Has the Internet Destroyed Our Social Skills?

Over the last week I’ve stumbled across multiple articles and blog posts that claim the Internet is destroying our social skills.

There is no denying that the Internet changed how we communicated with friends and family in faraway cities in an instant. I’ve reconnected with people I haven’t seen in person for 10 or 15 years because of email, social networking sites and search engines. So far all of the old friends and acquaintances with whom I’ve wanted to catch up have appeared online at some point. This is incredible.

The marrow of today’s discussion:

Has the Internet negatively affected our social skills?

Some of the articles I linked to earlier claim that we were kinder and  knew how to get along with one another better before people began spending so much time socializing online.

Is this true?

I was a few months shy of 16 before my family signed up for Internet access. Most of the communities we lived in during those years were small, rural and midwestern.  In my experience a small percentage of the population will always be malignantly unfriendly but most people are wonderful most of the time. This was as true 20 years ago as it was last week. The biggest difference between life before the Internet and what we have now is that it’s easier now to choose with whom we spend our time. This is a good thing. My life would have been much more difficult if I hadn’t been able to connect with like-minded people. (Living in a small town of circles can be achingly lonely when you’re a square peg!)

To be honest, though, I was so young when I first plugged in that I may not be remembering things correctly. Maybe people really were better socialized in the 90s, 80s, 70s, etc. Maybe we really are losing those skills by spending too much time online.


What was life like before you discovered the Internet? Did people as a whole have better interpersonal skills a generation ago?

Are we romanticizing the past?

(I’m particularly interesting in hearing from those of you who did not grow up with Internet access!)



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0 Responses to Has the Internet Destroyed Our Social Skills?

  1. Yes and no. I bought my first comupter in 1991. Started accessing BBS’s. Then on to prodigy , compuserve and aol. Finally on to what we have today. I designed my first website 1996. (for the church)

    The Internet has allowed me the wonderful opportunity to meet a lot of people I would not have met otherwise. I know you and Drew because I know Tammy and Jim and I met them as a result of a Internet search. A few days ago I was contacted by a woman who was a good friend in high school. I was delighted to here from her. She lives in Florida. The Internet made our reconnection possible. Of course the internet allows people to track me down that I would rather not have any contact with.

    I think disourse is more coarse, less friendly than in pre-Internet days. Anonymity allows people to say things to me they never would say if we were speaking face to face. (fear of me kicking their ass) The internet empowers arrogant, nasty cowards.

    All in all the Internet has added far more to my life than the negative aspects of it take away. Since I am unable to go anywhere for extended periods of time due to physical debility the Internet allows me keep in contact with friends and the outside world.

    • What do you think we can do to make internet discourse more polite?

      • Good question. I am not sure we can ever fix the lack of civility problem. I write a lot about religion and it brings out the worst in people. I got two emails today telling me what a bad person I am , that I was never saved ,etc. I used to get angry now I just try to respond politely, with a little bit of sarcasm thrown in. Like today , I wrote in part Thank you for taking the time to tell me me that I was never saved. I am glad God has you on the job to discern who is and isn’t saved. I have received some form or another of your email dozens of time.

        I think your Mom is right. Overall it is getting better. Perhaps those of us who desire civility stop hanging out where rudeness and nastiness is the norm. (like news groups, forums,etc) What troubles me the most is Facebook. Generally discourse is civil BUT it can get nasty at times. I hate it. (and hate even more when I allow myself to drawn into a pissing contest)

  2. Like Bruce, I didn’t hook up with the internet until the mid-90s when I was in my mid to late 30s. I grew up in an era without computers, cell phones and cable. When I was a kid in Kansas City, MO, we had 3 network TV stations plus PBS and, later 1 UHF station. You had to turn a knob on the TV to switch stations — no remote control!!

    I think that the internet has led to much uncivil discourse because of its anonymity. People can write the nastiest thing without having to confront anyone directly. They can hide behind personas, avatars and screen names. They can project a person that doesn’t actually exist.

