Contrary to popular belief, the internet and email actually expand and strengthen the social ties that people maintain in the real world, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
A new report from the non-profit organisation, which explores the impact of the internet on all aspects of daily life, has disputed concerns that heavy use of the internet might diminish social relations.
The research suggests instead that web users are increasingly employing the internet to press their offline social networks into action.
Pew Internet also found that the internet fits in seamlessly with everyday face-to-face and phone encounters.
Furthermore, the internet allows people to maintain active contact with sizeable social networks, even though many of the people in those networks do not live close to each other.
"The larger, more far-flung and more diverse a person's network, the more important email becomes," said Jeffrey Boase, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and co-author of the report.
"You cannot make phone calls or personal visits to all your friends very often, but you can 'cc' them regularly [in an email] with a couple of keystrokes."
In addition to using the internet to get help from their social networks, people are increasingly using the internet to gather information and compare options as they face decisions in their lives.
The study estimated that around 45 per cent of surfers claim that the internet has played an 'important' or 'crucial' role in helping them deal with at least one major life decision in the previous two years.
"Internet use provides a path to resources, such as access to people who may have the right information to help deal with family health crises or to find a new job," explained John Horrigan, associate director for research at Pew Internet and co-author of the report.
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