Students Debate "Internet & Community," Part B

This spring 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. (See reading list.)

For many college students who grew 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.

Therefore, 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 Facebook, 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, I have posted the opposing teams' position papers. In this pane, Team Social Change squares off against Team Reinforcers. Until Tuesday, May 1, they will continue their classroom debate in the comment section of the blog. In the other blog pane, CyberOptimists square off against CyberSkeptics.

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.


Team Social Change

Internet and Community: Enhancing Social Ties, Creating New Social Norms

Maeghan S., Whitney M., Alli B., Jessica K., Laura H., Jess S.

During its popularization in the 1990s many scholars predicted that the Internet would spur social change, but they did not know how drastically it would improve interpersonal relationships or how it would act as an important social tool. The Internet has enhanced communities by giving members new ways to stay in contact with one another and by connecting people of different backgrounds who otherwise might not have interacted. Through the continued development of the Internet and the almost infinite possibilities that it brings, we will continue to see improvements, bringing society together and promoting positive social impacts. Before reviewing the changes that have occurred thus far, it is first important to define the terms "community" and "Internet".

What do we mean by community?

In order to define community in contemporary terms, we must think of it as existing independently from geography or physical proximity. According to the Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences, a community is "a society where people's relations with each other are direct and personal and where a complex web of ties link people in mutual bonds of emotion and obligation" (Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences, 2007).

Definitions of community that focus on geographic location are outdated, as they ignore the technological advancements that allow individuals to contact one another from thousands of miles away. Community facilitates the formation of new relationships as well as the maintenance of existing social ties, and Internet communities allow users to choose their own community based on what they find interesting and relevant to their own lives. (Fountain, 2006)

The Rise and Changing Nature of the Internet

The Internet is a means by which people across the world send and receive information to and from one another via webpage, e-mail, or a messaging application. It was originally created to help people procure goods, services, and information, and now, most business is conducted via the Internet because it has become a reliable and convenient tool that links people and companies around the world (Myers, 2004). Yet, over the years it has also become a means by which people socialize.

Although many say that the Internet has made communication and social interaction more impersonal and distancing, it is most commonly seen as a capable medium which brings people together. The Internet, which once contained mostly information and advertisements, now consists of online dating websites, blogs, and other social networking sites that connect people from various geographic locations. People with similar interests can come together and share their thoughts over common websites on a daily basis, demonstrating the social advancements the internet is constantly making. (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2005) (Renninger, K. and Shumar, 2002)

Predictions vs. Realities

In comparison to past technological advancements in communication, the Internet has been the fastest growing. Whereas "it took 38 years for radio to get a market of at least 50 million users [and] it took television 13 years to achieve 50 million users... once it was open to the general public, it is estimated that it took just four years for the Internet to achieve 50 million users" (Elon University/Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2004). This rapid growth in popularity worried some and inspired others. When the Internet first gained widespread use, some predicted changes as radical as a complete lack of privacy and private property; others foresaw the Internet as a bringer of world peace or the downfall of society (Quitney Anderson, 2005).

Those who predicted these futures were incorrect. The Internet has caused neither the end of the world nor world peace; rather, it has simply transformed and enhanced the way in which people communicate. As DiMaggio et al (2001) argues: "An increasing body of literature suggests that the Internet enhances social ties defined in many ways, often by reinforcing existing behavior patterns." Several studies have shown that the Internet has had a positive effect on society, including enhanced methods of education, charity work, and personal interaction.

The Internet's Impact Across Areas of Society

Now that we have discussed the general changes that the Internet has brought upon society, we will focus on three specific areas where online capabilities have improved and promoted community involvement: distance education, online charity organizations, and university campus life.

Distance Education. The Internet has brought increased access to university and professional coursework, in many cases providing these "online" students with enhanced tools for learning. Known as "distance education," these programs allow citizens to take classes and earn degrees without having to sit in a classroom at a designated time. It is also utilized when teachers choose to use websites to help their students to grasp certain concepts. Distance education gives people more flexibility and encourages students to take classes even when the circumstances may not be desirable. (Haythornwaite, 2002)

Distance education enhances community because more people have an opportunity to learn, thus expanding both the size and scope of such a community. The issue of class is minimized because there are no campus life costs, and the knowledge that students gain in online courses can result in more common interests among community members. (Renninger, Shumar, 2002)

According to a University of Idaho study, "Research comparing distance education to traditional face-to-face instruction indicates that teaching and studying at a distance can be as effective as traditional instruction, when the method and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks, there is student-to-student interaction, and when there is timely teacher-to- student feedback" (University of Idaho, 2007). Under the right conditions, distance education could transform the way in which we learn, creating a more egalitarian system of education as well as a larger overall network of educated citizens. (Willis, 1993)

Online Charity Organizations. Many charities have begun soliciting donations online. In doing so, they promote more community involvement, boost awareness about their causes, and allow people to make monetary commitments easily and quickly. Organizations have found that charities who advertise online are more likely to get positive community responses. People donate more money, and therefore, the people who the organizations attempt to help benefit more. Helping a charity also helps communities, because when different communities work towards the same cause, they often build stronger bonds among themselves. (Roth, 2002)

Via the Internet, charities can host online auctions and even have online charity poker tournaments in which participants pay real money. The charity itself benefits while people have fun. Some organizations allow people to help out without even donating money. For example, Country Crock hosts a program in which the company donates money to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America each time an online user pledges to spend more time with their family.

Charity organizations utilize the Internet not only to fundraise, but also to foster a sense of community among people who may be facing issues they do not wish to discuss face-to-face. MTV's Truth Campaign, dedicated to stopping smoking, allows users to share their feelings on its website with other people with similar experiences and addictions. The website connects people dealing with the same issues so that they can communicate with one another and try to help each other get better. Such is the case with cancer patient and cancer survivor sites. Campaigns such as these are an important resource for people who cannot find understanding in their regular social networks. (The Truth Campaign, 2007)

Campus Life. The Internet has grown from primarily consisting of advertisements and information storage web pages; its social networking abilities are now undeniable. On college campuses, websites like Facebook and MySpace dominate the social scene. Students link together by accepting one another as "friends," and use these applications to get information about parties, fundraisers, and even birthday reminders. Large campuses become more accessible and communities become more closely knit. Small campuses benefit from these sites by allowing the transcendence of cliques that exist in very limited communities.

Social networking has changed the way college students interact and has facilitated the rise of new social structures, like the increased influence of opinion leaders on campuses. For example, on Facebook students can assemble "groups," creating a virtual meeting place for students with a shared interest. The student who creates the group, for example "Community Action and Social Justice," is usually more knowledgeable about the group's topic and wants to find others with similar interests while sharing their knowledge with those who want to know more about their issue.

The increased presence of Internet access on college campuses has increased not only social mobility but access to scholarly information as well. With the ability to find information on thousands of topics at the click of a button, students can draw from a broader area of sources for papers, presentations, and research that aid in their scholastic achievement. Wired campuses are becoming more and more common, and the benefits of having readily available internet access are only increasing the positive impact the Internet has on college campuses. (Jayson, 2006)


Through examples of improvements of personal ties, as well as ties between communities themselves, it is clear that the internet is responsible for bringing about positive social change. Using the example of online charity organizations, we proved that the Internet has provoked more community involvement in online users. The Internet is an outlet for spreading information, and online charity organizations are just one example of how it does this. Information that Internet users would have previously found difficult to locate is now more accessible and more available to them. Also, when people get involved in organizations, via the Internet, they can find others who have the same interests as they do.

Distance education has demonstrated how the Internet has brought people together by giving more people educational opportunities. In the past, many people were not able to get an education due to various circumstances, such as geography or disability. Due to advances made by the Internet, more people are able to get an education. This has enhanced community because through distance education, people are able to share ideas with one another and form communities based on education.

Lastly, the Internet has improved campus life. Campus life is just a small sampling of society as a whole. The Internet has brought campuses together across the country. It is one example of a community coming together because of the Internet.

The Internet carries out functions society would not have otherwise had. It is now possible to communicate easily with multiple people at once, versus spending the time to contact each person separately. The Internet also spreads information quickly and allows the sending of messages to people who may not even be at their computer. Everyday, 31 billion e-mails are sent across the world (Top Ten Reviews, 2007). Communicating over the Internet has become a popular and almost necessary tool.

When all of the benefits of the Internet are closely examined, it becomes very apparent that the initial skepticism of the Internet was unjustified, and the potential benefits were unrecognized. Not only does it provide many outlets from which to retrieve information, but it enhances the feeling of community among people. The Internet provides a comfort for those who need to develop their social skills, and a place to meet new people for those who are inherently social. The Internet will continue to benefit community and will in the end, enhance our interpersonal skills and bring people closer together.


Chidambaram, Laku and Zigurs, Ilze. Our Virtual World: the Transformation of Work, Play and Life via Technology. Idea Group Publishing: United States. 2001.

Dictionary of the Social Sciences (2007). Definition of Community. Retrieved April 5, 2007,

DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Neuman, W. Russel, Robinson, J. (2001). "Social Implications of the Internet". Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 27, pg. 307-336.

Elon University/Pew Internet and American Life Project (2004). Imagining the Internet's Quick Look at the Early History of the Internet. Retrieved April 3, 2007, from

Evett, Don (2007). Spam Statistics 2006. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from

Feenberg, Andrew and Barney, Darin. Community in the Digital Age. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc: United States. 2004.

Jayson, S (2006, October 2). Totally wireless on campus. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from 2006-10-02-gennext-tech_x.htm

Pew Internet and American Life Project (2005). Social Networking Websites and Teens, Wireless Internet Access. Retrieved April 1, 2007, from

Quitney Anderson, J. (2005). Imagining the Internet: Personalities, Predictions, Perspectives. Retrieved April 5, 2007.

Renninger, K. Ann and Shumar, Wesley. Building Virtual Communities. Cambridge University Press: United States. 2002.

Roth, Kimberlee (2002). Small Charities Find Online Giving Full of Rewards and Challenges. The Chronicle of Philanthropies. Retrieved on April 18, 2007, from

The Truth Campaign (2007). Retrieved April 11, 2007, from

University of Idaho (2007). Distance Education at a Glance. Retrieved, April 3, 2007, from

Willis, B. (1993). Distance education: A practical guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.


Team Reinforcers

Caught in our monitors: the Internet's impact on America's growing isolation

Kai, Rosie, Emily, Carleen, Andrew, Daryn

To the younger generation of our society, the Internet's presence is embedded in the actions and social relations of everyday life. With each technological advance, we find ourselves becoming more and more lost in our computer screens. To many, this change signals a surge of new connections and identities with which to build community. To others, this change indicates a breakdown in our communities and our relationships. In this paper, we argue that the Internet betrays the definition of community by lending to the construction of loose and insincere social ties, which in turn limit both the quality and diversity of our real world interactions. The Internet users of today are displacing their time spent in meaningful social situations, creating false bonds and reinforcing already strongly held worldviews. Rather than becoming members of strong communities, we are facing a world of social isolation.

Community and social capital. In the most general terms, community is a set of populations "cohabiting a bounded environment with finite resources" (Kayany & Yelsma, 2000, p.217). As related to our species and our society, communities involve living, working and carrying out the basic activities of life within that bounded environment (Johnson, 1995, p.49). The image of neighbor-to-neighbor interaction is founded on the idea of social capital, or those relationships that both bridge gaps and build bonds. To some sociologists like Ferdinand Tonnies, a community provides people with "a fairly strong feeling of belonging and mutual commitment based on...shared experience and close interdependency" (Johnson, 1995, p.49). In other words, social beings rely on trust and knowledge to become personally intimate with a diverse network of beings. In the process, this social organization breeds social capital and community.

As we will discuss, the Internet does not provide grounds to build such communities, and in fact, Internet use deters the growth of social capital among members of society. Robert Putnam, in his novel Bowling Alone, asks whether "virtual social capital is itself a contradiction in terms" (Putnam, 2001, p.170). Can the virtual world provide a sense of close interdependency within a bounded territory? We argue that the quality of relationships and the diversity of interests plummet when face-to-face interactions are replaced with cyber relations that merely mimic real-life experiences. In this section, we review three key reasons that researchers suspect that the Internet might be damaging forms of community.

Social isolation and the loss of social cues. A life lived in front of a computer screen is a lonely life, according to studies done at Duke University and the University of Arizona. Research shows that most adults can only count two people with whom they can discuss important matters--such as health problems or childcare--and about a quarter of the subjects admitted they have no close confidants at all (Brashears, 2006, p.371). The study concludes that over the past two decades, the number of ties with whom people can discuss important issues is decreasing. The largest losses, the study notes, "come from the ties that bind us to community and neighborhood" (Brashears, 2006, p.371). Though the study does not directly address the Internet's impact, it does show that correlated with the diffusion of Internet use, Americans social ties have declined.

