The world, today, is exposed to a plethora of information, substantiated or not. Since newspapers and other secondary source material is responsible for relaying information to much of the population it is important to understand and realize the limitations of the medium. Their need to appeal to the general population and their wide dispersal would make them more likely to incorporate entertainment value versus objectively reported facts. Therefore it is imperative to question and compare them with the primary sources they report on.
A fairly recent study was done on the effects of Internet use. The researchers report was published as was a secondary article on the findings. By comparing these two the limitations of the secondary source can be exposed and used as an example for other such circumstances. The secondary-source article comes from the August 30, 1998 edition of the New York Times. Written by Amy Harmon, the report is titled Researchers Find Sad Lonely World in Cyberspace.
The article goes on to explain that researchers at Carnegie Mellon University completed a study (later identified as the Homenet study) that examines the social and psychological effects of Internet use in the home. What they found, the report states, is that the initial depression and loneliness of the participants in the study did not increase use on the Internet. However, citing the researchers, the article states; Internet use itself appeared to cause a decline in psychological well-being.
After stating this theoretical finding the article lists the cost of the project ($1. illion) and the organizations who sponsored it (many being technology companies). The article notes that both these organizations and the research team were shocked by the findings, because the Internet has been viewed by many as having actively social uses. Harmon goes on to compare the Internet to the passive medium of television. She states that with these new findings the suggestion is made that the Internet is no healthier than older forms of mass media. She claims that these findings raise troubling questions about the quality of social interaction on the Internet.
The report describes how participants in this study primarily used the social features of the Internet (e-mail and chat rooms). However, the article states, participants; reported a decline in interaction with family members and a reduction in their circles of friends that directly corresponds to the amount of time they spent online. The article continues on to briefly describe the methods of the research. The sample included 169 participants from the Pittsburgh area. Half were followed through two years of Internet use, the other half was monitored through one year.
Refering to the data compiled, Harmon quotes the main researcher Robert Kraut. He calls the data statistically significant and hypothesizes that the shallow relationships built on-line lead to a decline in feelings of connection to other people. The article ends with an interview with two members of a family from the sample who, paradoxically, express surprise at the studys findings. The scientific journal article on which Harmon based her report was published September 1998 in American Psychologist.
The article is titled Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being? The article begins with an abstract. They examined how the Internet effects social involvement and psychological well-being. What the study found is that despite the Internet’s focus on communication; greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in participants communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness. After this brief description of the study, the article begins by describing the trends in social disengagement due to technology that many researchers have discovered over the past 35 years.
The Internet could either exacerbate or ameliorate these trends the researchers conclude. Therefore, they have done this study to further explore those issues. With this field trial what they claim to show is that; within a diverse sample during their first year or two on-line, participants Internet use led to their having, on balance, less social engagement and poorer psychological well-being. The researchers next include a section on the current debate of the Internet. They discuss the uses of the Internet describing social and asocial functions.
They then go on to compare it with television and its entertainment value. Issues of time-displacement and physical inactivity related with television watching is also compared with possible effects of the Internet. They do grant that the Internet is inherently more social than television but emphasize that the relationships created on-line are not the same as traditional relationships. They cite other research in this field that has found positive Internet attributes but claim that this research is potentially inaccurate. From there they give an in depth report of their own study, the Homenet study.
They state that; the research described here uses longitudinal data to examine the causal relationship between peoples use of the Internet, their social involvement, and certain likely consequences of social involvement. The sample used in the study consists of 169 people from 73 households from eight diverse neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They carefully monitored this sample for control variables such as demographics, age, gender, race, and introversion and extroversion. Tests were administered before the participants were given access to the Internet to examine their initial social involvement and psychological well-being.
A series of follow-up tests were administered at the conclusion of the study. Social involvement was measured by family communication, size of local and distant social network, and social support. Psychological well-being was measured by loneliness, stress, and depression. They carefully monitored for other control variables that could influence these things. Internet usage was automatically monitored watching specifically for the major applications the Internet was used for and finding that e-mail and the World Wide Web consumed most of the participants time.
What they found was that greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in family communication as well as declines in the local and distant social circles. Internet use was also associated with larger increases in loneliness and depression. From these finding the researchers discuss the causal claim. They state that; The panel research design gives us substantial leverage in inferring causation, leading us to believe that in this case, correlation does indeed imply causation.
