You know the stereotype about social media nerds not actually having any real friends? Well that notion took a nose dive recently, thanks to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The organization conducted a study last October and November, and its findings reveal that Internet users on average have more "close friends" now (at 2.16) than in 2008 (1.93). And it turns out that Facebook users are actually more engaged with pals than people who don't social-network. Says Pew, "The average user of a social networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American."

On one hand, the report negates the stereotype, but on the other, it seems to firm up another long-held belief — that the size of a person's Facebook friends list isn't really representative of the real world. The average user has actually only "friended" less than half (or 48 percent) of the people they actually know in their lives. Of course, there are people who go the other way and collect online friends habitually. But this isn't as common as you might think — only 11 percent of the participants fits this bill.

Across the board, says Pew, there's one category of friend that comprises a strong base in our online social contacts — old high school buddies: "The average Facebook user's friends list consists of 56 people from high school; 22% of their total friends list."

I guess these results aren't really surprising. Not everyone is obsessing over Mafia Wars — some people really are reconnecting or staying up on their loved ones on Facebook. This should put to rest the idea of geeked-out loners with no friends, hiding in the darkened recesses of their parents' basements to linger online.

What about your Facebook connections? Is this or any other social network helping you stay close with real friends, or are these more superficial connections?

[via GeekSugar, Gizmodo, Ars Technica]