Forty percent of U.S. adults recently polled said they feel more comfortable interacting online than in person, according to digital marketing firm Performics.
The findings, released Thursday, suggest that Americans are adopting new modes of communication at the expense of older ones, including both telephone and face-to-face conversation.
Performics polled 2,000 American adults who access a social networking site at least once a day. The networks were Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest.
Half of those polled said they preferred to text rather than use the phone. Nearly half said they had replaced some time on the phone with online social networking.
Nearly a third of respondents preferred to connect with their close friends through a social network rather than through conventional methods. The dramatic shift has occurred within a period of just about five years since social networking became mainstream.
What accounts for the rapid adoption of social networking? Convenience, said C. Shawn Green, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin.
"One of the nice things about interacting via social networks is that you do it on your own time. You can respond to a text on your own time, but a phone call is right then," he said.
Social networking, however, may not be an effective way for people to meet their basic need for social interaction.
"It's an area of active research the extent to which online social networks can take the place of real-life social connection. I think the jury's still out on it," said Green.
Users saw their privacy as one possible tradeoff of their use of social networks, the study indicated. More than 40 percent of respondents said they were "very" or "extremely" concerned about their privacy on the platforms.
The report found some discrepancies between men's and women's use of social networks. Women were much more likely to have Pinterest accounts and somewhat more likely to have Facebook accounts. Men were somewhat more likely to have Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube accounts.
Google+ users divided equally between the sexes but were more likely to be parents and over 50 years of age. But the study authors noted that older respondents had likely confused Google's social network with other Google services.
Women, the study found, spend nearly nine hours a week on their mobile devices in addition to the time they spend texting or talking. Men spend just under six hours.
Just over 60 percent of the respondents owned a smartphone and 42 percent owned a tablet. Still, more than 90 percent said they used a desktop PC daily.
Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.
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