DEBATING THE INTERNET AND COMMUNITY, PART A: American University Students Examine 'Virtual' Society

This semester in the sophomore-level course I teach on "Communication and Society," we spent several weeks examining the many ways that Americans are using the Internet to alter the nature of community, civic engagement, and social relationships.

For many college students, having grown up "online," it's easy to take for granted the "virtual" society we live in, seldom pausing to consider how it might be different from more traditional forms of community life. One of the goals of the course was to encourage students to think systematically and rigorously about the many changes introduced by the Internet over the past decade.

From political blogs to online dating sites, students were introduced to the latest scholarship in the area, grouped into opposing teams, and then asked to research and write evidence-based position papers on the topic. This week, after turning in their papers, the teams squared off in a "face-to-face" class debate.

But now things get really interesting. Below the fold, in the following blog window panes, I have posted the opposing teams' position papers. In this pane, the Cyber-Skeptics square off against the Cyber-Optimists. Until Friday, Dec. 8, they will extend their classroom debate to the comment section of the blog. In the other pane, Team Social Change squares off against The Reinforcers. Each individual student will be evaluated on the frequency and quality of their posts, drawing on research and evidence to back up their claims.

At issue is the following:

"Community" is enhanced by new communication technologies such as email, online discussion groups, Web sites, and blogs. These technologies either allow for new forms of cyber-community and/or contribute to old forms of community.


"Community" is hurt by new communication technologies such as email, online discussion groups, Web sites, and blogs. Community cannot exist in cyberspace, and/or these technologies detract from old forms of community.

And here is where things get even more exciting. The students invite readers from the ScienceBlogs community and other "netizens" to share their comments and participate in the debate.


The Internet: Shaping Lives and Enhancing Community

Mariel C., Jackie G., Paige M., Rigoberto S., Marissa T., & Gabriela V.

In today's society, what creates and maintains social ties have changed as well as the way communities are built and defined. Non-conventional social ties have had increasing importance in people's everyday lives. Since we are living in a very technologically advanced society, people often form and maintain relationships created through the internet. While some believe that the internet breaks up communities, numerous arguments have been made that the internet in fact increases social ties especially for those who may not have otherwise met in the real world. Through politics, therapy, online dating, blogs, social networking websites, and other forms of community ties, new communities are created and old ones are restored.

In this paper, after defining specifically what community is, we are going to argue how the internet plays a vital role in people's everyday lives and brings new opportunities to everyone. We will first use a health example to show how the internet is vital to some communities. Next, online dating will prove how the internet brings people together and creates strong, lasting relationships. We will then discuss how blogs create communities which may never have been created without the internet. Lastly, we will talk about social networking and social capital as a means of enhancing community.

What is Community?

The definition of community is ever evolving. Moreover, many argue that the internet contributes significantly to the development of the modern day definition of a community because it positively influences our everyday lives and thus shapes an individual's social capital. As stated in the Pew Internet Project:

Instead of disappearing, people's communities are transforming: the traditional human orientation to neighborhood-and village- based groups is moving towards communities that are oriented around geographically dispersed social networks. People communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidarity community. Yet people's networks continue to have substantial numbers of relatives and neighbors- the traditional bases of community- as well and friends and workmates (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006).

The internet enhances communities by adding new means of connecting with existing relationships, and creating new ones. Moreover, it is a gateway that facilitates discussion and mobilization around local and global issues (Hampton & Wellman 1999). It also creates a larger space for sharing anything and everything from ideas, to feelings, and thoughts, among many others. As the Pew report describes it, "the connectedness that the internet and other media foster within social networks has real payoffs: people use the internet to seek out others in their networks of contacts when they need help". Moreover, Wellman and Hampton state that "the internet allows people to step out of the box for both connections and information. When computer networks connect people and organizations, they are the infrastructure of social networks" (Hampton & Wellman, 1999, 289). Furthermore, William Galston argues that "it is important not to build place, or face-to-face relationships, into the definition of community. To do this would be to resolve by fiat, in the negative, the relationship between community and the Internet" (Galston, 2003, 196). By being a connective nexus all itself, the internet is a resource that binds society, opinions, and thoughts by capacitating the masses to speak to each other and share ideas, information, products and services without the miles that divide them becoming a problem.

The internet has been a powerful contribution to the transformation of communities. Millions of people use the internet to keep in touch with family and to deal with family illnesses. Seven million Americans use the internet to cope with family illnesses while sixty million Americans have used the internet to make major life decisions (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006).

Online Therapy and Self Growth

Another example of the way that Americans have used the internet to reach collective goals and offer social support is through online patient or self help communities. Face-to-face therapy isn't widely available in all places especially in more rural areas. Insurance companies don't want to send therapists on a four hour drive to reach patients so setting them up online is the best option they have. The internet is a place for a new community, a group of individuals with an eating disorder, to come together to seek help. Without the internet, patients may not be able to receive the treatment that they need.

In a study by Dr. James E. Mitchell, chairman and professor at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, on eating disorders. He shows, as described in the Eating Disorders Review, that telemedicine is a good replacement for face-to-face therapy in places where that may be the only option because they are geographically isolated. To prove this, two groups of patients were formed, a face-to-face therapy group and an online group. After a full therapy session by both groups, the results came out almost the same. All of the patients benefited from their session and were closer to beating their eating disorders (Stein 2006). Without the online therapy, the group that used that mode of rehabilitation would never have received the help they needed.

A community is formed by a group of relationships coming together and in this case, it's for self help treatment. Another study was done to see if online therapy could be effective as a replacement for face-to-face therapy. At the end of the trial the participants were asked to fill out a survey and many of the participants added additional comments which included: the belief that online therapy is a viable and helpful method, the advantage of not having to travel but still receiving the same care, and the strength of the relationships between patient and therapist. But one of the most important comments was as follows:

Disinhibition. This theme was discussed in the most depth. Participants described the sense of freedom they felt to express themselves online without embarrassment or fear of judgment from therapists. Many expressed the stress they typically feel in a face-to-face therapy situation and indicated that, for the first time, they were able to be completely honest and open with a therapist (Cook & Doyle, 2002, 7).

The internet gives the opportunity for people who wouldn't normally speak up to voice their opinions. A person who is normally shy in the real world may not be as hesitant to speak their mind over the internet because less judgment is placed on opinions voiced through the internet. A theory by Noelle-Neumann called the spiral of silence describes people who tend to have minority opinions and keep silent in fear of being an outcast (Kim 2006). The anonymity of online communication allows for these types of people to speak their opinions with both those who disagree and those who agree. While the person may be a minority in his or her hometown, online, there is a community waiting of people that hold the same opinions. Through people coming together and sharing the same beliefs, communities are strengthened by a group having a common bond.

Online Dating

Another form of community ties found through the internet can be seen through online dating. Through these websites, people are able to fill out a detailed profile about themselves, setting specific expectations about what they are looking for in a mate. With the establishment of online dating, men and women are able to meet people who they wouldn't necessarily meet or talk to in real life. Online dating skips the awkward first conversations and goes right to outlining what a person is searching for.

Through the internet, people are able to interact in a way called computer-mediated communication, or CMC. By CMC, people become rooted to their computers and are able to interact with others more freely and in a non-threatening environment. CMC is known as the media by which people connect with and fill in the gaps during their busy days. It can be argued that in an online relationship, people miss out on the face-to-face interaction where they can see, hear and feel the other person. However, through CMC and online dating, people are able to fill the emptiness and gaps in their lives by exchanging information with other people (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006).

CMC is a building block for people who are about to partake in an online relationship. Through communication within the internet, all first impressions are already taken care of and out of the way. CMC has its own unique ability to build an online dating community of its own. Certain dynamics create personal relationships to be formed. For example, strong ties are already created when two people meet online because they start off with one-on-one interaction in a small group setting due to the fact that the conversation would normally be between the two people. People can also send personalized messages online to grow closer (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006).

