Far from being more reclusive, Internet users are more likely to meet their neighbors face-to-face and engage in community issues, a new study reveals.
The findings suggests that talking in person or over the telephone remain the top two ways that people living close to one another keep up on community developments, even in an increasingly digital world.
"Talking face to face is by far the most common way people interact regarding issues that affect the community," said Aaron Smith, a research specialist with the Pew Research Center who wrote and conducted the study. "We didn’t see the situation of electronic communications taking the place of personal interactions."
Internet users were more likely than non-Internet users to meet with neighbors in real life by 50 to 35 percent, respectively.
Nearly half of the survey respondents had met with a neighbor in person in the last year to discuss community matters. About a fifth chatted on the telephone about issues such as crime and local economic development.
Naming the issues
Naturally, knowing neighbors' names emerged as a key predictor of how much people chatted in person with them about these topics. 70 percent of respondents who knew all of their neighbors by name had discussed community issues with them in person compared to 12 percent who did not know any of their neighbors by name.
The survey revealed that those not on a first-name basis with their neighbors were still interested in and engaged in community matters, however.
Young, low-income people – typically renters – turned to digital tools such as community blogs and social network groups just as often as more well-established residents.
Overall, about 15 percent of Internet users who knew none of their neighbors by name read community blogs, the same as those who knew all of their neighbors.
"Even people who don’t know their neighbors and may not interact personally around issues in their neighborhood are still interested in these issues and are interacting about them in different ways," said Smith. "Digital tools provide an avenue for people who may not know their neighbors by name and aren’t comfortable with those interactions."
Other electronic means of talking shop with the neighbors assessed in the survey were email and text messages.
Nine percent of respondents in the phone survey of 2,258 Americans conducted late last year had exchanged emails with a neighbor about events in the neighborhood.
Just four percent texted their neighbors about community issues, though 70 percent of respondents used text for other means. Similarly, four percent joined a social network site group tied to community issues; only two percent followed a neighbor on Twitter.
About one in five respondents had also signed up to receive weather, traffic, school or crime alerts via email and text messaging, according to the survey.