A recent meta-analysis examined the relationship between various Internet uses and well being. The studies published until know is mostly about the discussion whether using Internet for communication with e-mail replaces other forms of communication such as using the phone, chat or face to face contact. Contact through e-mail, facebook, twitter and such replaces real life contact and this is believed to be a bad thing. It reduces the quality of contact, make it more unpersonalized with lack of feelings and commitment. The other hypothesis is that use of Internet with e-mail, facebook, and twitter facilitates the use of the phone, and face to face contact. This can increase well-being through social interaction. These two hypotheses are called the displacement and augmentation hypotheses for well being through the Internet.
Results from previous studies supported both hypotheses. Moreover, the relationship between Internet use and well-being is complicated. The relationships also depends on the type of Internet use and the conditions under which Internet is used. Do you use Internet for social, instrumental or leisure activities? You’ll probably use Internet different when depressed compared to it’s use when not depressed. Internet use and well being might also be influenced by gender and age.
The meta analysis was done on articles found with the key words: Internet, depression, loneliness, self-esteem, self-concept, life-satisfaction, and well-being. the authors also looked at the various confounding factors of the relationship between Internet use and well-being such as type of internet use, indicators of well-being, type of measures used to measure quality of Internet use, age and gender.
They used 40 studies involving 21258 participants. Statistical analysis suggested heterogeneity of the included studies. If any detrimental effect of Internet use on well-being was present it was very small. Moreover, non of the confounders or moderators could explain the variation in the relationship between Internet use and well-being. The heterogeneity indicates that caution is required when generalizing these results.
The authors do have valuable suggestions for future studies:
cross-sectional and longitudinal studies assessing the relationship between Internet use and psychological well-being at different life stages may reveal interesting differences in the consequences of Internet use
Until than, Internet use is part of life with advantages and disadvantages depending on several circumstances that probably have nothing to do with the Internet as such.
Huang, C. (2009). Internet Use and Psychological Well-being: A Meta-Analysis CyberPsychology & Behavior DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2009.0217