According to Barry Wellman in his study called "Computer Networks as Social Networks", the internet enhances all different types of communities, including the dating community. While some feel that a relationship can not be sustainable without meeting in person, Wellman argues that online dating forces a person to meet others who share common interests and goals. In essence, it takes people away from various pursuits going on in their lives and makes them be involved in online interactions that reinforce their already existing opinions. An internet enthusiast who works with Wellman, John Perry Barlow, agrees with Wellman that the internet is a blooming social network. Along the same opinion as Wellman, Barlow argues that the internet has the ability to make online relationships last longer than when meeting in person. Relationships are sustained based on shared interests even when the people involved are residentially far away while the internet creates strong, lasting ties between people. It is also known that many e-mail and instant messaging conversations lead to many first dates that are in person (Wellman, 2001).

With the use of the internet evolving, many studies examine how it has played a role in the everyday lives of the people who use it. While it might be assumed that if people are not in restaurants or stores they are tucked away inside their home, they might be in their homes e-mailing or chatting online. The internet provides a small, intimate setting in which people can converse with others who have similar qualities. Not only does the internet begin online relationships, it can also enhance offline relationships as well (Wellman, Haase, Witte, Hampton, 2001). For example, if a man found a woman that he was interested in through a dating website and they began talking, they would already have discussed a lot of background information online about the opposite person, such as where they grew up and how many siblings they have. In relationships that are formed offline, this does not usually happen until the second or third date. Therefore, people who meet on the internet can go into their first face-to-face meeting already knowing a lot of information about the other.

While there are a wide variety of things to do on the internet, the majority of internet users utilize the internet for social reasons. In a study completed by the National Geographic Society in September of 1998, a survey was given to internet users to find out what they used the internet the most for. The findings were that e-mails are exchanged at an average rate of two hundred and seventy days per year while the second highest activity was people engaging in chat rooms (Wellman, Haase, Witte, Hampton, 2001). It can be concluded that internet users who are looking to be committed will most likely find someone through chatting or with the exchange of e-mail.

Online dating sites aren't the only forms of enhancing relationships over the internet. Blogs are websites on which people can express themselves and their views on almost any subject they choose. While one person may begin the online conversation, responses aren't limited and discussions are potentially ever lasting. This brings people together who have an interest in a certain topic and who are willing to talk and debate with others.


Along the same lines as online dating, blogs have created relationships between total strangers based on conversations and similar interests. They can become the source for support groups allowing each blogger to offer their advice on a similar experience. Since the early 1990's, the creation of Web Logs or Blogs has become an essential part of the internet and is one of the main features for online users. It allows people to express how they feel in a diary type atmosphere. Users can write everyday if they choose to, giving them an opportunity to vent or discuss topics of their choice who they may not normally have a face-to-face conversation with.

"A blog is often a mixture of what is happening in a person's life and what is happening on the web, there are as many unique types of blogs as there are people" (Fitzpatrick 1999.) Different people have a choice of what blogs they want to participate in The internet allows people to become connected, creating a strong bond. Not only do blogs allow new people to come together but it also gives people a chance who normally don't express themselves to do so. For example, a person who is normally shy in person may become more expressive over the internet. This is a positive effect on the average person due to the creation of Blogs. "There are at lest 55 million blogs over the internet as of November 2004 and many more to come" (Schaino 2004.)

In a study conducted by Pew: "Over 27 percent of internet users read blogs a percentage that translates into over 32 million people (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006 cited in Eveland-Dyko 2004). Ever since "The War on Terrorism" has started blogs have become stronger in ways of communication in our armed forces. "Blogs have made it much easier for soldiers or locals to dispatch first hand accounts from inside the war zone" (Schulman 2005 cited in Eveland-Dyko 2004).

There is a new discovered sense of community due to Blogs. Many Americans have been introduced to the idea of Bowling Alone, which is the theory that Americans are "lacking in people to tell their deepest, darkest secrets" to (Fountain 2006). In essence, blogs help break new social norms and bring people together to confide in each other, adding to the strength of their personal community. The local and national news media use blogs to reach out to their audience and non-audience which cater to both sides of the spectrum. Some watchers, readers, and followers answer on topics or issues that appeal to them. Some people don't believe the news sources or outlets they are hearing from and write what they really feel on the news website or create their own to voice their opinion. (Eveland-Dyko 2004).

Communities are usually defined on how strong, and supportive they are, and what they have to offer. Inside a community you find ties that are put together socially, emotionally, personally, and ethically. Blogs have given life to these areas where there is a forum, helping people talk and discuss these issues or problems who normally don't have anyone to discuss them with. This gives them a virtual place to escape without having to see them in person.

Social Networking

Social capital as defined by Robert Putnam as social networks that have value. "The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and - at least sometimes - for bystanders as well." Social capital is the transfer of information or sharing, the social reciprocacy between people, resulting in strong feelings or emotions of bonding or connectedness (Putnam ).

The internet and computer-mediated communication or CMC as Heller and Franz refer to the communication is a life changing tool that supports the development of social capital and can even reversely effect social capital among physically based communities. With restrictions of geography without the ability of CMC, social capital depends on what Heller and Franz call the F2F factor, referring the face-to-face communication to establish strong social ties. CMC allows the restriction of geography and times zones to vanish. CMC is shown to be a driving force to connect migrants who no longer live in their home country, back to that country and the people who reside there. By connecting with their origins, reestablishes their identity and definite character. More importantly, CMC allows for migrants to meet and communicate with others who share the same origin and may also reside nearby (Heller and Franz 2004). CMC strengthens the idea of Diaspora, the idea that there is a real sustainable relationship among scattered people. (Naffiey 1999) The impact of CMC on social capital was put to the test in context of migrants in a study conducted by Hiller and Franz at the University of Calgary, Canada.

The study was conducted by observing and recording of websites, chat rooms, blogs, and guest books through the use of search engines using words as 'away,' 'homecoming,' 'reunion' etc. A log of the activities of these was kept over a period of six months and monitored throughout the extended period of time. The results showed supported the idea that social capital is strengthen by the use of CMC over geographic barriers as those who migrated from Atlantic Canada were more likely to have used the internet for social reference related to their place of origin. In analyzing the web site search results, that those same group of Atlantic Canadian migrants showed the greatest number of search results of websites blogs etc. in order to facilitate those ties. (Heller and Franz 2004)


In Sara Ferlander's study, she stresses the importance of investigating the use of the internet as a source of social capital and as having the ability to. She defines community as being based upon or created by social interaction or communication. She also states that "area is no longer a crucial element in the definition of community. The existence and recognition of communities is claimed to be the core element within the concept" (Ferlander, 2003, 37-38). Her research uses this to measure solidarity and a sense of community. Her surveys found that vistors of the Café in 2001 have "significantly higher levels of social capital and feel a stronger sense of local community" than those sampled who did not (Ferlander, 341).

Ergo, while the internet may not contribute to community in a traditional definition dependent on geographic areas, the internet is able to strengthen this kind of communication. The internet is able to bring people with common interests together from all across the country allowing them to interact and communicate. This is also true for families separate by geography as well; the internet is one of the main forms of communication used in these instances.

In Stern and Dillman's article "City and Community" (2006) they sampled 1,315 households in a rural region of the Western United States and found that increased internet usage is positively related to nominal and active levels of community participation while at the same time supporting networks that span further outside the local area. This study found that internet use not only increases people's community ties in that part of the United States but that it helped community development and an increase in local social capital. The internet helps people connect to others both inside and outside of their geographic location while helping them solve community problems.