Proponents of the Internet would argue that although people are not forming close social ties, they are forming a plethora of loose cyber ties. Online 'play,' such as Instant Messenger and multi-user games, allow people to interact with others even though both parties are not physically close (McMillan, 2006, p.84). But with the growth of such interactions comes a loss of social cues. After all, "many people find it easier to deal with a machine rather than interacting with each other," so interacting with someone whose identity is concealed by icons and avatars is a way for people to avoid the inevitable pressure of face-to-face communication (McMillan, 2006, p.84).

When people "become glued to [their] computers and forgo all other human contact," what happens when they walk out their front doors into the other, real world (McMillan, 2006, p.85)? When an Internet user relies so much on online chatting to communicate with friends and family, he or she loses the sense of emotion that comes with in-person conversation. As Thomas Wells Brignall points outs, "If the amount of time spent in face-to-face interactions among youth is shrinking, there may be significant consequences for their development of social skills and their presentation of self" (Brignall, 2005, p.337). After all, during a job interview or even a first date, one cannot insert an emoticon into conversation.

Time displacement. At the same time, one may not even have the time to go on a first date or attend a job interview. According to Norman H. Nie's article, "The Impact of Internet Use on Sociability," social isolation occurs because "time on the Internet is often taken at the expense of social activities and face-to-face interpersonal interactions" (Nie 2002, p.2). The more time a person sits in front of a screen, the less time he or she is spending at the arcades or on the field or at the local bar. Studies show that "like any activity, time online fundamentally competes with, rather than complements, face-to-face social time" (Nie. 2002, p.2).

For instance, Nie concluded that the results of his online time diary survey offer no evidence to support the efficiency hypothesis, the proposition that predicts a resourceful use of time when online. Instead, his research demonstrates that "on average, the more time spent on the Internet at home the less time spent with friends, family and on social activities" (Nie, 2002, p.11). Social capital and community, as built on values of trust and intimacy, do not benefit from a time replacement of interpersonal activities with online activities. Sally J. McMillan's article, "Coming of Age with the Internet," expresses this loss of efficient time: "Some people are so hooked up to computers that they neglect almost all other activities in life" (McMillan, 2006, p.86). This view ultimately portrays a world where people experience life through the virtual rather than the realistic, a notion that seems more fitting of a science fiction novel or film rather than contemporary society as we know it.

Cyber balkanization. On one hand, online activities provide an Internet user with opportunities to pursue an interest or a hobby in the abundance, or excess, of information present on the Web. On the other hand, these activities tend to reinforce rather than diversify one's interests, thoughts and opinions. Reinforcement implies a strengthening rather than a reformation of existing patterns of communication (Nisbet & Scheufele, 2004, p.877).

Putnam addresses this concept of "Cyber Balkanization" in his study on America's growing isolation. He states that "real-world interactions often force us to deal with diversity, whereas the virtual world may be more terms of interest and outlook." Physical communities force people with different interests to interact, but the Internet allows people to seek out those who share their specific interests, thus eliminating social diversity while reinforcing users' tastes, beliefs and skills (Putnam, 2001, p.78). With the surge of Internet use comes a tendency to narrow the minds of individuals.

McMillan's study found that while people enjoy the interactivity of the Internet, some use portal sites to customize the information that they receive. Liz, an undergraduate who participated in the study, stated, "I like that I can go to one of these sites and personalize a page for myself that will then give only the news, stock quotes, horoscope, weather, and information that is relevant to me" (McMillan, 2006, p.79). In essence, the Internet enables people to pick and choose the words and images they see while ignoring what they would prefer not to see. This is just one example of ways that the breadth of cyber information reinforces rather than restructures previously held ideas.

Examples across Specific Sectors of Society.

While previous research suggests general reasons to doubt the contribution of the Internet to community, other research suggests specific areas of society where "life online" might be leading to further social disintegration.

The perpetuation of the two party or no party system. Take, for instance, the Internet's role in civic engagement. As society begins to "[know and care] more and more about less and less," there is a decrease in social cohesion (Putnam, 2001, p.178). As related to politics, this signifies a disparity not only along the party lines, but also among those who feel engaged in the subject and those who do not. The amount of online information regarding the political realm gives politically- interested people the opportunity to harvest their political knowledge (Prior, 2005, p.577). This may mean that involved Democrats will visit only the liberal blogs to strengthen their preconceived beliefs while involved Republicans visit only the conservative blogs to reinforce their defined set of notions.

This use of Internet may also mean that "those who prefer nonpolitical content can more easily escape the news and therefore pick up less political information than they used to" (Prior, 2005, p.577). It becomes an issue of motivation rather than sources. The Internet, even with its wealth and variety of information, does not provide much motivation for "nonpolitical people" to read political news; rather, Web users who favor celebrity gossip to civic knowledge will avoid political sites altogether. In his article, "News vs. Entertainment," Markus Prior notes that "despite the spectacular rise in available political information, mean levels of political knowledge in the population have essentially remained constant" (Prior, 2005, p.578). Clearly, the advent of the Internet did little to change the political identities of citizens. Instead, it promotes the existing status quo and fragmentation of the political climate in our society (Nisbet & Sheufele, 2004, p.877).

Nisbet and Sheufele point out that in terms of civic engagement, the Internet is like the magazine market, where people can subscribe to the Economist or Playboy according to personal preference. Since "humans are cognitive misers or at least satisficers," selectivity plays a greater role in the use of the Web. People will either take advantage of the available information or they will ignore it depending on resources such as time, money and technology skills (Nisbet & Scheufele, 2004, p.879). Their research indicates that the Internet's effects on civic engagement are modest at best. Above and beyond traditional news media use, across citizens, little data exists to support the claim that the Internet contributes to enhanced engagement in the political sphere (Nisbet & Scheufele, 2004, p.887).

For example, whereas television provides news exposure according to time slots and programs, the Internet provides such exposure at the user's own convenience (Prior, 2005, p.579). Nonpolitical viewers of television would sit down in front of the TV at dinnertime or primetime, and at such disposal, the viewers would learn a thing or two about politics. With time displaced from televisions to computers, we are seeing an increasing political knowledge gap among interested and disinterested members of society, much to the detriment of our status as a Democratic nation.

But the issue of convenience is not limited to civic activity. The Internet is increasingly finding ways to meddle with sectors of our personal lives, like dating and friendships. When it comes to the matter of social capital, we consider whether it is a question of quantity or quantity.

Online Dating. Online dating is one of the biggest examples of the Internet reinforcing pre-existing social ties, preferences, and interests. While it is important to state the positives of online dating, it is also important to recognize the potential social ramifications. On the positive note, online dating is good for people who do not have the time to take part in the stereotypical bar scene or blind dates. However, it is also very clear, based on looking at several online dating sites, that it encourages users to only date certain types of people.

For example, there is Founded by Dr. Neil Clark Warren, the website boasts the use of a "scientifically proven" Compatibility Matching System. This system entails the use of a 436-question personality survey, what he views as part of "common sense." "Similarities are like money in the bank. Differences are like debts you owe. It's all right to have a few differences, as long as you have plenty of equity in your account" (Gottlieb, 2006, p.60). With this sort of focus, it is clear that online dating reinforces people staying within their own characteristics. Even a founder and proponent of online dating admitted that it's often better to have someone who complements the other (Gottlieb, 2006, p.62). Online dating essentially rests on science and data; none of the scientists interviewed in the Gottlieb article claimed that they found a scientific explanation for the chemistry between two people actually meeting. The biggest piece of evidence towards the idea that online dating reinforces previous social categorizations is the existence of specialty dating sites, a list of which is found at the end of the article.

In a recent study, Fiore and Donath (2005), like Gottlieb, point to the tendency of people to look for other people like them. What separates Fiore and Donath's argument from Gottlieb's is that the two researchers look at specific similarities for which people look in others, and how certain attributes are more "bounding" than others. People who are in contact with each other are more inclined to share the same values on certain things, like marital status, desire for childhood, and smoking status. In the conclusion, Fiore and Donath say that users of online dating favored sameness more than originally predicted in almost every category at which he looked.

In another study, Fiore and Donath (2004) mention at least one potential downside in Internet dating. Citing a reference to studies in "pheromonal compatibility," they say that the Internet cannot document things like innate personal connections. Pheromonal compatibility, in other words being attracted to someone based on smell, gives away evidence of a particular genotype that a person finds attractive.

However, just because online dating reinforces pre-existing preferences in personal characteristics doesn't make it a bad thing. For example, according to Lynn Harris's article on (2006), certain lifestyles and occupations are simply not compatible with everyone except people of that type. In this sense, online dating as reinforcement of pre-existing ties and preferences is a good thing.

Coming of age on the Internet. The Internet, it can be argued, also tends to encourage a decline in social skills. Scott Caplan reported in his 2005 article that Young observed that those who spend the most time on the Internet have less social skills and thus use the Internet to interact in chatrooms and play multi-player computer games. Additionally, the cause-effect can be reversed; because people lack social skills, they spend more time in virtual interactions. However, this is still reinforcement. Because the only interaction less socially skilled people tend to have with other people takes place online, they are perpetuating their lack of in-person social skills.

Jonathan Gershuny wrote in his study "Social Leisure and Home IT" that those who use the Internet as part of their leisure activity do so via things like online gaming and browsing the web (Gershuny, 2002). Through multi-player online gaming, Gershuny says, people are able to communicate and play with people in other households. Compared to time spent on doing things like paid work, the amount of time spent online is not that much. However, something like online gaming displaces time spent doing things that would lead to social interactions. Less social interactions will lead to a reinforcement of pre-existing social preferences.

Putnam, in a chapter from Bowling Alone, mentions the evidence that mediation online "lowers the threshold for voicing opinions that, like talk radio, it may lead not to deliberation, but din" (Putnam, 2001, p173). This has two distinct possibilities. Like Professor Nisbet said in class, this sort of venue lends itself well to "flaming," or irrational and exaggerated responses of anger with regard to someone voicing their opinions. Flaming, in relation to the internet, is "the act of sending messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting" (Wikipedia). The effect of such behavior is that people will tend to gravitate towards others with the same or at least similar opinions in order to avoid this sort of reaction. Secondly, growing up with this sort of environment may reduce a person's judgment on what is acceptable to do in a face-to-face setting.

Social Networking. Social networking websites are also evidence of technological reinforcement of existing social networks. Although there is evidence that it increases overall social ties, the quality of those ties is often questioned. While a person will have hundreds of friends on either Facebook or MySpace, the amount of people with whom he or she actually interacts is a mere fraction of the total number of online "friends." Additionally, the concept of a Facebook group-- a body of members united by a common interest-- is another depiction of the theory that the Internet only reinforces already existing interests.

Furthermore, the growing trend of "making friends at college" before even arriving on campus by way of Facebook encourages only further students to seek out peers with certain common interests, as opposed to actually meeting people in person. After deciding to go to a certain school, students will create a Facebook account and begin to make friends based on searching for people with similar interests and forging new friendships before arriving. While this is in a way a good thing, it still encourages people to make friends across existing social preferences. The downside in this is that it takes away from the diversity that could have been created by making friends in classes and in dormitory life. Myspace is the same way. People will tend to search for people with whom they share interests, thus creating a narrower and less diverse network of people than if they interacted with people in real life.

The addictive nature of Myspace and Facebook also impacts social ties among students. According to Irene McDermott (2006) in her article "I Need Myspace," she mentions a 14-year-old girl who, every day, signs on to her Myspace account at 3pm. Throughout her conversation with McDermott, the girl repeatedly mentions how addicting the networking website is. Additionally, she speaks of how often she changes around her page, and adding new pictures. With all the time she spends on her Myspace page, she could be doing things with other people in real life.

In the most basic sense, social networking sites displace time from face-to-face interaction to keyboard communication. In John Cassidy's article, he states that "Two-thirds of Facebook members log on at least once every twenty-four hours" (Cassidy, 2006). Spending more time than average on a website like Facebook inhibits the number of real life interactions, thus lowering the quality of social ties while hurting users' social cues.