    That said, I don’t think these negatives necessarily spread to other aspects of life. People in my small town of South Bend are just as friendly as the people I grew up with. I know all my neighbors and we wave at each other whenever we see each other wherever that may be. If I was ever in a bad bind, I’m sure my neighbors will lend a hand and vice versa.

  3. I too got connected with the internet in the 90’s (and I was in my 50’s), but I was afraid to use social networks and basically just e-mailed people I knew. But lately I’ve joined Facebook and Twitter and I’m finally finding kindred spirits. Yes, anonymous posting can be malicious and nasty, but most of my new internet friends are not anonymous and I’ve found entire communities, such as the haiku community, which have welcomed me. I’m meeting people all around the world, and that is pretty fantastic. You mentioned being a square peg, and so am I and even in a place as accepting as Vashon where I too have neighbors who would help if needed, I am still a square peg and it is a small community. Finding kindred spirits is also tricky for an introvert, and here again, I think the internet has helped me greatly. Written words, be it e-mail, old snail mail letters, etc. can cause confusion as the tone and inflections are missing. That being said, I do think that thoughtful writing can lead to greater social skills and so for me, the positive benefits I’ve received from the internet world far outweigh any negatives. So the internet has changed how we connect, but I think it has changed it for the better. Just my two cents.

    • I read somewhere recently that the Internet makes introverted people “sound” like extroverts. That is, we tend to be much more outgoing and interested in meeting new people when we can do it through social networks or commenting on blogs or message boards.

      No idea if this is true but I have made some wonderful new friends through online socializing. 🙂

  4. Twyseschoch

    I love it that I now know when we signed up for the internet! spring of 1999. I really didn’t remember.

    I see a swing toward civility on the internet – at least on the places I frequent. I think we spent some time collectively being anonymously rude, and now we are learning how to speak more clearly and carefully through the typed word.

    • I hope you’re right about this!

      I’ve noticed more civility in the last year or two as well but thought it was due to me consciously avoiding the people and places that were abrasive in the past.

  5. Well, I did not grow up with the internet, since my family lived outside a rural township and it took the internet a while to arrive. When it did arrive, around the time I was 14, I remember being excited that there was a new way to talk to my friends other than the phone – I often had time limits on the phone, so the internet was a blessing. I remember flirting with my first boyfriends through ICQ, which certainly didn’t mean that we flirted less in person and at school. I see it as a supplement to actual social interaction (at least back then anyway). And now it’s just like you say – it allows me to choose with whom I interact and stay in touch with those who, without the internet, I might otherwise be forced to forget. It’s much easier to send an email than a pen and paper letter, or text instead of call – and I think it’s a good thing.

  6. Amxmachine2008

    lots of young people dont dont know when to ask questions about people who ARENT like them, let alone the right way to ask them. this tends to give you a stagnant personality, which is actually fine in our society. you just arent going to win a nobel prize.

    one example of sheer ignorance is when they think that sarcasm is the only way to explain a slightly embarrasing ironic situation because of course when someone uses an embarrasing situation to demean you in front of other people the way out of it isnt to describe the irony of how you got into that situation! you should just deny it and say “oh yeah you know im a fascist” (i used my phone to explain fascism to my dad (yeah i know) and some chick stole it tonight and got on my internet and saw the wiki page so i had to explain how ironic it was. the smart people said “what? he doesnt know what fascism is?” and laughed in synch with key points in my story but the idiots kept rambling on while i was talking and after i finished one of them said to just deny it and it would be funnier…) the sad thing about all of this is, ive done a search before wondering why people acted this way and found many articles describing “proper” social contracts

    also lots of guys who have trouble with girls go online and find formulas for socializing. then they start “explaining” it all to their idiot friends who then all believe a cocky guy who never treats women like people is a real man. there are so many false answers to a plethora of stupid questions and people really get hypnotized by it. the majority of parents also dont teach critical thinking including my own, but luckily i picked it up! these days online you could pick up a bunch of fake stuff only existent in an out of touch personality

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