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Robert Kraut, a professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon, said the main purpose of the Internet and social networking is “to broadcast to a wider network.” Rather than visiting with friends or inviting friends out to the mall or a movie, users can stay connected with friends over the Internet. “You just can’t do all that with all the people you might want to keep up with,” he said.

For example, a cancer patient might wish to keep several friends updated about his health, but it can be extremely tiring to exchange details with that many people, Kraut said.

Though the Internet enables users to communicate instantaneously, it slows the process of forming actual relationships, she said.

Due to the inability to communicate via body language, she said it’s more difficult to read emotion accurately.

“Technology helps you remain closer to more people, to exercise those ties,” he said.Timothy Bickmore, an assistant professor at Northeastern’s College of Computer and Information Science, said he agrees.“The two [methods of communication] should be joined whenever possible,” he said.“You need to use the Internet as a tool,” she said.But sometimes, she said, people build trust with those they’ve never met and share private information, including deeply personal beliefs or financial information. Utimately, experts agree that the strongest and healthiest relationships are those that are practiced both over the Internet and in person.

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While Kraut looks into the relationship that technology has on individuals, Bickmore’s research focuses on the opposite; he works to build computer “agents” that simulate face-to-face interaction.

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