The Internet reinforces pre-existing social networks and dispositions. Putnam says that while social groups online contain people of all sorts of appearances and backgrounds, the fact remains that the networks created are homogenous with regard to interests and values (Putnam, 2001, p.172). Regardless of for what one uses the Internet, it takes away from time spent interacting in the real world with real people. Interacting with people in the real world is a way in which diverse social networks are created, and the increasing time that people spend on the Internet is beginning to take away from the natural diversity of social ties. Something like online dating encourages the use of scientific data to find people who are "compatible (read: alike)" without taking into account the chemistry that occurs naturally in regular social settings. The presence of specialized blogs and forums increases the chances that people will read only about things they are interested in or agree with. The fact that more time is spent on the Internet than with real people reduces meeting new people; it reduces the exchange of differing ideas, and the broadening of horizons.

While the Internet does reinforce pre-existing social ties and preferences, this is not necessarily a bad thing. As Fiore's studies have shown, having a lot in common is key to a successful relationship or friendship. The Internet merely goes along with human nature. People will flock towards those who make them feel comfortable; what makes people feel comfortable tends to be what is familiar. The Internet is merely an extension of that comfort zone into the online world.


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Fiore, A.T., and J.S. Donath. (2005). "Homophily in Online Dating: When Do you Like Someone Like Yourself?." Short paper, Computer-Human Interaction.

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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.

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Putnam, R. (2001). Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community. â¨Pp 65-77, 149-179.


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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 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…

I'd like to start by addressing the following question from the position paper: Can the virtual world provide a sense of close interdependency within a bounded territory?

The internet allows users to find a community in which they are comfortable and interested in. The strength behind the idea of finding communities on the internet comes from the fact that we can choose to join or leave any communities that we want. Because we have so many options, we are more likely to find a community in which we can form close bonds with people. You can get just as close with someone over the internet as you can in a face to face conversation. You can share the same information, same thoughts and feelings, and form close bonds as you would in "real life".

The question was also answered in the paper by stating that living life in front of a computer screen is lonely. The internet allows us to join chat rooms, send emails, and have conversation with immediate responses. The person cannot be lonely with so many outlets for communication right at their fingertips. The point of saying that internet enhances community stems from the fact that there are so many different ways to talk to your communities online. In our paper, we used the example of how facebook enhances society by giving people more means by which to communicate. Because we have so many more ties, using tools like facebook, we are less likely to be lonely.

Finally, the paper addresses loose cyber ties as a negative thing. According to the Pew Study, core ties are not the only ones that matter. Casual ties also exist and are important so you have more ties to call upon as a resource. The more casual ties you have, the better off you are.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 24 Apr 2007 #permalink

I just wanted to comment on the part of the paper that gives the example of Community Action Social Justice as a facebook group that gives users a virtual meeting space. I will not argue that CASJc uses facebook to send messages and event invites, all of which are important means of communication for the coalition. At the same time, facebook is not a vehicle for "sharing knowledge." This flow of information occurs in face-to-face interactions such as weekly town hall meetings, picnics/potlucks, workshops, etc. As far as inspiring social action, the Internet does little compared to interpersonal communication. Putnam remarked that if entry & exit are too easy (as with facebook groups), commitment and reciprocity are harder to come by.
And this is not limited to CASJc but also other groups on campus. While facebook helps to organize, there is a reason why campus groups don't hold their meetings on message boards. Communication and mobilization are much more effective in person. If anything, I think facebook groups just allow more people to 'join' in on more campus activities without actually being active, which one can perceive as superficial.

While it is true that the internet does forge more ties between people, be it through message boards or other online communities, the truth is that these interactions are limited. Depending on the online community, interaction takes place only through that online venue. More importantly, the internet encourages people to seek out others like them. While this is in a sense a good thing, it is not indicative of the real world. In an every day situation, a person does not have a choice of who they asssociate themsleves with and interact with. It is important to build more diverse ties through real-life interactions, and the internet takes away from this through demographic-specific online communities.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 24 Apr 2007 #permalink

Andrew has said that in many online communities, "interaction takes place only through that online venue." Yet, Pew states that e-mails (which in my opinion could be extended to messaging and similar online acts) do not replace other communication models such as face to face interaction or cell phone interaction, a concept known as "media multiplicity." Pew continues that e-mail interaction instead "adds on" to other communication methods and leads to a larger amount of interaction overall. Pew's study continues on to state that the higher the percentage of people someone interacts with via e-mail will result in a higher percentage of people one communicates with to other communication modes. The use of online interaction is just an additional medium for people to communicate with others, rather than a replacement of face to face or teleophone communication.

In response, I would just like to cite a reference to McDermott's and Cassidy's articles, which explore the addictive nature of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace. When people spend hours a day searching through random people's profiles, those are hours a day not spent meeting real people in the real world, and possibly forging more, diverse connections.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 24 Apr 2007 #permalink

Jess, that's interesting that your research concluded that the Internet enhances and doesn't replace face-to-face communication. As stated in our paper, the research we found discussed how time spent on the Internet competes with time spent on other activities...and the article went on to declare that the more time spent on the computer, the less time spent with family, peers, etc. Essentially, one can argue that there is a severe time displacement when it comes to the Internet. I suppose there are scientific studies supporting both hypotheses.

Although we have proven there is support both for and against the media multiplicity argument, how can we be sure that the alternatives to time spent on the internet are face to face activities? In the "Coming of Age On The Internet" portion of the paper it states, "...Something like online gaming displaces time spent doing things that would lead to social interactions." Though it is possible that instead of spending time online a person could spend time with friends or join a social group, they could just as easily resort to another activity which keeps them isolated. If a person is not online gaming does that definitely result in engaging in face to face contact that would lead to social interactions? They could just as easily turn to reading, playing video games, or watching an all-day marathon of Law & Order. If a person's offline time is spent playing video games, for example, it could be argued that the internet could offer more substantial activities, such as opportunities for distance learning and community involvement which we presented in our paper.

I want to comment on the section of Team Social Change's paper that deals with Distance education. You argue that distance education enhances community because "there are no campus life costs". While I agree that there might be not be campus life costs per-say (certainly there are no housing or meal costs), I think you are failing to acknowledge the implicit costs; the internet is not free, nor is buying a computer. I realize that an individual seeking distance education could very well go to a public library where he or she could then use the Internet/ a computer for free, but even then you are relying on that person's ability to first have the means to reach the library (even public transportation costs money) and second have the time (if in fact a person does not live close to the library he or she may have a lengthy commute). Further more what of the costs of the distance course themselves? The professors who are teaching them must be paid, and that money must come from somewhere (tuition). While in theory the internet is egalitarian, in practice it is most certainly not.

In response to the post about distance education, I would like to point out that we do not say anything about how much the cost of the classes are because that is overall, with the points that we have made, that is irrelavant. The point of our distance education example was so show that the internet provides a means by which more people can get an education. Although society will always be unfair, and there will always be issues of class, distance education still gives opportunities to people that did not have them before. For example, for a working mother who does not have time to sit on a college campus and take classes because she has to watch her children, she can get a degree online and eventually get a better job. So although we will never be able to give the same opportunities to everyone, distance education is just one way in which community is enhanced. Putnam's theories that community becomes more distanced from one another due to monetary issues is an interesting one because if we can't help everyone, should we help anyone at all? Our argument is that community will still continue to bring about positive social change for many, not that it brings positive social change for every single person. There will always be exceptions, and to make conclusions about society as a whole these exceptions need to be put aside.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 25 Apr 2007 #permalink

I was interested by Team Social Change's part of the paper that discusses social networking sites. It is interesting that this part was labeled "campus life", when it is acutally virtual campus life, and not true face to face interaction. It was said that sites such as facebook provide a "virtual meeting place." But this virtual meeting takes away from a physical meeting place such as the quad or other place on campus where students can get together and actually speak with each other. Also, as our team discussed, being in a facebook group only provides a way to be part of a group with people that have similar interests, which takes away from diversity that could have happened from a random meeting or encounter. I do agree that these facebook groups can provide an easy way to arrange a face to face encounter, these groups also provide people with a false sense of community. They may feel they belong to a group, but in fact spend little time interacting with these people face to face, and do the majority of interacting online only.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 25 Apr 2007 #permalink

In response to that last post, I think that you guys are misunderstanding our paper. When we talked about "campus life", with focus on virtual campus life, we basically say that facebook reinforces meetings that are initially face to face. When you can reinforce your meeting with someone online, you are more likely to have a face to face conversation with them following the confirmation. Conversations over the internet will ultimately lead to more conversations in "real life".

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 25 Apr 2007 #permalink

I disagree with the assertions that random, everyday encounters somehow expose people to more diversity. Bumping into someone at a coffee shop or the gym is hardly a "meaningful" interaction, and if you have nothing in common beyond drinking Starbucks or working out at the same gym, those encounters will likely lead nowhere. Simply seeing members of another race or nationality on the street is not evidence of genuine diversity in your life. However, if you become part of a self-selecting Internet community, who is to say that every member of that group lacks diversity? Is it truly likely that every single person posting on a Star Trek message board is a white guy in his 40s from Minnesota? No. Self-selecting Internet communities provide a basis for a relationship. From that starting point of commonality, members of an Internet community can branch off into other areas of discussion that they never would have considered before. Because the Internet is so widespread and accessible, people of all ages, races and nationalities interact quite easily.

In relation to Alli's observation, though there is the possibility for cyber-balkanization on the internet, the same concept could be applied to face to face interaction. It is argued by Putnam that people will only search out people similar to them when forging online relationships, yet in our day to day lives this also rings true. When establishing relationships and engaging in social interactions while face to face we often look towards those like us on the basis of common interests, similar racial background or geographical location. One could argue that these traits are the same criteria used when searching out social connections online. Although in face to face interaction a person could mingle with those unlike them at a coffee shop or local park, online surfing gives a person the option to interact with those same "different" types of people, for example a broader social network like Friendster or Facebook. Also, for a person who lives in a more homogeneous environment the internet gives them the option to reach those who may be dissimilar from them, or are geographically separated from them. An internet user has the opportunity to establish communication with a nearly endless array of people, from all walks of life, anywhere in the world.

I don't think that bumping into people at Starbucks gives the world a sense of diversity, either. I believe it is more a matter of self-selecting in which peer-to-peer interactions you'd like to partake...and the diversity of interests that ensues. Take, for instance, dormitory life. While students have always and will always seek out those with similar interests, it is much easier now (with the advent of Facebook) to seek out those people while ignoring the natural diversity of the dormitory setting. This can be seen in incoming freshmen choosing their roommates before coming to college, based on Internet interaction on Facebook. It's about ease and effort.

Also, this may be more apparent in terms of interactions that involve views and opinions rather than Star Trek or Project Runway. Say you're a diehard Liberal. Although there is more information than necessary across the political spectrum on the Internet, it is much easier to select information to which your preconceived notions gravitate while ignoring information that may go against such preconveived notions. But in physical territories and communities, it is easier to allow other views and opinions to enter the conversation. Even if you have self-selected a group of radically liberal friends, it's harder to ignore the radically conservative peer group down the block than on the Internet, where all you have to do is click on the 'x.' And I'm even polarizing the argument, so there's plenty of room for less extremes.

First I want to completely agree with Daryn, and take her argument a little further and move from the issue of diversity to that of exclusivity. Team Social Change's argument that "Small campuses benefit from these [social networking] sites by allowing the transcendence of cliques that exist in very limited communities" is absolutely untrue. As demonstrated by the Fiore and Donath 2005 study, people will automatically seek out other individuals with similar interests and beliefs online. Consequently social networking sites like Facebook not only allow, but encourage the formation of virtual cliques- e.g. the Facebook Group- as not everyone has an equal opportunity to join these groups (some are invite only, or require users to request to be apart of them). While arguably these could be considered communities, these groups and the individuals who make them up, are based on loose connections that offer no stability or means of support in times of need. These virtual communities do not serve to create or re-enforce social ties but rather weaken them by replacing meaningful face-to-face interactions with online, impersonal, interactions.

When we said that social networking sites are transcending cliquies on small campuses, we support that by saying that the internet allows you to get to know more people and expand your social network. By expanding more social network, you are already making strides toward meeting other people and moving away from the clique you may be in. Although the clique is not completely eliminated, there is chance for it to expand and hopefully one day dissolve.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 26 Apr 2007 #permalink

Social ties that are not deep and meaningful are also important. As I made in a previous point, Pew argues that casual ties are more important than social ties. It is impossible to create many deep ties, so in turn, we must rely on casual ties to aid us in specific situations. Also, where is this idea that all online interactions are impersonal? That's a huge generalization to make, and research such as those done on websites that provide support (such as the Breast Cancer Site) show that interactions can become very personal and meaningful.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 26 Apr 2007 #permalink

I would like to comment on one of Jess's posts from yesterday that states, "If a person is not online gaming does that definitely result in engaging in face to face contact that would lead to social interactions? They could just as easily turn to reading, playing video games, or watching an all-day marathon of Law & Order." While I agree that just because a person is not online, it doesn't mean they are engaging in face-to-face contact, I do see a difference between a person watching television or playing video games through a television screen and spending time online. The difference is that when people watch TV or play video games through a television screen, they usually do so in the company of other people such as their friends, siblings or parents; however, time spent on the Internet primarily takes place in a physically private or quiet setting where others are not involved in the experience. Whether you're playing games, chatting on AIM, or reading the news, the Internet tends to be an independent activity. Instead of sitting on a couch with your friends, watching the news and commenting on events during commercial breaks, you sit alone in the one chair that fits under your personal computer desk. When friends play games video games together, they can see each other react to different situations-maybe they get excited when they pull ahead in a car race or they make competitive jokes that make the play more entertaining. This doesn't happen when you can't physically see or hear the other competitor(s).