The internet has many outlets to help build and strengthen community such as self help websites, online dating sites, social networking sites, and blogs just to name a few. The internet allows people to come together to talk about life, a disease, family, new ideas, and even the current status of the world. "Unlike the traditional mass media, the Internet allows citizens to engage in online discussions on significant public matters with like-minded others, regardless of physical and geographical constraints" (Kim 2006).

There are many forums for people of all ages to learn something new about themselves by virtually talking to someone they would never have met otherwise. It is clear through all of these examples that there are those who need the internet to speak up about their ideas and feelings without having to literally face someone. Community isn't simply built through geographical locations, community is something that is constantly building and expanding. The formation of new communities isn't a bad thing; in fact, it allows those who have distanced themselves from society to find a place where they can truly belong.

Works Cited

Biever, Celeste. "Modern Romance." New Scientist (2006). 5 Oct. 2006.

Boase, J., Horrigan, J. B., Wellman, B., & Rainie, L. (2006, January 25). The Strength of Internet Ties. Pew Internet and American Life Project:

Brady, Diane. "The Net is a Family Affair." Business Week. 13 Dec. 1999.

Cook, J. E., & Doyle, C. (2002). Working Alliance in Online Therapy as Compared to Face-to-Face Therapy: Preliminary Results. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 5(2), 95-105.

Dillman, Don A., Stern, Michael J. (2006). Community Participation, Social Ties, and Use of the Internet. City and Community, 5(4), 409.

Ferlander, S. (2003). The Internet, Social Capital, and Local Community.

Fitzpatrick, B (1999, March) Live Journal of Internet Users.

Fountain, Henry. "Ideas & Trends the Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier". New York Times, July 2, 2006

Galston, W. A. (2003, July 2). Does the Internet Strengthen Community? National Civic Review, 89(3), 193 - 202.

Hampton, Keith & Wellman, Barry (2003). Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet Supports Community and Social Capital in a Wired Suburb. City and Community 2 (4), 277-311.

Hans, Jason D., Hughes Jr, Robert. (2001). Families & Family Life, Personal computers, Internet Effects. Journal of Family Issues, 22 (6), 776-791.

"Internet Serves as 'Social Glue'" BBC News. 26 Jan. 2006.

Jayson, Sharon. "Online Daters Report Positive Connections." USA Today(2006). 5 Oct.

Kim, J.-Y. (2006). The impact of Internet use patterns on political engagement: A focus on online deliberation and virtual social capital. Information Polity: The International Journal of Government & Democracy in the Information Age, 11(1), p35-49.

Rainie, L (2005), Pew Internet & American Life Project (2005b) The State of Blogging

Schiano, D. (2004, May). Communication of the ACM, The Blogosphere. Pg41-46 .

Schulman, D (2005) Their War, Columbia Journalism Review 44(3) 13
Retrieved November 7, 2005

Stein, M. K. (2005, May/June). Using the Internet to Deliver Therapy and
Fighting Old Unhealthful Food Patterns. Eating Disorders Review, 16(3),1-3.

Wellman, B., & Hampton, K. (1999, November). Living Networked in a Wired World. Contemporary Sociology, 28(6).



Cyber Skepticism: How the Internet Destroys Community

Alessa Arias; Jennifer Cumberworth; David Gates; Leah Moriarty; Brittney Williams, & Allison Young

The brainchild of 1960's technological research, the Internet has become a staple in the lives of not only just Americans, but also the global community. English journalist and author Andrew Brown says the Internet "is so big, so powerful and pointless, that for some people it is a complete substitute for life." Brown's words echo the concern that many individuals share over how the Internet affects the lifestyles of not just adults, but children as well.

To grasp a better understanding of how the Internet affects individual's lives, an examination of the Internet's history must happen. Only with understanding of the original intention of the Internet can one begin to understand that the Internet was not intended to become the mass form of communication as it is today. Once understanding of the Internet is achieved an examination of its affects on society must take place.

To understand the affects of the Internet on society, the first step is to define what society is and for the intent of this paper society is community. The definition of community is important because without it there is no basis to evaluate the affects of Internet on the community. In this case, community is defined in the traditional sense as having interpersonal interaction with individuals through such means as face-to-face communication.

With an increase in Internet usage, general knowledge of individuals is decreasing and individuals are choosing to segment themselves from society. This is because technology gives individuals the ability to select themselves out of any interaction with individuals or news media. Also, the increase has lead to time management problems for many individuals. The displacement of time while using the Internet has created issues for individuals in their social and family lives. Finally, the Internet and its' culture of segmentation and time displacement is destroying basic human communication - social cues and personal interaction -all of this brought to you by Cold War paranoia.

The Internet

The Internet was developed as part of a defense strategy against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In 1958, President Eisenhower supported research and development of having defense computers linked to speak to one another and be self-sustained. The idea became reality in 1964, when three scientists at MIT developed a network that allowed for different computers to speak to one another. The Internet developed rapidly through the rest of the 1960s and expanded over time into commercial development (Borden 2000).

Today, college students have been found to be early adopters and heavy users of the Internet. Reports have indicated that students use the Internet for contacting professors, conducting research, working on projects with fellow students, and receiving messages from academic oriented email services. Students have also been found to use the Internet to communicate socially, for entertainment, and to stay in touch with family and friends (McMillan and Morrison 2006).

However, the issue with the Internet resides in the fact that there is a displacement of communication. Technologically mediated communication continues to replace some of the more established modes of interpersonal communication, and as such, one should consider the behavioral consequences (Millward 2000). One study found that an introverted 18-year-old was quite extroverted under the anonymity of the Internet (McMillan and Morrison 2006).

Even though the Internet did not start off as a tool for public communication, it has over time developed into what it is today - a large social sphere. However, relationships or interactions on the Internet are quite shallow when it comes community development. Strong communities have qualities that the Internet cannot offer.

What is a Good Community?

Sociologists believe even with the onset of greater mass communication, community can be defined as the idea of having a fairly strong feeling of belonging and mutual commitment based on a homogeneous culture, shared experience, and close interdependency. Meanwhile, some sociologists argue that cities are not even communities at all, but heterogeneous secular areas (Johnson 1995). However, there is a distinction to be made between traditional and modern communities.

As stated before, traditional communities are more homogeneous. Traditional communities often resist new ideas, less technologically advanced, and are less dependent on mass media. On education, traditional communities tend to place lower value on literacy and schooling and a higher value on religion (Johnson 1995).

However, modern communities tend to be culturally heterogeneous. Modern communities also have complex divisions of labor and make use of highly developed mass media and are dependent on sophisticated technology. Meanwhile, education in modern communities tends more secular than religious and there is a higher value placed on formal education (Johnson 1995).

Although both facets of community, traditional and modern, each have their positives and negatives, a determination must be made of what is the best and strongest sense of community. The idea of strong communities feature relationships that have high degree of support, emotional depth, personal intimacy, and moral commitment that remain relatively constant or reliable across time. Most commonly this can be found in such places as traditional communities, where individuals are recognizable. Whereas in modern communities, individuals can slip pass any personal contact and depend solely on non-personal communication to function in the world. This destroys the social capital within a community.

A good community contains a great deal of social capital. Social capital can be defined as the specific norms, forms of trust, aspects of knowledge, or other resources forged through social interaction that allow individuals to come together to solve problems. Without social capital a community would cease to exist, creating a vacuum in which civilization would quickly regress. Thus the question is raised, how exactly does the Internet affect the way individuals and society communicate?

Segmentation & Political Knowledge

The overload of media outlets in modern life has created a vacuum in which individuals can elect to isolate themselves from other views. The Internet allows individuals to confine their communication to people who personally share their own interests. This idea of confining communication can create a mentality of isolation from society.

