public spaces is likely a combination of self-selection and an outcome of internet use... The Internet may also enable visits to public spaces through opportunities to coordinate rendezvous and search for new places to visit."