It is interesting how the internet is seen is an independent activity...and not noted for its communication. Yes, a person can watch television with someone else, but there can be zero social interaction. If a person is chatting on AIM or writing an e-mail, there is actual interaction occurring. A person can life his whole life in a house filled with people, but if there is no interaction or communication, then being in a location physically close to other human beings can be quite the same as isolating themselves physically. The internet allows there to be social interaction it is not always an independent activity that keeps people from interacting with others. Just because a person is participating in activities with other human beings, does not mean there is social interaction at all.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 27 Apr 2007 #permalink

I also would like to respond to a comment made yesterday in class. Someone shared the concern that Facebook enforces people's ability to pick and choose what groups they participate in and who they will be friends with. This can also be done in the physical world. One primary example is Greek organizations. By going through the rush process, you are choosing a group of people that you CHOOSE to associate yourself with and by paying dues each semester. You are again choosing to continually associate yourself with the Greek organization that you have been selected into, through a rush process (that analyzes your interests, morals, etc before the Fraternity or Sorority CHOOSES you). So by choosing to be in a Facebook group and interacting with those people exclusively -because of private invitations, etc � how is that any different or worse than choosing to be in a Greek organization where the parties and other social interactions are also selected and exclusive? Is it really that bad to be selective and particular about the people who socialize with?

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 27 Apr 2007 #permalink

I just wanted to comment on team reinforcer's position on cyber balkanization. While it is true that some people will use the internet to only reinforce there current beliefs and opinions, the internet does offer multiple ways to show both sides of every argument and create discussion based interactions from people of varying backgrounds and beliefs. While it is the responsibility of the individual to find these provoking interactions, this is no different from life. It is always the responsibility of the individual to immerse themselves with varying opinions. The internet actually facilitates this type of interactions because people with contrasting opinions are only a mouse-click away.

In the class debate someone made the point that charity organizations who use the Internet to gather donations and signatures are less effective because they rely on people actively seeking out their information rather than passersby who happen to encounter a charity worker face to face. I'd like to refute this by pointing out a few things.
First, while it is true that this information is usually found by people specifically interested in a cause, it ignores the fact that those people have much larger social networks. This is how charity organizations spread their message (not to mention advertising.) A perfect example is the social networking site, where activists can set up online petitions and organize meetings for a cause. Using e-mail, these activists contact thousands of ties who might share their own sentiments to a lesser degree. Care2's petition site has been very successful in promoting issues and bringing about change.
My other point is the matter of time and convenience. People who run into charity workers on the street have things to do and people to see. Most just brush off a charity worker because they're too hurried to do anything. On the Internet, however, you are probably more at leisure and will find it more convenient to click a button or type in your name to make a difference.

In a comment above, I mentioned Putnam's idea that the convenience that comes with the Internet limits commitment. How committed to a cause can you be if you "click a button or type in your name to make a difference?" I understand that you may be giving a woman a free mammogram (which is wonderful), but I think instead of addressing a larger social problem (the selfishness that prevents one from making a difference in the world), the Internet cheapens the experience of "charity." More people can fool themselves into thinking that their 'good deed of the day' can be done with a click of a button; however, instead of allowing this to persist, we should be trying to change people's mindset to actually become active in social causes, with their bodies and minds. But maybe this is the idealistic activist within me who's talking.

In the Reinforcers paper they state that, "it is clear that online dating reinforces people staying within their own characteristics." Yet, in the same article they quote from, How Do I Love Thee? by Lori Gottleib, it is aserted that successful relationships are based on similarites couples share. "The members of a happy couple are far more similar to each other than are the members of an unhappy couple," says e-Harmony's founder, Dr. Warren. "Compatibility, ill other words," he continues, "rests on shared traits." Online dating allows people to find those they share traits with on a large scale network. So if relationships are based on shared traits then wouldn't similar traits also be what a person looks for in a potential partner in face to face interaction? Online dating sites like e-Harmony are just a medium for those looking for relationships to utilize when searching for a partner. Warren explains the benefit of online dating in that if people go out to a bar some are there to drink while some are there looking for a potential partner. On the other hand, on e-Harmony everyone there is looking for a relationship. The site is just putting people with the same aim in the same place.

In relation to my last post, the Reinforcers paper also says that, "Even a founder and proponent of online dating admitted that it's often better to have someone who complements the other." Correct, and when you continue on in the article you will find that Warren says that there are certain personality traits which are not based on how similar they are and instead on how they complement each other, like being obsessive for example. Similarly, Dr. Fisher of says that "falling in love depends on two elements: similarity and complementarity." People often gravitate towards those who balance them out. "For example, people with poor social skills sometimes gravitate toward people with good social skills," says Fisher. Online sites are matching people by the same criteria they would search for in a partner in face to face interaction. These sites are just giving people more options to find a relationship through.

In response to Daryn's comment on how the internet limits commitment with charitable organizations, I do not feel like this is the case at all. While again it is the responsibility of each specific individual, when using the internet for charitable causes, most are actively going to that specific website to click on a link and give back. Although while surfing the internet there may be a link to click and follow, many of these sites require specific input to reach it. And although some people may just click a button each day without furthering their charitable commitment, they are still actively helping the specific cause. In the end, the charity is still receiving tons of help from the community. As most of the contributions to these charitable causes online take only a few minutes, people may actually be more willingly to participate, causing greater profits for the organizations. And as more people are using the internet for charitable purposes, they are learning more about the organization and may become more willing to actively volunteer.

Regarding the comment about cyberbalkanization, Putnam words it best when he says that "interaction in cyberspace is typically single stranded." An American Idol messageboard connects members in terms of that topic, unlike a neighbor, with whom you can connect at the supermarket or in church or at the local park. He goes on to say that "a comment about Thunderbirds in a BMW chat group risks being flamed as 'off topic.' Imagine...the guffaws if a member of a bowling team...tried to rule out a casual conversation as off-topic." Although diversity is an individual's responsibility, the Internet setting isn't always welcoming to the idea.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 29 Apr 2007 #permalink

Whoops, that last comment was me.

I would like to comment on Team Social Change's closing thought about the internet "enhancing our interpersonal skills." According to an article about Problematic Internet Use by Scott Caplan, for many, "preference for online social interaction is...characterized by beliefs that one is safer, more effacious, more confident, and more comfortable with online interpersonal interactions and relationships than with traditional face to face social activities."
This being said, while those people who use the internet to "hide" behind as they communicate with others are growing more confident in their online social skills, they are becoming less confident in face to face situations. People must develop social skills beyond those that are used behind a computer screen. Job interviews, everyday interactions, and even the dating scene all require good face to face social skills. With increasing internet use, however, there is a lesser chance for those vital face to face social skills to develop and a lesser chance for individuals to grow confident in other places besides AIM messages and email.

According to an article entitled "Making Friends in Cyberspace" (from the Journal of Communication), online interactions are often used to overcome shyness. Often times, it is the inital meeting that is the hardest to have. Once that intial meeting is had, via the internet, and walls are broken down, meetings after that (often in person) are easier to have. Online interactions can help you learn social skills, and 60.7% of the people who interacted with one another online formed personal relationships in which they had face to face encounters. Research shows that relationships progress overtime, and the internet is only one way for them to begin. Once they begin, they move to offline interactions where people can further develop their social skills with the aspect of comfort already accomplished. They then can go on to continue their relationship over the internet and make more appointments, via email, to see one another.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 29 Apr 2007 #permalink

Team Reinforcers state in their paper the thoughts of Putnam and how the internet works as a time displacement, taking away valuable moments of community interaction. However in an article titled, "Linking Dimensions of Internet Use and Civic Engagement", from Communication Abstracts, a study found that internet use is positively related to traditional forms of civic engagement, therefore serving an important role in community building. The article also found that when compared to nonusers, internet users are more likely to become involved in leisure and community organizations. Finally, the article found that internet users are more likely to be politically active in comparison to nonusers.

In the Reinforcers' paper, one of the downsides of online dating that they mention is the fact that the internet cannot account for factors like pheromonal compatability, or being attracted to someone's smell. I disagree that this is an issue. The point of online dating is to contact one another via the Internet, but then continue the relationship face-to-face; therefore the couple will at some point discover whether or not they have an "innate personal connection." Obviously a personal connection is important, but they sometimes develop over time, and people are likely to give a relationship more time if they already know they have things in common via a dating site. And if they don't end up feeling the attraction, there's nothing wrong with making a new platonic friend.

I'd also like to comment on the ongoing question of whether people are using the Internet to limit themselves to groups of people very similar to themselves. According to a Pew report on online communities, 50% of people who associate themselves with online groups say that the internet has helped them get to know people they would otherwise have never met. 37% say that they have been able to communicate with people of different ages or generations, and 27% say they have communicated with people from different economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Overall, the report concludes that the internet actually spurs people to make connections with strangers very different from themselves even when they are joining groups tailored to their interests.

I would like to respond to Laura's post by directing her attention to the following excerpt from the Re-enforcer paper: "On one hand, online activities provide an Internet user with opportunities to pursue an interest or a hobby in the abundance, or excess, of information present on the Web. On the other hand, these activities tend to reinforce rather than diversify one's interests, thoughts and opinions. Reinforcement implies a strengthening rather than a reformation of existing patterns of communication (Nisbet & Scheufele, 2004, p.877)." While I dont doubt the findings of "Linking Dimensions of Internet Use and Civic Engagement" that you presented, I do however doubt that those users interviewed had a new-found interest in politics just because they were using the internet. In fact Nizbet and Scheufele found that internet users tend to gravitate towards sites holding information that the user is already interested in. I have to wonder how many internet users were asked about changing interests due to the internet when the author(s) of that article found that users were more politically active as a result of internet use. I dont see their activeness as a move towards social change but rather a statement about the types of people who use the internet and a demonstration of an internet users tendency to go to sites they are interested in.

While reading through Bowling Alone, I noticed a point that's interesting in its support of cyber skepticism. Kollock and Smith argue that "most online groups have the structure of anarchy [unmoderated] or a dictatorship [moderated]," rather than demonstrating the alleged greater democracy in cyberspace. They go on to say that the Internet is astringently libertarian. I'm an American skeptic as much as the next person, but (American) society doesn't exactly function on these values, so it makes one question the workings of the cyber world and their reflection on real life.

In response to Kai's post, I don't disagree with you that many of the people that use the internet only use it to reinforce their current interests and political beliefs. But again, this is no different than in real life. The article from class, "The Impact of Individual and Interpersonal Factors on Perceived News Media Bias", by William Eveland Jr. and Dhavan V. Shah, states "...we are more likely to talk with individuals with whom we agree..." I cannot disagree with you, Kai, that those that become more politically active might not become solely from the use of the internet. However, that was not my main point. I was simply stating the different outlets the internet offers for those that want to become politically active or for those that want to be more active in their community. The internet offers all of these opportunities. While it is the responsibility of the individual, the internet does offer the benefits and advantages of getting more people involved throughout the community. Many times at these sites, a person will sign up to become involved and they are offered the opportunity of putting other people's emails down to give them more information. By doing so, more people are gaining knowledge throughout the community and a type of social change is beginning to take place.

In response to the last comment, while yes, it is proven that people that use the internet are more likely to be active in their community, this draws back to the civic engagement argument. It is not proven that going on sites that aid in one being more active in their community leads to more action. The people that seek out this information are most likely already interested in the topic to begin with. The people that go online and discover ways to get involved in their community are already interested to begin with. This means that they would seek out this information no matter what. If they did not have the internet, they would find other means to get the information like going to their nearest school or town hall type place and learn about what is going on. And if a person is only interested in reading about celebrities and going on facebook, they are only going to go on those sites. They are not going to be exposed to positive community websites just by logging onto the internet.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 29 Apr 2007 #permalink

In response to Ali B's last post, I want to know how large the pool of people that Pew studied was, and whether those people felt that the internet enabled them to meet more people/a more diverse group than a face-to-face group meeting might have. I doubt very much that Pew's study is suggestive of all internet users and their feelings about internet groups and the types of people/interactions an internet user has.I feel these findings are very generalized, especially regarding the point about meeting people they might not other wise have met- in terms of ethnic, class, and age differences- when Fiore and Donath point out in their 2005 study that people tend to look for other similar to them. More over I have to wonder if initiative was taken to meet the people they "met" online who were so different in a face-to-face situation.

