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Fewer Rings, More Pings

A New Study Says Digital Tools Help Keep Communities Connected

by Dave Zornow

If you find yourself going online to learn what’s going on around town, you’re not alone. More Americans are using digital tools to complement face to face encounters with neighbors and friends to keep current on what’s up — downtown.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, one in five adults (20%) used digital tools to talk to neighbors and keep informed about community issues. Online blogs about community issues (21%), emailing  (9%) and texting (4%) with neighbors are some of the ways that we are now wired (sometimes wirelessly) to our communities.

Interactive marketing consultant Richard Dysinger says people use digital media to  communicate because it’s faster and easier. Although the average letter is read within a week of being sent, “the average text message is read within fifteen minutes of being sent and emails on average are read within 48 hours,” he says. It’s another example of how technology is shrinking the world — making small towns even smaller. “We have gone from six degrees of separation to three,” Dysinger says.

Pew reports that there’s still a place for conversations on the front porch or over the back fence: Almost half (46%) of all Americans talk face-to-face with neighbors about community issues. The phone is used by about one in five adults (21%) — about the same number who say they stay connected with digital connections.

What’s the message here? If you are trying to get the message out about a community issue or event — or even run for public office — word of mouth is still your best friend. But more and more words are being digitized for posting, emailing and texting across town as well as around the world.

This story was also cross posted at

Source: Neighbors Online, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 4/9/2010

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