The Internet and cable allow people to select themselves into a certain group. A 2005 study showed that cable and Internet users with strong preference for political news scored much higher on political knowledge test than those who disliked it. Those with access to neither cable nor Internet had the same score for strong and dislike. Among those who dislike political news, people with no cable and Internet scored the best (Prior 2005).

A 2004 study showed that regular web-log users were interested in politics and heavier on-line newsreaders. However, this did not have much prediction power as to how much political participation would happen in 2004 (Eveland 2004). Meanwhile, national newspaper reading continued to have strong influence as supported by a 2004 study. The study showed that reading the newspaper had the strongest relative influence on political knowledge. Another conclusion to the study was that reading about politics online had no influence on political knowledge (Nisbet and Scheufele 2004).

Segmentation leads to self-isolation into worlds of fantasy and deceit. This in turn makes individuals unaware of the world around them leading to unknowledgeable citizens and voters. Also, segmentation is an act of time use. As such individuals that choose isolation from the world take time away from spending it with family and friends.

Time Displacement & Communication

A Stanford University study was done to explain the differences between users and non-users of the Internet. Two hypotheses were developed; the first was the displacement hypothesis which states that time spent online takes away from the time spent interacting with the outside world. The second was the efficiency hypothesis which states that time spent online allows for tasks to be completed quicker, resulting in extra time for communal activities (Nie 2002).

The study concluded that for every hour spent online at home, there is a thirty-minute loss in time spent with family (Nie 2002). The evidence supports the statement that the Internet is having a negative impact on community and interpersonal relationships. People are allocating more time checking email accounts then socializing with friends and family. The time spent cultivating interpersonal relationships decreases, and as a result, the strength of these ties is declining.

In a study done two years earlier, the same result was found. The 2000 study showed that time displacement from the Internet reduced the time individuals spent doing other activities (Kayany and Yelsam 2000). The same result was proven in a 2005 study done on the use of instant messaging amongst college students.

In 2005 the study concluded that the more conversations one has on an instant messaging service, like America Online Instant Messaging (AIM), the less satisfied one is with other forms of communication. It is estimated that there is a 71% decrease in the use of landline communication and a 38% decrease in the use of email when individuals use AIM (Flanagin 2005). What can be seen from the 2005 study is that there is trend that traditional face-to-face and telephone communication is being replaced quickly by Internet use.

Through displacing time by communicating and interacting on the Internet, individuals are losing essential abilities to cope in the outside world. Instant messaging has allowed individuals to decrease their use of voice communication. But more importantly, instant messaging and the Internet as a whole are leading to destruction of social capital and interpersonal communication.

Internet Connections & Social Capital

In a study done by Pew Foundation, people are simply transforming their social networks into a broader geographic base (Boase, et al. 2006). In reality, this transformation includes shallower connections, transient associations, and a decline in community involvement. It is true that the traditional definitions of community are changing with the growing integration of the Internet and other communications technologies into everyday life (Ferlander 2003). Due to the rapid growth of the Internet, society is blinded to the potentially negative effects of online usage. People's high Internet usage results in alienation and isolation, thus reducing social capital. In addition to the negative impact the Internet has on our social ties, it has now become a hunting ground for bullies, pedophiles, and other harmful behaviors decreasing social trust.

Interactions between community members involve aspects of trust and adequate knowledge of others within the social group. Community interactions traditionally involve a high degree of face-to-face interactions. Social interactions with friends and family provide a network of social support. This network provides sources of social capital people utilize in making everyday decisions (Wellman and Wortley 1990).

An important dimension of social capital and community is the idea of collective problem solving. Robert Putnam suggests that Americans are becoming more isolated due to a smaller number of substantial connections. The Internet promotes social isolation for two reasons; the creation of a socioeconomic divide and by the loss of social cues. Putnam suggests that the Internet is taking away from bridging social capital, and reinforcing already existing parties and their attitudes (Putnam 2000).

In addition, the limited amount of access to the Internet has shown to be prevalent among the rural and inner city classes. This leads to the exclusion of minority opinions and presence on the Internet. Thereby contributing to the idea of a digital divide. According to Putnam this divide is widening between the classes instead of narrowing. Evidence for this is shown by the majority opinion being reinforced through easier access to the Internet (Putnam 2000).

The second reason Putnam gives for the potentially harmful impacts of the Internet is in the context of face-to-face interactions. Face-to-face encounters provide a wealth of social cues that are severely lacking in online interactions. The speed of feedback from eye contact and other body gestures contributes to the formation of trust and a sense of reciprocity. A loss of social cues can depersonalize online encounters (Putnam 2000).

The shortage of social cues, scarcity of opinions and the amount of anonymity leads to a decrease in personal responsibility of a user's actions while online. A majority of online interactions have little investment from their user and as a consequence receive little back from these relationships. A longitudinal study was done in which 73 households were examined during their first two years online (Kraut 1998). Within this time frame, he found that although the Internet was mainly used for communication purposes, its use was still associated with decreases in familial communication, size of their social circles, and increase feelings of loneliness (Kraut 1998). The same phenomenon was witnessed in children who become engross in the false profiles they make online (Ambrosio 2006). Some case studies have witnessed children who focus primarily on online activities and have become withdrawn from their family members. Meanwhile, they unconsciously replace their primary support system with superficial connections.


Internet pioneer William Gibson said, "Cyberspace: A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions operators, in every nation. The idea that community and relationships are strong is just what Gibson describes--"a consensual hallucination." A good community must allow for interpersonal communication and the use of social capital, as the Putnam study cited. The 2005 study done by Prior concluded that individuals with more technological options tend to exclude themselves out of interacting with society. This behavior has lead to parts of the population segmenting themselves out and leaving holes within the community. The likely outcome of segmentation is a society that is entirely unaware of issues and the happenings in the world around them.

Nie and Flanagin both found quite similar results for Internet usage as well. The more individuals engage in Internet communication, they are more likely not to engage in communication outside that realm. Nie found that the time displacement that the Internet causes has grave effects on family relations. Flanagin cites that Internet communication is even decreasing the use of the semi-personal communication that the telephone offers. This continues the thought that interpersonal relationships that are essential for human growth are being destroyed by constant Internet usage.

In the end, the Internet and the "cyberspace" it provides leads to the destruction of good communities. This is done by individuals to isolating themselves from society, close friends and family. Good communities teach individuals social cues, how to solve problems, and overall have intimate relationships that human nature demands. The Internet does not enhance these lessons, but instead creates distraction and leaves a void in an individual's human nature.


Borden, M. (2000, October 9). A Brief History of the Net. Fortune, 142, 34 - 35.

Eveland, W.P., Jr., & Dylko, I. (In press). Reading political blogs during the 2004 election campaign: Correlates and consequences. In M. Trymayne (Ed.), Blogging, citizenship and the future of media. New York: Routledge.

Flanagin, A.J. (2005) IM onlining: Instant messaging among college students. Communication & Research Report, 22 (3), 175 - 187.

Johnson, A.G. (1995). Community. The Blackwell dictionary of sociology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

Kayany, J.M. & Yelsam, P. (2000). Displacement effects of online media in the socio-technical context of households. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44 (2), 215 - 229.

McMillan, S.J., & Morrison, M. (2006). Coming of age with the internet: A qualitative exploration of how the internet has become an integral part of young people's lives. New Media & Society, 73 - 92.

Millward, S. (2000). The relationship among internet exposure, communicator context and rurality. American Communication Journal, 3 (3), 3 -9.

Nie, N. and D.S. Hillygus. (2002). Where does internet time come from?: A reconnaissance. IT & Society, 1 (2): 1 - 20.

Nisbet, M.C. & Scheufele, D.A. (2004). Political talk as a catalyst for online citizenship. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 81 (2), 877 - 896.

Prior, M. (2005). News and entertainment: How increasing media choice widens gaps in political knowledge and turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 49, (3).