(FYI: For some reason I am not able to post in one whole section so I have to break it up in 2 or 3 sections). In our in-class debate the Reinforcers questioned the impact of the loss of face to face interaction in distance learning. Our group responded that though distance learning offers other means of communication, face to face interaction is lost, and we are not suggesting that it replace traditional learning but instead is an additional outlet for people to further their education.

Wait, I just found this great example from Putnam about civic disengagement. He gives the following example of civic expression that goes something like this: "If you care, you can do something easy! Be a full-time citizen activist...for 5 minutes a week. ...It's a one-stop shop for staying involved. We want to make it easy for you to make a difference! Make your voice heard!" This happens to be a shortcut that asks, "Millions of us can express our views with the click of a mouse, but is anyone listening?" You can go ahead and voice your opinions, but does this lead to true deliberation? The above is just an extreme example of a forum in which people can talk and talk with no guarantee of the reciprocal act of listening. And yes, this can be true of real life, but a physical voice is much harder to ignore.

Please disregard my last post as I am not able to continue it. I will try to figure this out and post it later.

In response to Kai's last post, you argue "I want to know how large the pool of people that Pew studied was, and whether those people felt that the internet enabled them to meet more people/a more diverse group than a face-to-face group meeting might have." Questions like these can be posed against nearly all studies we use in our position papers. For example, your paper states, "those who use the Internet as part of their leisure activity do so via things like online gaming and browsing the web (Gershuny, 2002)." I could then ask the amount of people in Gershuny's study? Or if the participants were browsing the web for nearby community activities to become involved in? Once we start poking these kind of holes in the studies which we base our papers off of then we start down an avenue which could be endless. In most cases we cannot answer these questions ourselves so they instead leave open ended holes which lessen the validity of both of our arguments.

Scrolling back up to online dating and responding to Alli's last comment about the issue- yes, Alli I do agree that online dating can provide a means in which to meet someone that could potentially lead to a strong relationship and that it is meant to eventually lead to a face to face interaction. But the problem is that it can be a large time displacer. You mention the "smell" and immediate physical attraction that is determined once the people do meet face to face. However, if a couple were to meet in person, than the question of the "attraction" would be determined immediately. You can waste weeks exchanging emails with someone only to meet them and instantly find you are not attracted to them. Why waste so much time when you could be out at a local bar and determine these things before such time is spent? As Fiore and Donath found, attraction cannot be determined in a cyber world.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 29 Apr 2007 #permalink

I agree with Jess that the sample size is irrelevant. The Pew study is no less legitimate than any of the others anyone here is citing, and comparing sample sizes will get us nowhere. (But in the interest of full disclosure the sample size was 1,697 people.) Moreover, although I haven't read the Fiore and Donath studies you mention, I don't think they are really comparable to the Pew study. Fiore and Donath appear to have done research on online dating, whereas the Pew study was about online communities in general. It's two very different things to be looking for a real-life romantic partner and to be looking for Internet friends, so it's natural that the former would involve finding people more similar to yourself than the latter.

In "Bowling Alone," Putnam said, "The poverty of social cues in computer-mediated communication inhibits interpersonal collaboration and trust...participants in computer-based groups find it harder to reach consensus and feel less solidarity with one another...they are much worse at generating the trust and reciprocity necessary to implement that understanding." For this reason, it is impossible to substitute face-to-face communication within a group, or community, with an online forum. When people correspond online, they lose the ability to process and react to the smiles, rolling eyes, looks of confusion, and any other nonverbal signals that could be communicating something equally important to what is being typed. When communicating with a group over the Internet, trust may be hard to achieve for the reason that it is easy to be untruthful online as one can hide emotions and opinions far more easily than when communicating in-person. In fact, a person can even go as far as lying about their identity online. (For example, my best friend could have written this response for me...) Trying to coordinate a project through a computer-based group would be difficult because the group might never get a chance to exchange ideas in-person, which would be the only way for them to truly to assess individual strengths and weaknesses, thus resulting in an outcome of a higher quality.

I have recently experienced difficultly in reaching consensus among a computer-based group. While trying to coordinate dates to schedule fall recruitment events for my sorority with representatives from other sororities on-campus, my e-mail "Inbox" was flooded with 30 plus messages after one day. The e-mails were repetitive, difficult to interpret, and forced me to spend more than two hours responding to a series of questions that would take maybe 15 minutes to discuss in-person. As I was not the only participant who noticed this, it was suggested that we simply meet face-to-face to discuss the situation. Everyone agreed that this was far too confusing to process online and that, should we proceed to use the Internet as our medium of communication, not everyone would be satisfied with the end result.

In our in-class debate the Reinforcers questioned the impact of the loss of face to face interaction in distance learning. Our group responded that though distance learning offers other means of communication, face to face interaction is lost, and we are not suggesting that it replace traditional learning but instead is an additional outlet for people to further their education. In an article* Kenneth E. Hartman writes that according to a 2005 survey distance learning is increasingly cited as a key to increased employee satisfaction and retention. Online learning aids in strategic training to ensure highly skilled employees says Vernon Ross, deputy director of learning and development at Lockheed Martin Corporation, in the same article*. In this case distance learning allows those adults already in the workplace an opportunity to advance themselves by taking online classes at their convienience. When the options are between a person not being able to continue their education or taking classes online it is evident that distance classes are a beneficial addition to education.

*The blog would not allow me to post the name of the article, I have no clue why. But I am going to e-mail the name of it to Prof. Nisbet so you may ask him or me for it if you are interested.

Just to piggyback off of Rosie's last comment, I would like to say that the use of email tends to lead to confusion and "email tag." It's just not practical to make email the sole means of communicating, especially when it comes to things that involve larger numbers of people, and progress depends on the responses of those people. Something like email is very inconsistent, and it rests on the assumption that everyone will check and use their email every day. If this is not met, all communication breaks down, and those that do use it suffer. Therefore, my conclusion is the same as Rosie's in that the internet cannot be the only means of communication between people, in order to ensure that communication does take place.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

The internet as it relates to somebody's social skills is a two sided issue. On the one hand, it's a good thing in that it allows someone with limited social skills to have more confidence and more control over what he or she says. However, looking at the way the world we live in works, it is nearly impossible to get along in life where interactions only take place on line. The way things are now, there are things we need to do- work, school, shopping, travel, anything of that sort- in our daily lives that require interactions with people. When someone has little social skills to begin with, and they spend all their time online, won't that affect their few real life interactions? Won't it be even harder for them? And in this real world, you're almost never going to have a choice with regard to what sort of people you interact with.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

Occasionally, email is the only means of communication between people. While greater avenues of communication would be desireable, sometimes, we are limited. I have friends that live in Australia, and there is no way for us to keep in contact aside from email (due to outrageous international phone rates). I could just send them a letter, but that would take an enormous amount of time to reach them. Email is simply the best solution to problems like these, however rare they might be. Communication, in this case, does not "break down" as Andrew suggested, rather, it is created, as it might not happen if not for things like email. There are times when email or other online communication is necessary, and to say that emails further "break down" communication between people is neglecting these such situations. Some may argue that these are just "special situations" but that does not make them any less important. Email is, at times, the only means of communication, and just because some believe that face-to-face interaction is better, cannot erase this fact.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

In repsonse to an earlier post of Carleens, you say that people who search for community involvement online are the same people that "would seek out this information no matter what. If they did not have the internet, they would find other means to get the information like going to their nearest school or town hall type place and learn about what is going on. And if a person is only interested in reading about celebrities and going on facebook, they are only going to go on those sites." Yet, similarly to those who search for community activities, without the internet wouldn't those people who just go on facebook or celebrity sites simply resort to tabloid magazines and entertainment television to fill their quota of celebrity gossip? In relation to out earlier time displacement discussions I agrue that just taking away the internet does not mean people will change their behavior or what topics they are interested in. The lack of internet will not necessarily make a Britney Spears gossip junkie turn on CSPAN while the addition of the internet would not necessarily make a political junkie scope out four times a day. As we have discussed previously, it is an individual's prerogative to decide how they spend their time online. One would hope people would learn to balance their time on and offline, or the topics they search for, but a person's level of online responsibility is a choice which has to be made for themselves.

I just wanted to respond to the earlier discussion of lacking social cues and how that could relate to online dating. To go along with that, now that the internet has given us just one more way to avoid face to face contact our interpersonal relationships are actually growing weaker. In reference to, "The Lonely American Just Got a Little Bit Lonlier" people today are lacking close confidants as internet use increases. Perhaps online dating fits into the quote when Fountain writes, "the internet may help ease (loneliness) but is unlikely to cure."
I agree when Putnam says, "The real interesting future is how we can use the Net to strengthen and deepen the relationships that we have offline." Will people really go out of their way to do so? Will they not look to short-cuts and less confrontational ways to communicate that seem to be so much more accessible online?

Jess I want to respond to your argument
"that just taking away the internet does not mean people will change their behavior or what topics they are interested in. The lack of internet will not necessarily make a Britney Spears gossip junkie turn on CSPAN while the addition of the internet would not necessarily make a political junkie scope out four times a day."
While I understand where you are coming from, and on some levels I agree that a person will continue to pursue his/her interests outside of the internet, I think that other media outlets- magazines, television, etc- expose readers/watchers to topics s/he might not other wise have been exposed to. Commercials and news promos often expose tv watchers to information s/he might not other wise have seen, and by peaking their interest encourage that person to stick around after their favorite program and learn something new. The internet however is more user-guided and therefore doesnt offer the same opportunities for expanding a persons horizons, but offers a greater chance to re-enforce that persons beliefs/interests. Further more I would like to tie this back to one of Rosie's early points that computers and internet use typically occur in physically isolated spaces. This coupled with the Norman H. Nie's findings in his article "The Impact of Internet Use on Sociability," social isolation occurs because "time on the Internet is often taken at the expense of social activities and face-to-face interpersonal interactions" (Nie 2002, p.2). The physically isolated space, and the displacement of face-to-face interactions lower the quality of these interactions and further more hinder a users ability to expand their interests.

It has been argued that that internet does not engage civic engagement and only provokes caring out of convenience. Yet, the internet also has led to opportunities in civic engagement which would have been nearly impossible without online interaction. For example, the introduction to chapter 5 of Sosnik, Dowd, and Fournier's "Applebee's America" recounts the acts of strangers helping a family get to safety after Hurricane Katrina. Via and e-mails a family was able to get donations which found them a place to stay as well as flights there. As the article states these people are self organizing groups which allow them to connect both online and offline and both short term and long term, creating what Putnam calls "social capital." "Americans are helping their fellow citizens, expanding their social networks, and influencing decisions in business boardrooms, political campaigns and churches," the article reads. The internet can be a monumental tool when taking part in civic engagement, even alerting people of causes they did not know they could actively help in, like the case of the family escaping their tragic situation in New Orleans.

To add on to Rosie's post about the differences between online and offline communication (in terms of social cues), Brignall's article offers more examples. Beyond the obvious problem of identity misrepresentation, the Internet also allows things such as the "open display of group norm violations such as aggressive behavior, racism, sexism, homophobia, personal attacks, harrassment and a tendency for individuals to quickly abandon groups and conversations, refusing to deal with issues they find difficult to immediately resolve." This simply strengthens the argument that online interaction lowers the quality of true conversation by removing certain communicative factors, which aid in producing more balanced and respectful dialogue.

I would also like to look at Lori Gottlieb's article, "How do I love thee?" for which Gottlieb consulted's chief scientific advisor, Dr. Helen Fisher, whose research focuses on the brain physiology of romantic love and sexuality. Fisher makes the point that "The problem with sites like that they place too much emphasis on similarity, whereas...falling in love depends on two elements: similarity and complementarity." With that said, it is important for online daters to realize that, while they might find a partner to whom they are incredibly similar in interests and personality, this is not always a good thing. A person might spend several weeks e-mailing and chatting online with someone who, when they meet in-person, communicates in the same manner that they do--maybe they find that they talk over each other incessantly, or that they are far more shy than they would be sitting behind their computer monitor. Also, while there may be no harm in making another "friend" should this online relationship not continue in a romantic direction, there is the fact that this time spent detracts from the time this person could have been spending out with friends, meeting potential partners in a realistic, face-to-face situation.