Furthermore, they claim that; because initial social involvement and psychological well-being were generally not associated with subsequent use of the Internet, these findings imply that the direction of causation is more likely to run from the use of the Internet to declines in social involvement and psychological well-being. After asserting causation, possible causal mechanisms are discussed. They propose that perhaps the displacement of social activity and the lesser-quality relationships created on-line in replace of actual face-to-face relationships could be the mechanisms.
Overall the American Psychologist article goes into far more detail than the report found in the New York Times. The research article is about eighteen pages in length while the Times article is only about five. Furthermore the information in the researchers report is conveyed in a much more scientific manner. In the analysis of the results, the researchers provide detailed descriptions of the statistics employing charts and graphs to illustrate the data and referring to them throughout the analytical portion of the report.
Possibly due to limitations on length, the Times article only briefly describes the statistics. However, Harmon does explain how participants use of the Internet was recorded. She also lists a few of the questions asked to determine psychological health that the participants were given at the beginning and end of the study. She, furthermore, describes the methods used for measuring loneliness and depression actually giving a few of the statistical figures the study produced. Despite the lack of details on the data the Times article does reveal that there may be some limitations to the findings.
These include whether or not the findings can be applied to the general population and the possibility that unmeasured factors effected the outcome. However, on these issues, Harmon quotes other scientist not associated with the research team who validate the findings. Furthermore she emphasizes the causality much more than the limitations of such a theory. The primary article, too, reports these same limitations. It does, though, once again go into more detail. It explains why the findings cant be generalized because of such reasons as the sample not being statistically representative.
They go on to state that; the major threat . . . would arise if some unmeasured factor varying over time within individuals were to simultaneously cause increases in their use of the Internet and declines in their normal levels of social involvement and psychological well-being. Ultimately the information in the Times article is accurate. However, the scientific journal article gives more definitions and explanations behind the information than is found in Harmons report. Besides the details discrepancy the biggest difference between the two articles is the tone they each take.
The research article is written in a much more objective way than the Times report. The information is laid out in an organized outline fashion. It follows the order of the research itself: first explaining the methods then moving on to the data gathered and then to analysis of the data. The Times article, on the other hand, is set up like most newspaper articles. The most interesting and newsworthy information appearing at the beginning while the lesser information on how the study was done is summed up nearer the end. Also, Harmons view of the facts is related in a somewhat more subjective manner.
The title alone implies a grim, doom-filled look at the Internet that may or may not be so. Furthermore, the researchers article is based solely on the study and what was discovered from it. The Times makes much use of quotes both from the researchers themselves as well as other psychologists in the community. It also adds a personal dimension by interviewing actual participants in the study. Their personal opinions, of course, have little to do with the overall sample results. It does, however, provide a more intimate appeal to the average reader.
The tone of the articles is, in fact, in direct relation to the audience to which each is directed. The American Psychology article is seemingly directed towards a largely scientific community. At least a basic understanding of psychological terms and concepts was assumed in the writing of the article. Furthermore, the use of extensive details to support their claims may have been used to sway a naturally skeptical audience. The Times article, on the other hand, was written mainly for the lay-person. Though the New York Times may be geared towards a largely well-educated readership the information is still far more simplified.
It also apparently assumes that the subjective tone would not be questioned as much by the general public. Ultimately, what both articles seem to emphasis is the future applications of this information. From their theories the researchers conclude their article with a section on the implications their findings can have on the future policy and design of the Internet. They urge applications that will develop communication between preexisting communities. To end the article they write; use of the Internet can be both highly entertaining and useful, but if it causes too much disengagement from real life, it can also be harmful.
Until the technology evolves to be more beneficial, people should moderate how much they use the Internet and monitor the uses to which they put it. Harmon, too, explores what these findings can do for developing better uses for the Internet. She echoes the sentiments of the researches and expresses a need for more research in this area due to rapidly expanding use of the Internet. Comparing the the primary and secondary sources on this topic of Internet effects there are, of course, discrepancies, but overall the New York Times article aptly related the information found in the researchers report of the study.
For a newspaper article it seems genuinely concerned with the facts. Never does it blatantly mislead or inaccurately portray the scientists information. The lack of detail is understandable due to length constraints as is the subjective tone considering the audience. Maybe one critique would be to encourage more emphasis on oppositional theories instead of so much one-sided focus. Other than that it was a rather good effort, allowing the general public access to current and important psychological research.