Putnam, R. (2000). Against the tide? Small groups, social movements, and the Net. In Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. (pp. 149 - 180). New York: Simon & Schuster.

Wellman, B. & Wortley S. (1990). Different strokes from different folks: Community ties and social support. American Journal of Sociology, 96, 558-588.



More like this

This semester in the sophomore-level course I teach on "Communication and Society," we spent several weeks examining the many ways that Americans are using the Internet to alter the nature of community, civic engagement, and social relationships. For many college students, having grown up "online…
This fall in the sophomore-level course I teach on "Communication and Society," we spent several weeks examining the many ways that individuals and groups are using the internet to alter the nature of community, civic engagement, and social relationships. For college students who grew up online,…
This semester in the sophomore-level course I teach on "Communication and Society," we spent several weeks examining the many ways that individuals and groups are using the internet to alter the nature of community, civic engagement, and social relationships. (Go here for reading list.) For many…
This fall in the sophomore-level course I teach on "Communication and Society," we spent several weeks examining the many ways that individuals and groups are using the internet to alter the nature of community, civic engagement, and social relationships. For college students who grew up online,…

Instead of bonding communities, internet is actually alienating and reducing social capital. People from different socioeconomic status are being separate due to the internet (Putnams study).Most of the communities in rural areas are not able to have internet and therefore they are technologically separated and neglected from their own society.
It is also important to make an emphasis on the importance of face to face interaction. Instant Messengers like MSN, facebook, ect... are never going to be able to provide you with the different social cues and facial expressions that you get in a face to face interaction.

By Alessa Arias (not verified) on 01 Dec 2006 #permalink

Alessa has made some very good points about the lack of social cues, and going along with that is the lack of social capital. An individual may make "friends" online, but these relationships aren't necessarily strong. Relationships are built upon trust, physical connection, and emotional support.

By Jennifer Cumberworth (not verified) on 01 Dec 2006 #permalink

But is community solely--or even mainly-- built upon trust, physical connection and emotional support. One of social capital's greatest contributions to a successful community is its ability to increase the wealth of knowledge. By Granosvetter's theory, "the strength of weak ties," we can understand how weak ties, for the purpose of a strong community, are often more valuable than strong ones. Yes, for the individual relationship, physical connection is quite important, but for community as a whole... maybe not so much.

By Sarah Levy (not verified) on 01 Dec 2006 #permalink

Just a couple of comments...what is a community but a collection of relationships between individuals. Without these relationships, there can't be a community. And if these relationships are based on weak and transient ties, then the bases of our connections, trust, reliance, etc., can never really develop.

This brings me to the validity of online support groups. Firstly, I believe that the argument that online groups allow increased freedom of expression is not necessarily a positive thing unless you can prove that this ability to speak up diffuses into real life situations. If not, then it just acts as a crutch enabling people to remain fearful of speaking up in a public arena. This eventually decreases the quality of life as people become more dependent on these virtual communities which will never be an adequate substitute for real-life (Turkle; "Virtuality and Its Discontent")

In addition, White and Dorman, in their paper, ("Receiving social support online: implications for health education) (2001) found that an important disadvantage to these online groups are misinterpretations because of loss of visual and aural cues. And we see the importance of these cues as people try to compensate for them through the use of "paralanguage" or things like this :) (Supposedly a happy face). This restricts the emotional depth behind most online conversations. Also along these lines is the impersonal character of these groups. Most are anonymous and lack appropriate social communication cues, such as deferring to another person. In addition they offer a new medium for people to give out false information to gain sympathy, or in the case of online dating, a romantic relationship.

Final thought, although there are benefits in using each of these venues, online dating, support groups, etc, there is still the unaddressed problem of the digital divide. And contrary to what people want to believe, it is not getting smaller. People in the bottom half of the income distribution are severely trailing those in the upper portion (45,000 and above)as far as becoming connected to the internet anytime soon (Cooper, 2000) In the United state's census of 2003 and 2004, it shows that white Americans average yearly income is 49,000, while African Americans and Hispanics income is in the low 30,000, and the older generation (65 and up) have an income of less than 25,000. ( indicating that there is definitely a racial as well as age-based divide among internet and non-internet users based on their yearly income and the affordability of becoming connected; contributing to the silencing of minority opinion on the internet. As a result, people who are disconnected become less effective citizens, and less involved.

My first comment is about the Cyber-Skeptics definition of community. I see the emphasis put on a "traditional" community being the ideal, but if we kept traditional means of everything in life we would still be living in the 1800's. While it's important to hold onto the values that we had in the past, the world id evolving, thanks to technology. The world is now our playground, not just our neighborhoods and this is because of the internet. The internet allows for new communities to be built and enhances existing communities because it helps facilitate disucussion over a larger group of people about more global issues (Hampton and Wellman). The internet gives people who would never have met the opportunity to come together to share thoughts and ideas. The internet allows community leaders from all over the world to come together to share their knowledge and pass it on with those who may not have been able to recieve that information otherwise. The internet also helps existing communities stay together through email, blogs, and social networking sites. One example of this is from Schulman who uses the War on Terrorism as an example of how blogs can be used to relate back to family and friends of soldiers. These blogs allow people to come together and discuss an important issue and in doing so creates a new community altogether.

There is nothing wrong with advancing the way we look at community, it's a natural progression and we should welcome the internet into our communities instead of forcing this helpful technology out.

By Jackie Grosser (not verified) on 01 Dec 2006 #permalink

When defining community, we are not focusing on the "Leave it to Beaver" neighborhoods, but are mostly concerend with what holds these neighborhoods or communities together, which are strong ties that provide emotional support, intimacy, and a sense of committment as our paper says. And although blogs and other online interactions may bring people together, it is not adequate enough to provide the support that face-to-face interactions in physical communities provide. For example, the chances of someone you met online lending you money when you are going throgh a tough time, or being there in case of an emergency is unlikely.

Cyber Skeptics, in your research paper, you mention that "with an increase in Internet usage, general knowledge of individuals is decreasing and individuals are choosing to segment themselves from society". However, is this fact? How can you prove that the internet, with forms like email, facebook, and messenger, is not uniting people? As stated in the Pew report, "people communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidarity community. Yet people?s networks continue to have substantial numbers of relatives and neighbors- the traditional bases of community- as well and friends and workmates" (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006).

After all, we live in a community where the internet is a major form of communication, and it is extremely hard to avoid it. Like Hampton and Wellman argue, "when computer networks connect people and organizations, they are the infrastructure of social networks? (Hampton, Wellman, 1999).
Moreover, you argue that with an increase in internet usage the knowledge of individuals is decreasing. I find this very hard to believe because if the internet offers something very positive is the creation of new doors to exchange information. Surfing the internet will help you find everything and anything. It is up to the people to decide if they really want to be educated, and if they do want to educate themselves, they are free to choose from the many forms that are available trough the internet.

By Gabriela Villa (not verified) on 02 Dec 2006 #permalink

The Cyber-Optimists point out that the internet provides a safe space for those who feel particularly awkward in face-to-face interactions to free themselves from the constraints of a possibly judgmental society and express their true feelings. To this point I will concede- it may be much easier for some people to express their feelings online. I think that there are two main reasons for this, both of which erode social capital.

First, when people express themselves in blogs, chances are they are self selecting themselves into groups that will agree with them. If a person does not like the content of a blog, chances are he or she will not read it. I believe that this is one reason that people feel comfortable writing in their blogs- they know that their thoughts and opinions will be met with little resistance, since the readers have self selected themselves into groups of like minded others. This is detrimental to social capital because if people do not confront the oppositions to their ideas, they may be missing out on good points.

The second reason that blogs, chat rooms, and online dating sites erode social capital is because they harbor a dangerous atmosphere in which people are not heals accountable for their actions. An example of this is how, lured by the anonymity, married individuals can engage in promiscuous sexual behavior online, with little threat of their partner finding out (Mileham 2007). A chat room�s anonymity also causes Behavioral Rationalization, by which people dismiss their online deviance as �innocent and harmless,� when in reality they are keeping secrets from their loved ones (Mileham 2007).

While some argue that the internet�s anonymity provides a social outlet for awkward people, the negative effects of segmentation and anonymity, including a decreased sense of responsibility, are far greater.

By Allison Young (not verified) on 03 Dec 2006 #permalink

The USC Center for the Digital Future has released the results of its latest survey on the Internet and society, offering some valuable debating points for this discussion. The project surveys more than 2,000 individuals in the US each year, contacting the same households to explore how the Internet affects users and non-users.

Unfortunately, USC does not release the full results of its study, so only the press release is available. Go here:…

From what I can tell, instead of measuring direct impacts on behavior, knowledge, or attitudes like many of the studies we read in class or you include in your projects (i.e. Pew, Eveland & Dylko, Prior, Nisbet & Scheufele etc.), the survey relies mainly on self-reported *perceptions of impact.* For example, this reported finding:

Participation leads to social activism. Almost two-thirds of online community members who participate in social causes through the Internet (64.9%) say they are involved in causes that were new to them when they began participating on the Internet. And more than 40 percent (43.7%) of online community members participate more in social activism since they started in online communities.

I encourage you to check out the press release as additional material to inform your debate.

To the Cyber Skeptics- In your last paragraph under the heading "The Internet", you say that relationships formed through the internet are shallow. Where is your proof? What evidence did your group find that explains and proves that ties or communities formed over the internet are more shallow than those formed in person. Normally if a person meets someone over the internet, they are less likely to hold any information back from the other person. People tend to be more open and outgoing over the internet because they have more time to think about what they want to say and will not feel embarrassed about their interactions. Often when a person meets someone else for the first time in a bar, there are false impressions because people tend to be nervous and act a certain way, most of the time not being themselves. The theory known as computer-mediated communication, or CMC, allows people to become rooted to their computers and interact with others more freely in a non-threatening environment (Boase et al, 2006). In this non-threatening environment created through the internet, people express themselves exactly how they want to, letting their true persona shine thru. Through online dating, the internet creates strong relationships based on common goals and interests that others have. Online dating forces a person to meet others who share common interests and goals. In essence, it takes people away from various pursuits going on in their lives and makes them be involved in online interactions that reinforce their already existing opinions (Wellman, 2001).

Therefore, there is no solid proof that the relationships and communities formed over the internet are shallow or superficial. If anything, the internet creates new and exciting communities that didn't already exist and brings people closer.

By Paige Mellars (not verified) on 04 Dec 2006 #permalink

To answer the last question that the cyber-optimists had about the negative effects that the internet had on building and maintaining relationships between individuals it is important to look at several studies that show how relationship are weakened by the internet.
With the introduction of the Internet, Americans have become less trusting of one another (Putnam, 2000, chap 8). In 1960, 58% of Americans believed that most people can be trusted (as opposed to saying that you cant be careful in dealing with people). By the 1990s, barely more than third of Americans trusted each other, according to the national surveys such as the General Social Survey and the American National Election Study. Americans are loosing the sense of community that was seen in the traditional communities.
There have been cases of individuals that become so addicted to the Internet, who spend most of their time in front of a computer screen and ignore their families and dissociate themselves from friends. At a minimum, Nie and Erbring (2000) report that heavy internet users report that they have cut back on their social ties. Heavy internet users become more depressed and tend to lead more stressful lives. They have fewer friends and are not as well off psychologically as the rest of us (Kraut et al., 1998)

By Alessa Arias (not verified) on 04 Dec 2006 #permalink

I�m a Cyber-Skeptic (both in this debate and in real life) but of course nothing is black and white, and I thought this was kind of interesting and pertinent, so I thought I�d just throw it out there., an internet site where users can post personal video for all to see, is beginning to look like it could serve a greater purpose than entertainment. An article on by Russell McSpadden, discusses the possibility of YouTube as becoming a major citizen watchdog.

The article comes after a YouTube user captured about 20 second video of supposed excessive police brutality against a gang member in Las Angeles. The video has led to an FBI investigation of the LAPD.

Earlier I posted that on-line, people feel less accountable for their actions than for actions they carry out in real life. While this still holds true, instances like this show that although many average citizens may not be held responsible for their online actions, the online community can help to hold authority figures accountable.

By Allison Young (not verified) on 05 Dec 2006 #permalink

I think what Allison said is interesting, this type of example can help bring communities together esspecially geographical communities. I think the internet opens up so many new ways for communities to come together, whether its having the ablitlity to be a "watchdog" or just to come together to discuss community issues while at work when it's impossible to be physically together, the internet isn't trying to break these geographical communities up, it's giving them the opportunity to come together on more occasions than they would normally be able to. According to Hampton and Wellman, the internet is a gateway that facilitates discussion and mobilization around local and global issues (Hampton & Wellman 1999). With that being said, the internet should be used to community advantages rather than ignored. There are other ways for communitites to get involved online as well as in person. One way is through community blogs which give people the opportunity to share their insight into how their community is being run, what they feel can changes, etc...people don't have to wait for a town meeting when there is a blog available at the snap of a finger. There is no reason to use the internet to replace face-to-face interaction at all times, but it can be used to enhance the quality of the community and to get more peoples opinions involved.

By Jackie Grosser (not verified) on 05 Dec 2006 #permalink

In the Cyber- optimists paper, it is argued that online dating services create stronger social ties because all of a persons information is laid out right infront of an individual. However, a study done by Stanford University explains that time displacement over the internet can create poor social ties in relationships and ability to communicate interpersonally. So, when these individuals that meet on online dating sites do eventually meet one another, their whole relationship is based on something else completely. They may know certain facts about one another, but as far as their chemistry and interactions go, everything is new. This could be comparable to a blind date. Just because you may know someones interests and activities does not mean that you will find the person attractive, nice, or feel any kind of physical attraction to them.

By Jennifer Cumberworth (not verified) on 05 Dec 2006 #permalink

I just wanted to provide some support for our (cyber-skeptics) statement that the internet, although advertised as a communicative technology, it is not uniting people, but isolating them from their primary social circles. It is true that the internet is used mostly for communication and new relationships do develope, but links to social isolation and decreases in people's networks of relatives and neighbors still exist.

Kraut conducted a longtidunal study of 169 ppl, in 73 households. he studied the relationship between internet use, social involvement and psychological effects. Despite email, and web chats accounting for a majority of time spent on the internet, it was found that there was a general decrease in the hours spent communicating with family and friends. Kraut used a correlational analysis between the three variables, stress and decrease in family communication were each highly correlated with internet usage. Although ties were form, they were weak because they were not "embedded in day-to-day activities".

In addition, Sanders, et. al., found a relationship between internet useage and social isolation and depression among adlosecents. In a study he did, adolescents who used the internet more than 2 hours a day, often had weaker relationships with their mothers, fathers, and peers.

I just wanted to add somethigng to my last comment, like most of the studies we have been reading, the results are based on self-reported measures through survey analysis. By asking questions such as, "how often do you go to your mother for support?" Sanders was able to measure the strength of ties among high and low internet users.

In response to the previous cyber-skeptic comment, these statements regarding social isolation neglect certain aspects of the internet's evolving ability to help and comfort people. A part of the Pew report by John Horrigan and Lee Rainie compared a Januaray 2002 survey to a March 2005 survey where they found significant increases in internet use for many of life's major decisions. Internet use grew by 54% in the number of adults who said the internet played a major role as they helped another person cope with a major illness. And the number of those who said the internet played a major role as they coped themselves with a major illness increased 40%.
This level of comfort and support the internet can provide to many is only increasing and can not be ignored. As you can see, a number of people find the help and support they need to get through some of the toughest times in their lives through the internet.

By Mariel Crippen (not verified) on 05 Dec 2006 #permalink

In response to the cyber-optimists comment, the internet not just only isolates individuals from society, it also replaces most of the social ties that an individual most build in the real world. When you enter an Internet chat room, you can hide your identity, flame other people and troll first time visitors to a Web Site. The Net can be a dangerous place, where charities solicit funds for nonexistent causes ( Abelson, 1999), scoundrels feign love for lonely hearts, and unscrupulous hackers uncover you credit card number.
The newsmagazine US News and World Report (2000, pg.36) published a special investigative report suggesting that the amount of bad stuff out there is truly staggering-adoption scams, stalking complaints, rigged auctions, and even the first internet serial killer.
Although this are extreme examples of what could happen to individuals that become heavy internet users, there are also individuals that have simple lost family and friends due to the internet.

By Alessa Arias (not verified) on 06 Dec 2006 #permalink

Mariel has made some very strong arguments about the support groups that are offered online for individuals who suffer major illnesses. There is no denying that the internet is bringing people together in some ways or another. However, how far does this support go? During class discussions we talked about the different types of support. If one of these individuals needed physical support they would not be able to obtain it over the internet. They are isolating themselves, which does not necessarily aid in their problems. Instead the internet is creating this illusion of support. It seems like a good idea in theory because of all of the individuals you may begin to communicate from all over the globe, but as more IM boxes pop up, the shallower these connections become. What is best quantity or quality? With out these everyday face-to-face interactions individuals not only isolate themselves but they begin to lose trust from people. According to American Journal of Sociology, these aspects of social capital such as trust, obtained from face-to-face interaction aid people in their everyday decision making, which is crucial for everyone regardless of having a physical illness or not.

By Jennifer Cumberworth (not verified) on 06 Dec 2006 #permalink

I understand what Jennifer's saying but I'm unclear as to how you measure the quality of a relationship. There have been stuides that show both trust and quality in relationships both developed online and existing ones reinforced online. A study of adolescents done by Gustavo Mesch and Ilan Talmud in August 2006 found that closeness to a friend is a function of social similarity, content and activity multiplexity, and duration of the relationships. These are often the attributes found in online relationships.

By Mariel Crippen (not verified) on 06 Dec 2006 #permalink

Im a grad student at AU (as well as a blogger) and before I even read the arguments I was siding with the optimists. After reading the arguments I think there are valid points by each, but the negatives-team errr skeptics at times take their argument to the extreme.

The Negatives say, The Internet and cable allow people to select themselves into a certain group. A 2005 study showed that cable and Internet users with strong preference for political news scored much higher on political knowledge test than those who disliked it.

I like scripted dramas. I watch scripted dramas. It makes sense that if I took a test about Greys Anatomy or Veronica Mars I would do better than someone who doesnt like or watch scripted dramas. Its natural that people immerse themselves into things they like. I hate NASCAR, so why would I sit and watch a race or follow a season? Does that make me uncultured or isolated because I dont? NO!

Its extreme arguments that weaken the Negatives side. The sentence that really cracked me up the most was, the Internet and the "cyberspace" it provides leads to the destruction of good communities. Lets just call the internet the anti-christ and blame armageddon on it! Hahaha

To make the whole argument stronger it would have been better if the negatives talked about how at times the internet can be a positive thing, but when taken to the extreme (examples: those kids in like the philipines who play EverQuest 24/7 and lose their jobs and family) it can be bad.

I want to respond to Jennifer's comment and add to what Mariel had to say in response to it. I agree with what Mariel said. There have been countless studies that show what is important in a relationship and a main thing is sharing common goals and having common interests (Wellman, 2001). Through online dating, people can outline what they want in the opposite sex and post their interests in order to find someone that they are compatible with. Who can define or measure the quality of what makes a relationship good or sustainable? As far as physical interaction, with any type of relationship (sexual or not)there has to be a physical part to it but personality often outweighs physicality.

By Paige Mellars (not verified) on 06 Dec 2006 #permalink

I completely agree with Scott. I believe the cyber-skeptics completely ignore the fact that the internet does contribute in some positive ways to the society. I mean, nothing is PERFECT, and no matter how we see it, the internet does have its flaws, but how can you say the internet destroys good communities? Many groups have been formed via internet to support communities like the cancer patients and gay communities, just to name a few. I was a cyber skeptic before this project but after the research that we conducted, I found that like everything, it has its good side and its bad side. However, if it wasnt for the internet, WHERE WOULD WE BE? By this I mean, economically, socially, education wise and many other important issues. The internet has become a gateway for new markets and ideas that immensely contribute to the enhancement of individuals, that is, if he or she knows what is right to choose. Those who choose the wrong side we be greatly affected, but at least it provides choice. Now I definitely consider myself a cyber- optimist!

By Gabriela Villa (not verified) on 06 Dec 2006 #permalink

In response to Gabriela's comment, I don't think either negative team was trying to discount that the internet has been a boon to society, especially economically. However, we do think that the internet has been hurting community. For example, during the industrial revolution in the early 1900's, society as a whole was flourishing because of the increased monetary capital and new availability of goods. However, community was hurting because children were forced to work in factories starting when they were only five.

What's happening with the internet now is destroying community in a similar (yet obviously different) way. The internet has opened many new doors and new businesses, but I think that without checks it can be very detrimental to society, for the reasons pointed out in both the Reinforcers and the Cyber-Skeptics' papers.

By Sonia Herman (not verified) on 07 Dec 2006 #permalink

I agree with Sonia's post, I don't think that either team reinforces or cyber-skeptics were saying that the internet and all of its components are inherently bad, but rather people are solely relying on the internet to update and maintain its existing face to face ties with modifying their mode of communication. Rather then meeting them for coffee or phoning them up they are im-ing them or sending them an email because it is more "convenient". Also in response to Gabriela's comment about online support groups, while of course there are situations where these online communities aid in facilitating commutation through those who share a common situation, (the example given- the gay community and cancer patients) I think that especially the latter of the two groups would thrive and feel much more supported in a face to face interactions. There is no possible way that people can truly convey their feelings and emotions especially regarding such sensitive issues like sexual preference and illness online. Online communities create a false sense of belonging and comfort that is counterfeit and misleading. While the internet isn't completely destroying communities it is definitely hindering it; people are taking existing ties and relationships and now responding to them though electronic media instead of maintaining those crucial face to face relationships because its more convenient to them. I think that our society has gotten way to use to things being done for them and we really should be living our lives rather than coasting through the simulations that we've created.

By Gema Schaerer (not verified) on 07 Dec 2006 #permalink

The past few posts have been dealing with some of our (the skeptic's) statements, and the fact that they are seen as too extreme. First of all, do not mistake our position as saying that the internet is a horrible in all cases; we are saying that it generally does not build, strong relationships and that it does not increase political knowledge and social capital, especially if you are not predisposed to like political news.

Scott did a good job of framing the Prior study in a way that made results seem blatantly obvious. However, his analysis was cursory, and the study warrants more discussion. The point is not so much that- yes, if you like politics (or scripted dramas) that you will know more about them. The important statement the study makes is that with the internet, people can avoid political news all together (thus lowering their amount of political knowledge and contribution to social capital). If the media were not becoming so specialized (which is occurring in large part due to the internet) people would not be able to avoid political news. The study showed that when people who do not favor political news have the internet, their political knowledge score decreases.

By Allison Young (not verified) on 07 Dec 2006 #permalink

In response to Allison's statement I believe that the internet does improve political views and standpoints. In class I made a statement during the debate when I was asked that political blogs are only answered by predominately white men. Well there has been a certain situation I have been following in New York City where a young man was innocently shot was shot 50 times by the cops for no legit reason. On NBC newschannel 4 in New York City there has been an open debate online, where they have asked people about the situation? their feelings? and what is going on politically that needs to be changed? This blog has ranged from all races and all genders who are commenting on this story from the political spectrum, from the top, at the president all the way to the police chief. Now if the internet does not enhance and bring people together on situations that is a perfect example. The last time a man got shot 41 times I beleive there was a public outcry from politicians to celebrities, even a song by Bruce Springstein.

By Rigoberto Sargeant (not verified) on 07 Dec 2006 #permalink

There has been alot of public debate about the incident with the man being shot, and I completely aggree with the cyber-optimist's statement that it has created alot of blog traffic. But I truly think that the situation is a special case. What activated people to blog and comment, was not the politics of the matter, but the personal narrative behind the event. On his wedding day, a man was shot 50 times, that would activate any one to become politically involved because it is being framed as a tragedy on top of the underlying political issues. However, as far as a general trend goes, most of the people active in political blogs and the on-line political community reflect a more homogenous mixture. The few not fitting in this group, will continue to select themselves out of political conversations because of the high variety of media choices the interent provides; unless it is an extreme case in which the issue hits closer to home. Therefore, as people become even less aware of what is happening politically (through not just the internet but tv as well) it will lead to a decrease in voting activity and political participation, as what the Prior study highlights.

I want to add on to what Scott said and comment on the Cyber Skeptics viewpoints in general. In terms of the internet isolating people from one another, in a way it does because people get very attached to their computers what the internet has to offer, whether it be e-mail or searching the web or chatting with friends. On the other hand, through the internet (like online dating and support groups), people who might feel like an outcast in society or isolated have the chance to come together with others who have the same interests as them. Through these groups, people who might have no one in their lives to talk to or confide in can gain a friend or even a marriae partner. The Cyber Skeptics mentioned in their presentation that when people are on the internet it takes them away from doing other activities, like spending time with their family. Today, people rarely have a free moment to take time away from their day and sit down and relax. If someone wasn't checking their e-mail, then it would be something else that was taking them away from having time with their family. I don't think it is very accurate to say that the internet and less time spent with one's family can be directly related.

By Paige Mellars (not verified) on 07 Dec 2006 #permalink

I just wanted to respond to Allisons comment about the internet allowing people to avoid political news all together. People by choice can avoid politcal news all together. Especially now where there are so many selective television channels, its easy to when you do sit down and watch t.v. only watch Bravo, only watch TLC etc. in which you dont have any news exposure. How is this directly an effect of the use of the internet? I have found that I am more politically knowledgable with the help of the internet, its more convenient and less time consuming to quickly read over the main headlines of the days news. Before if I didn't pick up a paper, which in high school not too many kids read , without the internet I would not have known even generally what was going on at the time.

By Marissa Tasho (not verified) on 08 Dec 2006 #permalink

In response to Marissa´s comment about the internet and politics, it is important to understand that the internet makes it easier for people to be selective therefore narrowing down their knowledge about the other side of an issue. A 2004 study showed that regular web-log users were interested in politics and heavier on online newsreaders. However, this did not have much prediction as to how much political participation would happen in 2004 (Eveland, 2004). Meanwhile, the national newspaper reading continued to have strong influence as supported by a 2004 study. The stuffy showed that reading the newspaper had the strongest relative influence on political knowledge. At the same time, the study also concluded that reading about politics online had no influence on political knowledge (Nisbet and Scheufele ,2004)

By Alessa Arias (not verified) on 08 Dec 2006 #permalink

Alessa, you say the internet allows people to be more selective. At the same time, you argue that it narrows down an individuals knowledge. I completely disagree with your statement. If there is something that the internet offers to the fullest potential is choice, opinion, variety and a pool of diverse thoughts and perspectives. Therefore, allowing each individual to escape the usual media monotony and repetitiveness. Moreover, the internet allows everyone to voice their views in a very open manner and without any financial costs. Furthermore, as the Internet seems to herald a new political culture and to foster a vibrant civil society by providing channels through which the public can react to what is happening at the centre of politics, and by re-mapping the relationship between government officials and politicians and their public, as well as between members of the public at large (Kim 2006). The internet is not just to google something. This 21st century weapon has the ability to spread thoughts and ideas in a way the world had not seen it before, and I encourage everyone to really take advantage of what it offers.

By Gabriela Villa (not verified) on 08 Dec 2006 #permalink

Over the past week there have been multiple discussions about the Internet and what it does to an individual's life. However, the debate should be centered on the fact that the Internet harms the community. The idea of community should be looked at before anything else because without communities, modern civilization as we know it would cease to exist. Individuals are dependent on their communities for daily survival. As such, individuals should take steps that will help to preserve the ties that they have with their communities.
I judged a high school debate last week where students cited Putnam's Bowling Alone in part of their case. The students were arguing that technology has led to a greater divide in communities and because of it there is self isolation occurring. They continued their argumentation stating that the future of the United States depended on involvement within the community. In other words, a sense of communitarianism.
In the context of this debate, communitarianism can be looked at in the modern sense or ideological communitarianism. This form of communitarianism engages individuals to maximize their social capital and build strong partnerships in their community.
Putnam argues that social capital is a key component of building and maintaining democracy. Also, the Responsive Communitarian Platform states, "Many social goals... require partnership between public and private groups." The platform continues, "There is a great need for study and experimentation with creative use of the structures of civil society, and public-private cooperation, especially where the delivery of health, educational and social services are concerned."
Overall, the Internet hinders the ability of civil societies to exist. The needs of individuals in the modern world prove to be dependent on community. If the current pace of Internet usage continues, communities and democratic society may self-destruct.
In the end, the persistent need to replace community with the Internet creates a vacuum in which society self-destructs. This is not to say that any Internet use will destroy community, but it is when individual's replace their time in the community with cyber interaction that the effects of a social recession will happen. The debate rests on whether or not the Internet destroys community. It has been proven time and time again that the needs of the individual depend a community. The Internet cannot replace those basic needs.

By David Gates (not verified) on 08 Dec 2006 #permalink

David, you say the internet can't replace the basic need of individuals depending on a community, but what do you say to cancer patients for example, who feel their only community is over the internet where they have the opportunity to talk to other cancer patienet? A community isn't just a geographical thing as we've said over and over again from the Pew Internet Project. Saying that the internet can't replace those basic needs is a very broad thing to say. While it may not be able to replace the feeling one gets from face-to-face interaction, it does give the opportunity to create new communities where the physical aspect is missing. The internet give groups of people, whether it be cancer patients, homosexuals, or a religious group to come together to discuss things over a larger community. I am part of a Conservative Jewish listserve where different people from all over the world can come together to discuss the happenings of the movement. This week, new laws were passed in our movement and the only way I was able to hear about it from community leaders was through this listserve. Then people like myself who aren't as knowledgable on the subject were able to respond and ask the opinions of not just those who live near me, but a broader group of people who I can relate to. I feel I am part of this online community and it doesn't end there, since we do feel face-to--face interaction is important, there are conferences throughout the year, the internet just enhances our community because we can post a thought any time of day or night and expect an answer much faster than we would otherwise. The internet doesn't replace community, not yet at least, it simply enhances it by giving more opportunity for discussion and learning. Without the internet, I personally would feel lost in the larger Conservative Jewish community and I know other people who belong to online communities would feel the same way. Information is given to us as soon as we need it, that's an amazing thing that 50 years ago didn't exist! We should be thanking the internet for all the opportunities its opened, not pushing it away.

By Jackie Grosser (not verified) on 08 Dec 2006 #permalink