In addition to what Emily said about how the internet serves as a quick means to replace actual interaction-many find that instead of making the effort to actually see someone, they can send them a quick email and they feel they have put forth effort into the friendship or relationship. McMillan writes that people feel find it "easier to deal with a machine rather than interacting with each other". I understand that in some cases, email is the only means of interaction, but those are exceptions. As a general society, as time progresses and technology becomes more prevalent in our day to day lives, many are replacing face to face interaction with online correspondence and virtual relationships. The internet makes it so easy and convenient to do so.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

With regard to online dating, we showed in the presentation that it doesn't allow for the possibilities that face-to-face interaction would foster. Online interaction takes away from feeding off of each other's attitudes, facial cues, and overall energy that face to face encouters provide. Often times, as Dr. Fisher says, it's not always about what two people have in common. There needs to be that complementability that sites like do not encourage due to their focus on sameness. Online dating sites also don't factor in personal chemistries, and those often determine how two people get along.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

The problem with suggesting that people using online dating services go out and meet people instead is that the types of people who date online generally don't have enough time to do so. Online dating is very popular in places like large cities where workdays are long and stressful. Many people simply don't have the energy to go mingle in a bar with friends after spending 10 hours in an office. Dating sites can be accessed at any time of day, whether the user is on their lunch break or at home in their pajamas. Even if you waste time e-mailing someone you don't have a genuine connection with, you at least know that they want a relationship; in a bar, you might waste hours with someone who isn't looking for the same kind of relationship that you are. Also remember that not everyone has friends that can introduce them to potential partners. My friend's mother is in her 40s and divorced, and she met her current boyfriend online because most of the men she might meet in her real-life social network are married.

In terms of friendships and relationships, I would also like to point out how the Internet can negatively affect the quality of face-to-face interactions. I have personally experienced an extreme lack of attention paid me by friends while trying to talk to them in-person as a result of their being simultaneously involved in an online conversation. There have been countless situations in which I have taken the time to visit a friend who, as we sit and try to talk for even a few minutes, cannot pull away from the all-consuming board of conversations and messages constantly being sent their way via AIM, e-mail, Google-chat, etc. With one's focus being split in so many directions, each receives just a portion of the attention deserved. This also happens often when students talk online during class or while working on a group project, which can be extremely frustrating. In conclusion, not only is the quality of online communication lower than face-to-face communication, but this online communication can also lower the quality of face-to-face communication.

Also, online interactions aren't always a good indicator of real life interactions. The way two people interact via AIM or email is going to be completely different from the way they interact in person. Because it's impossible to detect actual chemistry on line, a good interaction online will not always be indicative of chemistry in real life, and can often be misleading with regard to how two people interact, and if the real life interaction isn't as good as online interaction, it becomes a big disappointment.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

In regards to online dating, many reinforcer's have commented that an online dating site can simply act as a time displacement because the users are unaware if they will actually have chemistry with the person they are engaging emails with. However, the same can be said with meeting someone in a bar. Sure, the initial chemistry and attraction may be present, but you are not forming a relationship based on substantive information. After the initial attraction, you may find you have no similar interests or have anything to talk about. In that case, time was wasted anyway because you wouldn't pursue that relationship. It is no different than online dating sites. And many people that use these sites cannot afford to waste continuous evenings at a local bar to not come out with any potential suitors.

I think we must also look at social networking sites such as myspace and facebook. While it is true that the potential is there for people to make much more loose connections than if their connections were based on actual interactions, there is also the question of the quality of connections, and even the reason behind them. From my personal experience, I have 260 myspace friends. While there are a few that I do talk to on a regular basis, I already had their contact info and talked to them on a regular basis to begin with. A lot of others are people I knew from high school who I never really interacted with, and still don't to this day. So my point is, does it become a contest to see who has the most "friends" on a networking site? And what is the purpose of having all of these "friends" if you aren't keeping in touch with them on a regular basis?

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

In Putnam's article, "Bowling Alone," he asks, "Millions of us can express our views with the click of a mouse, but is anyone listening?" This question makes us wonder just who is actually reading the millions of e-mails being sent daily to the President, political groups, large corporations, etc. The increase in feedback from constituents and customers may produce an opposite effect on those groups being asked to act or make changes. While it might seem like the more feedback the better, more feedback may be resulting in too much feedback to be properly processed. Also, one must consider the effect that sending a prewritten letter to a congressperson, for example, will have when the person receiving the mail has already opened x number of this same e-mail. Moreover, the same person can click on a link that claims to do something positive for every click, which provides a false sense of how much the public is truly concerned.

Laura I completly disagree with you when you make the claim
"After the initial attraction, you may find you have no similar interests or have anything to talk about. In that case, time was wasted anyway because you wouldn't pursue that relationship. It is no different than online dating sites."
One could make the argument that the time one spends trying to forge an online relationship- in the hopes that it will become a more substanial, and real-world as opposed to virtual world relationship- is a greater waste of time if when you meet face to face the attraction/chemistry simply isnt there. While you could argue that at least you have gained another "friend", who is to say you reall have? The world isnt perfect and the disappointment of meeting and then be rejected face-to-face by an online buddy can be more discouraging and harmful than that immediate, emotionally-less invested, encounter in a local bar. Consider the following taken from the re-enforcer paper: Scott Caplan reported in his 2005 article that Young observed that those who spend the most time on the Internet have less social skills. Those who hide behind their computer screens and reach out to the world using the internet because of low self-confidence are arguably more at risk of being hurt/disappointed when unable to cope with real-world interactions. The Caplan article also points out that those who spend a greater amount of time online sink further into this cycle and their social skill decline. In terms of online dating, for those who displace their time and decided that rather than having conversations in a bar they would like to exploit online dating sites, they run the risk of losing social cues and further entering into this cycle of declining real-world social skills.

Rosie's post suggests that large numbers of prewritten emails are ineffective at causing change because the recipient has too many to process. Actually, the opposite seems to be true. For example, after the Janet Jackson Superbowl "incident", the group Parents Television Council organized an online campaign to flood the FCC with indecency complaints. The sheer number of complaints was what led the FCC to launch such a huge investigation into the incident. The exact content of the letters didn't matter, but the fact that there were so many of them did. It's a perfect example of the way that the Internet can be used to organize people for a cause.

Alli do you have evidence that the emails were the sole reason the FCC launched their investigation? Could snail mail, phone messages, and the mass amounts of tv news reports also have significantly contributed to their move to investigate the happenings of that infamous concert? While mass emails might work in some case-to-case basis, I dont think they are as effective in creating change as physical- meaning real world rather than virtual- demonstrations. Further while those emails might arguably have been a nice addition to those other outlets, I doubt that had those emails been replaced by regular snail mail style letters the effects would have been different. Rather than another outlet for social change, I see that email is just another outlet for people to displace otherwise meaningful/personal interactions with an impersonal/robotic virtual interaction.

You bring up a very good point of argument with mentioning the Janet Jackson incident. It is true that internet mobilization persuaded the FCC to levy the fines. However, one can also make the argument that it is this mass internet mobilization is detrimental to society. It allowed the voices of a group of people who overreacted to something stupid to change things for people who disagreed with them. This is proof of the internet giving power to the loudest people, not necessarily the biggest.

Although it can be argued that facebook and myspace allow for the facilitation of relationships and friendships, it is questioned how much "facebook time" is really used for that purpose and not for other means that would be considered time displacement. In an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education Bugeja argues, "our networks are being used to entertain members of 'the facebook generation.'" So even though the internet gives us access to numerous databases and can keep us in touch with those who live overseas, how much of peoples' total online time is really spent doing those productive things when there are so many other means of distraction?

Also, in the same article, Bugeja goes on to quote a member of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in DC, "administrators have embraced technology as a means of furthering education, but they have failed to realize that the younger generation views technology largely as a means of delivering entertainment." This also supports the idea that although the internet can be seen as a tool for productivity it does not always end up that way. The internet as a tool to further education is also questionable due to the great potential for the information on the internet to be false and/or biased.

To continue on from Andrew's comment, the loudest people could very well be those who are fortunate enough to have access to Internet at all hours of the day. In "Bowling Alone," Putnam wrote, "This...kind of cyberapartheid, in which bridging social capital is diminished as elite networks become less accessible to the have-nots, is indeed frightening." This gap between the haves and the have-nots is amplified with the Internet in that those who do not have access 24/7 cannot keep up with the constant conversation that takes place online. Is it fair that one person who can easily be in touch with others via e-mail at any time of day might receive some benefit because they were the first to respond to an e-mail? Of course, life is never fair, but the fact is that the Internet certainly widens this gap between classes.

In response to Kai, you state that "One could make the argument that the time one spends trying to forge an online relationship- in the hopes that it will become a more substantial, and real-world as opposed to virtual world relationship- is a greater waste of time if when you meet face to face the attraction/chemistry simply isn't there". However this is merely an opinion on your part of the idea behind "greater waste of time". Who's to say what a greater waste of time is. My main point was the fact that if one wants to consider an online relationship that doesn't work out a waste of time, the same can be made of life face-to-face encounters that don't work out. The internet just offers another option for people to find a relationship.

Your arguments are all based on opinion as well Laura, who is to say that all online dating encounters are substantial, or that interactions in a bar-like setting are not? Further more I think you misunderstood my main argument which that more time and effort are invested in online conversations/seeking profiles over days, nights, etc before face to face encounters happen. Thus a person is already significantly invested in the relationship and if that chemistry isnt there, could arguably have wasted their time. I was merely tying to point out the flaw in your original argument that time is wasted by determining right away if you determine in a face to face encounter that while yes there is an attraction there is nothing to build a relationship on. At least that "waste of time" is only one night rather than several instances of online conversation.

In the comment above, I agree that the idea of a substantial encounter is all up to the individual and based solely on opinion. However, I was just stating that if one is going to consider online dating relationships that fizzle out a waste of time, the same holds true for relationships that take place in a bar. My main point was that the internet just offers an additional option for people to use. I'm not stating that the online websites should completely replace face-to-face chance encounters, but rather may be more feasible for certain kinds of people.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

oops...that was my anonymous post above.

Another problem with this world of online dating is the difference among all the sites. Each site has claimed that they have found the ultimate formula for matching couples up. e-harmony claims that similarity makes the perfect match, while one of the other online dating sites claim that a few differences are essential. Who is to say what makes the perfect match? The problem with the virtual dating sites is that people waste their time answering hundreds of questions that claim to match you with your "perfect match". A lot of these sites boast high rates of matching people up, but there are no follow up studies to see how many of these actually last. Instead of wasting time trying to find a cyber mate that will often lead to a dead end, as Kai said, you can discover this immediately by having your first interaction as a face to face one.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

To continue the discussion about Facebook, I would like to bring up the point made by John Cassidy in "ME MEDIA: How hanging out on the Internet became big business," which is that "many students feel compelled to join [Facebook] simply because everybody else is using it." I personally felt this pressure for some time before I joined Facebook because small groups that I belonged to on-campus were using it as their main vehicle of communication. As a person who hates having to spend time sitting in front of a computer screen (since it always gives me a headache), I never wanted it to get to a point where not only do I have to use the Internet to complete research for class work, but that I have to rely on a computer to be informed about goings-on within small groups to which I belong whose other members are my close friends. Whatever happened to the phone tree? We all have cell phones attached to our bodies anyway! Why not use them?

Kai - I don't have proof that the emails were the "sole" reason for the FCC's actions, but in a Mediaweek article by Todd Shields it states that 20% of the complaints filed about Janet Jackson were traced back to the PTC, and that in 2004 99.8% of indecency reports that the FCC received other than the Superbowl ones were filed by the PTC. This is over 500,000 complaints all from one group that used an online campaign to rally its supporters. The huge outcry caused by the PTC is the reason there were tv news reports on it in the first place. If the FCC had received 500,000 snail mail letters, then yes - the effects would probably have been the same. But that's missing my point. My point is that a mobilization effort of that magnitude would have been impossible without the PTC's website and online push for support. How else would the PTC have organized such an immediate response?
Andrew - I agree that in this situation the loudest group was heard, not the biggest one. But the same thing happens in all forms of communication - whoever has the most money is the one to be heard on tv, in newspapers, etc. Good or bad, it's undeniable that online feedback can be very effective in causing change.

