There are those who believe that too much time spent on the Internet makes people less social and causes them to lose touch with the real world, but a new British study released today found that access to the Internet and the web, and especially to social networks such as Facebook, can improve people’s levels of happiness. The study found that Internet access improves the overall well-being of lower-income users, those with less education and women — particularly those in developing countries — by giving them a sense of freedom and control over their lives.
The report, which was prepared for the former British Computer Society — now known as BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, with 70,000 members in over 120 countries — found what it calls a “statistically significant, positive impact on life satisfaction” as a result of having access to the Internet. Elizabeth Sparrow, president of BCS, said in a statement released along with the study that:
Too often conventional wisdom assumes IT has a negative impact on life satisfaction, but the research has found the opposite to be true. IT has a direct positive impact on life satisfaction, even when controlling for income and other factors known to be important in determining well-being.
The study, which was based in part on original research as well as on analysis of earlier studies on well-being and information technology, found that women, those with lower incomes and those with lower educational qualifications benefit the most from access to the Internet. “Much of the improvement in life satisfaction that arises from information technology flows to those on lower incomes or with fewer educational qualifications – what we might call the ‘disempowered’ groups in society,” the BCS report says.
The effect on the levels of life satisfaction for women were even more pronounced in developing countries, and the report says one reason for this effect could be that “in many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, women have socially controlled roles which may lead to a lower sense of freedom and autonomy and hence well-being.” Access to the Internet improves this aspect of their lives, the BCS report argues. The research also found there was a large improvement in life satisfaction for new users of the Internet, who also “are most interested in and derive most benefit from ‘social’ uses of the Internet such as social networking and instant messaging.”
As the report notes in its conclusions, the increase in happiness associated with Internet access is important because “it challenges both the ‘loner’ stereotype of IT users and the assertion that IT use is somehow linked to social isolation.” Paul Flatters of Trajectory Partnership, which conducted the research for BCS, said during the press conference announcing the study that “Facebook makes us happier. Given the immediate uplift in life satisfaction that people experience when using social networking, teaching people about how to use services like Facebook could be a more effective way of bridging the digital divide and getting people online.” Embedded below is a video of the BCS panel presenting the study today in Britain:
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