In support of Carleen's post way, way up above about dealing with machines rather than each other...McMillan also points out that "When dealing with a machine, you have total control over what information you will get when and how. ..The machine is not demanding or expecting anything from you." Interpersonal interactions, on the other hand, place this sort of pressure on you, pressure to be truthful, civil, perceptive and responsible (for your actions). I suppose this goes along with my last point, that we are social beings who communicate with each other on the basis of certain human values, which may be lost online.

While it has been argued that the internet many times only makes people become more active with charitable and civic engagement on the surface, according to a Pew study of 1,679 internet users, many Americans are using the internet to become more involved with their local communities. The study shows that many community members are using the web to find about local merchants, get community news, and to check out fraternal organizations. The study also cites sociologist Barry Wellman, who argues that new social arrangements are being formed through an idea of glocalization, the internet's capacity to to expand users' social worlds to faraway people and simultaneously bind them more deeply to their own communities. The study found that around 28 million users have used the internet to deepen their ties to their local communities. The internet is being used as a useful tool in local civil engagement and community participation.

Rosie brings up a valid point. Online networking sites such as facebook have placed a pressure on our generation to join. Not the sites themselves, but the fact that everyone is involved. In Cassidy's New Yorker article about facebook, one of the facebook founders, Chris Hughes said, "If you don't have a facebook profile, you don't have an onlne identity. It doesn't mean that you are antisocial or you are a bad person, but where are the traces of your existence in this college community? You don't exist online, at least. That's why we get so many people to join up. You need to be on it." This is basically saying you have to be on it to get your full college experience. You are pretty much out of the loop if you are not on. This draws back to our original definition about the traditional definition of community. No longer is community based on your interactions, but only if you are a member of the online community.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

I think the issue of virtual engagement, whether in special interest groups or political organizations, is more a question of how such participation is mixing with traditional forms of engagement in today's society. In the future, yes, online social groups may be the answer to the cultural and political organization. But as it stands, McMillan asks, "If we are able to protest on line, is our society adversely affected because we're not participating in the flesh? Politically, how are virtual constituencies viewed by those who determine government policy?" These questions seem to ponder the effect of online participation. Although it can be argued (and it can be proved) that the Internet increases political/social involvement, will it and how will it replace traditional means of engagement when contemporary society functions on such means (as related to governmental & social policy, hierachy, bureaucracy, etc.).

In response to Laura's post, you state "the internet is being used as a tool in local civil engagement and community participation." However, the opposite has been proven. McMillan states, "Some people are so hooked up to computers that they neglect almost all other activities in life". This actually takes away from community involvement. Also, the ones that do participate in community activities lack diversity. As Putnam discusses, those that seek out participation are already interested therefore "eliminating social diversity." (Putnam)

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

In our paper, we explained, "McMillan's study found that while people enjoy the interactivity of the Internet, some use portal sites to customize the information that they receive. Liz, an undergraduate who participated in the study, stated, 'I like that I can go to one of these sites and personalize a page for myself that will then give only the news, stock quotes, horoscope, weather, and information that is relevant to me' (McMillan, 2006, p.79)." This is a clear example of how the Internet provides citizens short-cuts to important news and information. Instead of watching the 5:00 news on television, which presents a variety of news on a wide array of subjects, people customize their e-mail homepages to display only information that has been determined by the user as a "personal preference." It's possible to personalize pages so that they only show news, weather and other information that is relevant to its creator, thus ignoring what is happening outside of one's own personal sphere. For example, there could have been an earthquake in California, but, because your portal only gives you the news for Nowhere, Minnesota, you could completely miss this coverage.

In my final comment, I would like to make the point that this online debate was extremely difficult to follow. The continuous conversation was, due to extenuating circumstances, impossible for me to participate in over the course of the weekend, as might be the perpetual case for someone without an easy and convenient way to access the Internet. As a result, I missed the opportunity to comment in real-time on the arguments being made, and was forced to read through this extensive discussion in which several misunderstandings and misinterpretations occurred. If we had continued to debate face-to-face instead, these problems could have been instantly clarified. In this online debate, it was far easier to ignore a strong comment made by the opposing side if there was not a particularly strong response to follow. When we debated in-person, it was much more obvious which arguments were stronger because the opposing team would be left without a solid response.

Rosie, you said you felt a pressure to join Facebook because, "small groups that I belonged to on-campus were using it as their main vehicle of communication." Small groups using facebook as their main means of communication proves that these groups have found Facebook to be an effective way of reaching their members. If it were not effective I would think they would resort to another communication method. Online outlets have allowed many small groups who may not have the funding for a mailing list, or other means of reaching their members, to contact their members by quick and cheap means. Many organizations have benefited from the convenience of reaching their members by Facebook or group e-mail, as demonsrated by the mass move from mail information distribution to electronic information distribution.

Jess, I see what you are saying- yes, facebook groups may make it easy to reach all of their members. And while there are other methods to reach people, often the means are not taken to do so. Social networking makes mass communication easy which is great for those that are part of it. But those that are not part of it get left behind. This is an example of making the gap between the haves and have-nots even larger. Not just in facebook, but in larger community groups as well. Those that do not have access to the internet or choose not to be part of it are essentially left behind while the "haves" get even more ahead.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

I disagree with Rosie's post stating that personalized online content cuts you off from non-local events. In "Social Implications of the Internet," Paul DiMaggio says that various recent studies "suggest that Internet use serves to complement rather than substitute for print media and offline socialization." He also mentioned a study that showed Internet users are no less active media users offline. From my own personal experience, "personalized" news isn't 100% tailored to your interests, anyway. My homepage is, and even though I set it to the entertainment section when I first signed up, it still features major news headlines when big events happen.

While I agree with Rosie that this online debate was somewhat difficult to follow and much more challenging than the face-to-face debate, I think one of the main points team social change is trying to make is that the internet offers so many new and different means of communication between groups of people. While it is slightly more challenging, all of the members from both teams had the opportunity to post ten times and discuss and present any arguments that they wished here on the blog. Without the internet, this type of assignment would have been impossible to perform. While this seems more difficult than the in-class debate, if this class was a distance education class or a group of online members from all over the world , this type of participation would be one of the only options. While I think we can all agree that the internet should not completely replace face-to-face interactions, it can certainly be used as an auxiliary tool for our communications.

In one of Carleen's earlier posts she mentions how the Internet goes against the Reinforcer's definition of community. The problem there is that traditional definitions of community refuse to adapt to what is actually going on in the world. As evidenced by George Hillary's study done in the 1950s, geographical context has long been deemed the least important element of community. As times change and technology improves, our definitions of community must change along with them. We all know that at least SOME people make meaningful relationships over the Internet, and claiming that these connections aren't part of a community is refusing to give credit where credit is due.

In Laura's most recent post, she says that this assignment would have been impossible without the internet. The library provides books and journals, and people there to help. Saying that it is impossible simply proves how lazy our generation has become due to the internet. We no longer have to make the effort to go find resources. We simply sit at our computer screens and type "internet" into a google search. This also takes away from interaction. I know that going to the library with one of my teammates to get resources for our project provided a face to face interaction and an experience to speak with someone face to face. We were able to collaborate on ideas and speak with the librarian there. This was all done without internet.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

In response to Carleen's post, I was not stating that the paper assignment would have been impossible without the internet. I actually do think that although, it would have been much more difficult, the paper could have been feasible without finding online journals, research, and the assistance of the internet. I was simply stating that this online blog debate assignment would not have been possible to perform without the internet, which shows how important it is to different types of online communities, online discussion groups, and the role it plays with distance education.

Alright, granted an online blog debate would not be feasible, but keep in mind that we are a) substituting this online blog debate for a real face-to-face debate and that b) perhaps this online blog debate is actually hindering our learning experience. Putnam argues in a chapter from Bowling Alone, that mediation online "lowers the threshold for voicing opinions that, like talk radio, it may lead not to deliberation, but din" (Putnam, 2001, p173). This debate may in fact be limiting the content of what people say because there is no on the spot accountability and therefore users can take their time to frame their answers.

The fact that we are able to talk about how we conducted our research for this assignment by means of the internet so easily brings up another problem- the issue of the digital divide. Luckily we are all able to attend and financially support ourselves at a very technology advanced university. We are also all able to have our own personal computers and many of us are also able to have internet access in our homes. This is not always the case, and unfortunately in most situations, those who have the means by which to gain access to internet will continue to have that access and use it to their advantage, while those who cannot will unfortunately be left with the opposite. In Putnam's article Sociologist Castell is quoted: "...access to computer-mediated communication is culturally, educationally, and economically restrictive, and will be for a long time..."

In Alli's last post, she points out that at least some people make meaningful relationships over the internet. But what about all of those that have lost meaningful ties with the increase of internet use? Brashears has found that over the past two decades, the number of ties people can discuss important issues with has decreased. And as previously stated, the loss of social cues affects face to face relationships. Yes, some have made meaningful relationships online, but you are failing to look at the other side of this and some of the negatives it has had on relationships.

By Carleen H. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

In response to one of Carleen's earlier posts, I would just like to ask why exactly facebook further divides the "haves and have-nots." You stated that those who do not have access to internet or those who choose to not be a part of it are left out. How many people in today's technologically advanced society do not actually have access to the internet? Is it that they do not have access, or that they fall into the second group you mentioned, those who choose to opt out? If you are "self-selecting" OUT of a group of people who use the internet, are you not doing the same thing that you claimed the internet does to keep people in specific groups?
The internet is all about choices, and simply allows for another avenue to communicate to and with people, should they choose that path.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

In Emily's last post, she said "those who have the means by which to gain access to internet will continue to have that access and use it to their advantage, while those who cannot will unfortunately be left with the opposite." I would like to know what exactly this "opposite" is, and why, if all the internet does is limit social interaction, and sever deep interpersonal ties, not having the internet is such a bad thing? Many reinforcer group members have said that this blog debate is confusing and a poor subsitute for face-to-face debate, and the project was more than feasible to do without internet based research. If all these things are true, why is it so bad that some people do not have access to the internet, after your group's main points are considered?

By Anonymous (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Sorry, that's my anonymous post above.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

In an earlier post by Rosie, "It's possible to personalize pages so that they only show news, weather and other information that is relevant to its creator, thus ignoring what is happening outside of one's own personal sphere." However, this is not always the case. In a recent Pew study, they found that wired Americans are more aware than non-internet users of all kinds of arguments, even those that challenged their preferred candidates and issue positions. This study demonstrates how although many people are able to just reinforce their current political believes, the majority of internet users are using the internet to gain knowledge on their own political beliefs and those of the opposing side. As stated earlier, while it is the responsibility of the specific individual, the internet does offer both sides to opposing arguments.

Laura, you are correct in saying that the internet does offer people the opportunity to discuss politics with people of various persuasions and read blogs of various biases and views, let us not forget one of the studies we were shown during a lecture. I'm not sure off the top of my head with regard to whose study it was, but it showed that people in face to face contact tend to talk politics with only those they agree with. Because the internet allows you to seek out those sites and message boards where people will agree with you, this is reinforcing one's pre-existing beliefs and ties wtih people that share opinions.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Andrew, while i absolutely aggree with the assertion that people tend to converse with others who have similar beliefs about topics such as politics, you choose exactly who you talk to in face to face conversation. If you're reading a blog, you can't control who posts, and therefore you may be exposed to different viewpoints simply due to lack of control over the conversation. While this may be confusing, it does offer up different viewpoints that may have not been viewed/discussed in face to face situations where the players are deliberately chosen.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Sorry guys, I'm really bad at this whole blog thing-- I keep forgetting to post with my name on it... again, the one above is mine, sorry again!

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Though I do agree with Kai's last post, especially when she pointed out that there is greater time in online forums to think through answers and better frame them in one's favor, I dissagree with the assertion that there is no "on the spot accountability" in online debates. While it may not be quite as immediate as in a face-to-face debate, there is accountability for our posts. Clearly, as evidenced by the posting that has gone on all week, when posts are put up, they are quickly analyzed and responded to by our peers in the class. Also, we are quick to quote from the well thought out posts from our fellow classmates, only to disprove or dispute what they are saying.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Another downfall of the internet that can be easily related to this blog debate is the great potential for online communication to be misunderstood. Putnam notes, "cheating and renerging are more common in computer mediated communication, where misrepresentation and misunderstanding are easier." This can also be related to online dating and social networking sites where people can pretend to be someone they are not. Also, how is "community" being strenghtened when people have this option? Emails and instant messages can be easily and misread as well. If you are not having direct contact with the person as you would if you were face to face or on the phone, this misunderstanding may take much longer to clear up or overcome.

To go along with my previous point, in this blog debate we were told to avoid flaming. Many of us did not have much trouble avoiding this because we were all aware that we were eventually going to have to see the other members of the blog debate face to face. Usually comments that are considered flaming would not have been said if the two people were talking in person. Computer-mediated communication is good for sharing information, gathering opinions, and debating alternatives, but building trust and goodwill is not easy in cyberspace (Putnam).

There have been a great number of posts that reference the divide between the "haves and have-nots" in regards to those who have access to the internet and those who do not. While the reinforcers would like to lead us to believe that the internet is not becoming increasingly available to a wide range of people, this is simply not true. The internet has been expanding into new households and to new users with amazing speed and efficiency. This has been occuring faster than with any other major technological invention in recent times, as "it took 38 years for radio to get a market of at least 50 million users, it took television 13 years to achieve 50 million users... and once it was open to the general public, it is estimated that it took just four years for the Internet to achieve 50 million users (Elon University/Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2004). " Clearly, this huge gap between the "haves and have-nots" is closing at a rapid pace, and the positive impact of the internet will soon reach even more people than before.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Yes, it's true that you don't always have control over who posts, you have control over whether or not you read on once you read something that you disagree with. It's also your choice whether or not you read the omments that people post in response to blogs, and also once you figure out the viewpoints of a certain blog or website, you have the choice whether or not to visit them again. You can also say that this is true in face to face conversation. However, first of all, it's not always possible to avoid conversation wtih people who disagree with you. In addition, it is a much more civil interaction when opposing viewpoints are discussed, as opposed to online where flaming is very easy to do.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Also, the internet is not meant to replace traditional communication methods like face-to-face interaction, phone conversations, or postal mail, it is merely a supplement to all of these. It allows us to continue communication in situations where traditional methods are inefficient or undesireable. "An increasing body of literature suggests that the Internet enhances social ties defined in many ways, often by reinforcing existing behavior patterns (DiMaggio et al (2001))" which promotes the idea that the internet simply allows greater communication and increased connections between people to exist.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

As Professor Nisbet said in class, communication is, A set of social relationships among individuals based on something the individuals have in common, and individuals who hold a common solidarity across an area of life or society. I think people are veering away from what Team Social Change is arguing for. We stand for the fact that according to the definition of community which does not say anything about geographical location or face-to-face contact only internet is an incredible supporter and facilitator for community. Individuals have an idea, charity, job, etc, in common and are able to communicate about these factors that allow citizens of identify themselves with other. The internet makes it easier for all citizens (because it is accessible to many people) to reinforce these social ties.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

My point about not having control of blog posts was that anyone could write on them, meaning there is a greater chance of coming across something that you may not have considered or disagree with. Yes, it is true that you do not have to read something that is opposed to your own line of thought, but you may read out of curiosity or some other motivation. Bare in mind, this does not happen solely on the internet, it occurs in magazines, newspapers, and other forms of print media that are NOT online as well.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

I would like to respond to Kais comment. Yes, the internet allows people to facilitate their lives by looking for only specific topics, politicians, news, etc, humans do this naturally anyway. The internet does not encourage it at all and is unable to allow people to only see certain ideas, products, etc. The internet connects people to millions of other people that you may have never thought that you wouldve been able to meet. It allows people who live in one area to learn about people in a different area.even pop-ups and chain letters via e-mail allow people to get a glimpse of other ideas, products, etc. So yes, it is true that people can choose to only look at certain things online, but we do that naturally anyway, so why is it any different if we do it on the web or without the web. Do people ready every article in the newspaper? Do people generally associate themselves with people of other backgrounds/race/religion? Most likely not.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

The Pew research that was shown in class, displayed that 3% of people met their romantic partner on the internet. This shows that people have not shown a dependency of the internet to meet a romantic partner. Many cyber skeptics have claimed that by using the internet for finding a partner, it allows people to pick and choose qualities in other people people who only have something in common with them. In response to that, Pews research also indicated that 38% of people found their romantic partners at work or at school, which also shows that people are not making an attempt to go out of their comfort zone to find someone. They are finding someone that has a huge common internet with them. This shows that finding someone online is much different or worse than finding someone face to face because we often choose someone that shares a lot of common interests and ideas with us anyway.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Professor Nisbet shared with us that Social capital is thought to be created through interactions that are ideally both bridging (across different groups) and bonding (personally intimate). If people are only attending church groups, going to a university for 4 years or interacting face-to-face with the same group of people on a daily basis, it is nearly impossible for create bridging amongst group of people. The internet allows us to bridge with several groups of people across the world and by using gadgets, such as webcams or e-mail, it allows us to create some bonding as well. Intimacy and bridging often times does not necessarily need to be in person. Internet brings all of these ideas to new and different idea that when used in moderation, can be benefited from.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Jessica pause and look at your last sentence- "The internet makes it easier for all citizens (because it is accessible to many people) to reinforce these social ties." I will not argue against the idea that internet helps reinforce social ties, however I disagree that this helps strengthen a community. While I can understand keeping in touch with people who lives far away via the internet, I dont see the online interactions as encouraging the growth and strengthening of a relationship. In fact they are negative because lacking the physical, face-to-face interactions detracts from those interactions. Further more this is a great example of Norman H. Nie's argument about time displacement- instead of forging new ties with local community members and demonstrating your commitment by showing up face-to-face, you are spending your time on the internet.

In response to Jessica, the issue with internet dating isn't the fact that so many people are doing it. It's the fact that it encourages people to mainly stick to their own kind. We're not saying that seeking out people that you have commonalities is necessarily a bad thing, but the internet definately encourages that, and perpetuates that. The point that we attempted to make in the paper is that the internet reinforces; it was not necessarily about attaching value to this reinforcement.

By Andrew Y. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

I agree with Whitney in that people may come across an idea what they may have not ran into by picking up the newspaper and reading a neutral point of view on a topic. Also, people can very easily just choose to read one article and form their opinion without getting an idea or opposing viewpoint because we tend to interact with people who agree with us politically and socially. By using the internet, people can read opinionated editorials or blogs and expand their ideas and assumptions about the world.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Yes, it is true we were instructed to avoid flaming, which we have successfully avoided in this online debate. But to argue that face-to-face conversation promotes a more civil interaction is hard to believe. How many times have any number of us witnessed a discussion that has escalated into an argument or even a fight? People are fiercely defensive about their personal beliefs, and when someone is right in front of you, you often don't have time to think about your response and can say hurtful, innapropriate, untrue, or just plain ridiculous things. This does not mean that these things should not be said at all, but only goes to show that face-to-face does not necessarily mean a nicer conversation. Also, flaming is not restricted to online conversations. What about inflamatory letters to the editor in the paper, or comments to magazines that may outrage other readers? There are benefits and drawbacks to both forms of communication, but to say one is better than the other is simply untrue.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Also, along with agreeing with Whitney, according to Pews Internet and American Life Project, more and more people are going online to find out about politicians campaigns. This is such an incredibly amazing phenomenon. Before, people often would vote for a politician based on their political party and not as much on the issues. If people are willing to go above and beyond and going online, this allows for people to open their eyes to more ideas and really see who they are voting for. Once people read about the issues, they are able to make more educated votes for people who stand for what they believe is important (jobs, healthcare, oil and security).

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

To go along with my previous point, in this blog debate we were told to avoid flaming. Many of us did not have much trouble avoiding this because we were all aware that we were eventually going to have to see the other members of the blog debate face to face. Usually comments that are considered flaming would not have been said if the two people were talking in person. Computer-mediated communication is good for sharing information, gathering opinions, and debating alternatives, but building trust and goodwill is not easy in cyberspace (Putnam).

Kai, while I agree with both you and Jessica that the internet does stregthen social ties, I completely disagree with the statement that online interactions are "negative because lacking the physical, face-to-face interactions detracts from those interactions." If internet communication is the only option for connection with another person (for whatever reason), how is it negative? Wouldn't some kind of communication be better than no communication at all?

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

In addition, also according to Pews Internet and American Life Project, people read blogs more often that writing them. This also shows societys ability to want to see other viewpoints and read ideas different than their own. The internet is making people more open-minded. This is also great in uniting community because it is showing that people are uniting online and willing to discuss topics that maybe outside of what they usually talk about or are able to argue/discuss topics that people usually have trouble talking about in face-to-face interactions.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

A Pew study shows that 37% of bloggers talk about their personal lives online. In an article called The New Arab Conversation (Professor Nisbet, Ill e-mail you the link) they show how women in the middle east have been using blogs to share their everyday lives, the difficulties they encounter, how they feel and how they deal. This is so important for American society today because we tend to forget about the rest of the world. We unintentionally tend to shut out the thoughts of citizens in other countries because we are so focused on the politics of everything. We forget that there are so many people suffering in Afghanistan and in Iraq while we invade and let politics ruin lives. By reading these citizens blogs, we are more likely to soften our view of these countries and maybe re-think our negative emotions towards these middle-eastern countries. These blogs help community so much because we are able to see and understand things that traditionally we wouldnt have been allowed to know about. The government can no longer hide information from us and we no longer can turn the other cheek its there, in our face and accessible to everyone.

By Jessica K. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

The internet does allow us to read "opinionated editorials and blogs" but the point is, in reference to our many class discussions of this topic, is that people who are interested in the entertainment industry are probably not going to look for blogs about global warming. Conservatives are not going to seek out liberals to talk politics with in a chat room. The internet facilitates our ability to focus one way of thinking and not look for or find alternatives to what we already believe in.

In response to Andrew's post about not always being able to avoid conversation with someone who who has opposing views from you, by saying that in face to face interaction who is to stop you from walking away from the altercation? You can theoretically end a conversation with someone and walk away just as easily as you can sign off or "x" out of a conversation. Also, you say that face to face interaction regarding opposing viewpoints are more civil, but I would like to point out that "flaming" could be equated to yelling in a face to face interaction, so it is very difficult to call one type of communication more civil than the other.

I was re-reading the facebook article fron the New Yorker and I came upon a quote which reads, "So it's not about networking (which is more instrumental), or even about dating (which is far more specific), so much as it is about just mingling." This furthers the point that although Facebook can be made to seem as if it is a great resource to meet people and join groups and be a part of community, in reality it is just time displacement. "Mingling" just consists of the loose ties that are becoming increasingly common to make through the internet and are also becoming increasingly questionable as to if they are really substantial or meaningful.

I agree with Alli's statements about how the internet has increased social interaction and opened dating possbilities for a certain group, and how she demonstrated that this is not diminishing traditional interaction, simply adding another avenue for this type of interaction. But i cannot understand how internet use is the sole reason for a decrease in meaningful ties in American society. Though the number of significant ties has decreased in the past two decades, to attribute this solely to the increase in internet usage seems shaky at best. There must be other reasons for this decrease, as societal norms have changed greatly in this time as well.

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Didn't Putnam support the idea that loose ties were more important or beneficial than significant social ties? Making Facebook all the more important for its ability to broaden the pool of people we electronically mingle with?

By Whitney M. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

In repsonse to Emily's last post, I want to point out that though the internet may allow someone to focus their thinking and what they look at there are chances to look at opposing viewpoints online as well as offline. Homepages like or have links to all types of information which could be equated to the different segments of a television news show. An example of this is in a class power point about blogs that said that 71% of people ages 18-29 encounter science information when online by accident while looking for other information. this demonstrates how it is also likely for internet users to encounter information they had not sought out, similar to how people can when looking in newspapers or on television.

If we were to self-analyze and look at each of our "ties" we would recognize that we have a numerous amount of loose ties that have helped us on a daily basis. For example, a loose tie may be a connection to an internship or job. Regardless of whether they are loose or strong, any ties that we have enhance our social interactions and give us reasons for face to face encounters. Therefore, the internet helps us to make ties, and although they may be loose, they are still useful and necessary.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

In response to Jess S.' post and many comments that the internet makes us more narrowminded and we loose the ability to see other viewpoints, I do agree with her that the internet gives us the ability to see different viewpoints. Most people with strong opinions want other people to share their opinion as well, so they often go on blogs and debate other people so they can see their point. In addition to that, if someone wants to maintain their own opinions they are more than welcome to. They are still gaining the face to face interactions and enhancing their social networks.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

While there may have been negative affects of the internet, we can not ignore all of the social advances it has helped us make. The internet has become a great tool for helping us to meet other people, gain knowledge, and broaden/change our preexisting views. Our argument that the internet has promoted positive social change can be backed up by so much evidence of things that we do in our everyday lives. People will continue to use the internet, but with use of the internet, they will improve their social skills and continue to have face to face conversations. There are definitely benefits to having encounters with other people in person, and in order to maintain a balanced lifestyle, the use of the internet and "real life" encounters with other people are necessary.

By Maeghan S. (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink