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, 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 to online dating, 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. Last week, after turning in their individual papers, students joined up in their teams and squared off in a face-to-face class debate.

But now things get really interesting. Below the fold, I have posted representative position papers from each of the opposing teams. Until Tuesday, December 4, students will continue their classroom debate in the comment section of the blog. In this pane, Team Social Change faces off against Team Reinforcers. 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. (This is the third semester where AU students have engaged in a blog debate over the Internet's impact on community. For past debates, go here and here.)

At issue is the following:

TEAM SOCIAL CHANGE

"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.

VS.

TEAM REINFORCERS

"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
The Case for Cyberoptimism

By Allison D.

Team members: J. Cahan, M. Holman, A. Murphy, & M. Sauer


"The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow," said Bill Gates, founder and CEO of Microsoft. Gates, like others who have benefited from the ubiquity of information technology and the Internet, anticipates that the Internet will play this role as "town square" by facilitating human interactions and enhancing community. However, many skeptics assert that the Internet is actually harming social exchanges and leaves individuals more isolated and unhappy. This skepticism follows a long history of viewing each new form of technology as a change that will erode society. Since the 1800s, Americans have been longing for a closer, warmer, more harmonious type of community that they vaguely attribute to past generations (Elias 1974).

Despite these sentiments, a thorough examination of specific communities that have emerged online provides us with a more optimistic perspective on the Internet's impact on our society. To view the complexities of how communities are being created and shaped by the Internet, it is helpful to explore specific forms of online communities, including patients' online communities, immigrants' cyber-communities, and the political blogosphere. These three categories reveal how the Internet provides information to community members, facilitates interactive dialogue within communities, enhances civic engagement, and enables the building of relationships across geographic boundaries.

What Do We Mean by Community?


In constructing a framework for analysis, the term community must be defined. Sociologists Rodgers and Chen define community as a group of individuals with common interests or purpose who have persistent and ongoing interactions, often governed by a set of policies (2005). According to Elizabeth Bott's book Family and Social Network written in the late 1950's, the community of American families can be seen "not as the local area in which they live, but rather a network of actual social relationships they maintain regardless of whether these are confined to the local area or run beyond its boundaries" (Bott 1957). It is appropriate to explore communities forged by common interest in addition to those formed due to common dwelling place. In fact, two people who are neighbors often do not have a strong and positive relationship (Lee and Newby 1983). Interest groups with voluntary membership can be an extremely powerful form of community. It is also important to note that no studies have proven that engagement in online forms of community and face-to-face community interactions are mutually exclusive. Since online interactions are an addition to offline relations, the Internet should not be evaluated in comparison to traditional forms of community but in terms of its positive or negative contribution to these forms.

Online Patient Support Groups

To view the complexities of the impact that the Internet has had on society, it is helpful to examine specific cases. Patient's online communities, for example, provide a window into the positive role of the Internet. A Patients' Online Community is a social space on the Internet where the chronically ill can gather. This form of interest group, according to Josefsson, is a community of unintended interest (2005). Josefsson researched the cultural and structural aspects of POCs in Sweden. She observed that people who become part of a POC do so because they or someone they love has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. These POCs can often help individuals cope by facilitating coping strategies such as gathering information, contacting others and even helping others. In his article "E-health," Hardey explains that through embedded blogs, POCs allow the chronically ill to "weave interpersonal experience with advice" (2001).

For example, the web site lungcanceronline.org was created by Karen Parles and offers access to in-depth information about lung cancer. Her site provides listings of lung cancer specialists, medical centers, clinical trials, access to journals and links to online support groups. Through her site, she has created a powerful tool for those diagnosed with lung cancer (Ferguson 2000). Lungcanceronline.org, like many other POCs serves four major functions: to provide specific medical information, to provide the chronically ill with opportunities to help others, to provide a space for health education, and to provide spaces for support (Hardey 2001). This web site has also become a useful tool for doctors as they can direct patients to the site for more in-depth information on their condition and specific treatment options.

The POC cyber-communities have myriad benefits. The fact that these communities function on a geographically dispersed basis is crucial. It would be otherwise impossible to create a community of individuals diagnosed with rare diseases if this community was limited to a single locale. POCs also are beneficial because they provide members with anonymity, according to Josefsson (2005). This is especially important for POCs about infertility, impotence, or mental illness. Using screen names, individuals can create community in a safe space and avoid the stigma of face-to-face interactions. Additionally, POCs can help individuals to overcome economic barriers to getting reliable health information. Before the Internet, it would have been nearly impossible for disadvantaged persons to access to information from leading doctors and medical journals. However, today, this content is accessible and searchable for anyone with access to a computer--free at local libraries. Finally, POCs allow individuals a place to develop relationships through asynchronous (e-mail, blogs) and synchronous (chat) communication (Ferguson 2000 and Josefsson 2005).

Empowering Civil Society

In addition to providing a support network for the chronically ill, the Internet has also provided opportunities for civic engagement and community building among minority communities around the world. For individuals who are part of an ethnic minority within their society, the Internet has proven an effective tool for building community cohesion and promoting discourse. For example, the site Drumnation.org is the cyberhome of the non-profit organization Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) which is devoted to the challenges facing low-income South-Asian migrant workers in New York City. In the article "Home, homeland, homepage: belonging and the Indian-American," Mallapragada noted that DRUM uses its online presence to organize South Asian immigrants to advocate just policies for immigrants and unite working-class activists (2007).

DRUM also uses this web site to promote a notion of a shared regional identity, rather than as a Pakistani or as a Sri Lankan. The site's ability to coordinate activities, provide information, and even redefine identification to achieve a collective purpose makes Drumnation.org an example of the Internet's ability to affect social change and galvanize people who are linked both through interest and place.

Another cyber network that mobilizes individuals on similar issues is the membership-based South Asian Women's Network. Its web site, www.sawnet.org uses a discussion-based format, including e-mail, forums, debate, creative writing pieces and more to facilitate discussion about issues relevant to its members, who are South Asian women (Mallapragada 2007). This functions as a marketplace of ideas, an online place to discuss diverse viewpoints and complex issues. Because membership is determined by interest and a connection to a regional identity as South Asian women, this form of community can be especially powerful. Sawnet.org functions as an identity construction mechanism as women use the community it creates and the perspectives it delivers as a lens to view their own identity as South Asian women. Because it crosses state and national boundaries, SAWNET illustrates the value of a social network that runs beyond the boundaries of geography.

The Internet can also be a place for minority groups that are traditionally marginalized within the public sphere to build community and forge relationships. For example, research by David Parker and Miri Song examines the emergence of Internet discussion sites produced by British-born Chinese youth (2007). This online space has been used to facilitate forms of self-expression, produce collective identity, and act on key social and political issues. The two most trafficked web sites, www.BritishChineseOnline.com and www.dimsum.co.uk, among others, have become "accessible public platforms for the articulation of British Chinese viewpoints" (Parker and Song 2007). These sites, among others offer a new dimension of informal public space and, like patients online communities can provide both a source of information and a network of support. The ability to transcend geographic boundaries is also important for British Chinese young people who are spatially dispersed. British Chinese Online, for example, has over 7 million hits each month and over 8,000 registered members (Parker and Song 2007). The opportunity for ongoing dialogue in the context of a real-time forum makes this web site an extremely powerful tool for building community.

Blogs and a Pluralistic Democracy

The Internet has also proven a powerful tool for civic engagement through the use of web logs (blogs). These blogs have contributed to a multi-dimensional media environment that promotes democratic engagement (Kerbel and Bloom 2005). At a basic level, the emergence of blogging allows numerous voices to be heard on issues. According to former blogger and Washington Post journalist, Emily Messner, blogs have impacted society by providing more voices, more accountability for large news organizations and increased speed to enable real-time dialogue (2007). Because blogs are accessible, searchable, and free, they are extremely easy to monitor. The ability of news organizations, political candidates or even individuals to determine the pulse of a specific issue has been greatly facilitated by the Internet. Rather than performing extensive content analysis of the primary news outlets (print, television and radio), one can simply google or search for specific terms on blogspot, for example. The searchability of blogs enables them to be a powerful tool for galvanizing opinions and amplifying voices.

A blog can function as a "watchdog" of traditional power structures. This role has been seen in numerous political situations where bloggers amplified and exploded current events and key issues. For example, CBS news consultant Dotty Lynch pointed to the effectiveness of conservative bloggers in bringing down Harriet Meyers as a candidate for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (American Forum 2007). According to the campaign director of MoveOn.org, Adam Green, the "Internet is tearing down political power structures in our country." His site, with its estimated 3.3 million members is geared toward activating political movement on the left of the political spectrum (American Forum 2007). Another blog, entitled Blog for America features postings that "are a portal to an entirely different world, where people feel engaged in politics and policy, are motivated to take action in the name of a political cause, and believe those actions will make a difference" (Kerbel and Bloom 2005). Unlike traditional news, these and other political blogs rely on comments for their vitality and can be extremely interactive. This enables readers of blogs to be active participants in civic dialogue rather than be passive spectators in a television-centric environment (Bichard 2006).

In addition to providing additional sources for worldview construction, blogs have become hugely important to political campaigns. Especially in the 2004 presidential campaign, blogs were used with incredible intentionality and purpose. According to Shannon Bichard, "blogs have the ability to connect politics with individuals by articulating how and why politics matters to us" (2006). Bichard suggests that blogs were activated to reinforce party frames during the 2004 campaign. Candidates use online avenues to strategically frame themselves on a variety of media platforms (Bichard 2006). The Internet is so essential to both political parties that both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention have created director-level positions to manage the party's online image (American Forum 2007). Many political analysts suggest that the online presence of current candidates will play a crucial role in their efficacy in the election (American Forum 2007).

Beyond these domestic-policy-oriented blogs, other blogs have enhanced Americans' understanding of the world. Messner has observed the value of blogging from war zones and disaster areas. In these instances, individuals can share compelling narratives with the world (2007). These narratives have become even more important as traditional outlets have shrinking budgets for reporting abroad and are steadily decreasing inch space for foreign articles (Hamilton and Jenner 2004). This reflects the ability of blogs to break down walls and enable a global sense of community amid international crises.

Conclusion

These three areas of analysis provide insight into the primary community-enhancing functions of the Internet. First, the Internet has changed the way community members acquire information, by providing free and searchable content. POCs provide in-depth information on a host of medical issues while minority groups' web sites offer information on specific and relevant issues. Similarly, political blogs provide information on political candidates and otherwise ignored political situations. Because this information is free, it breaks down economic barriers to getting medical, legal and political information. Fewer barriers can lead to more integration of individuals from varying socioeconomic backgrounds into communities.

Beyond their function as an information source, these forms of Internet community all facilitate interactive dialogue that is key to maintaining a vibrant community. This reflects the role of the Internet in facilitating "persistent and ongoing interactions" that Rodgers and Chen identify as a component of communities (2005). This interactivity leads to a level of civic discourse that is valuable and necessary to a healthy democracy. The computer mediated synchronous and asynchronous discourse facilitates understanding and involvement. This interaction can also help individuals with chronic illnesses to cope and create support networks.

Additionally, these forms of online interaction enhance democracy. Web sites reflecting the views of immigrants and refugees allow ethnic minority voices to be heard. In the context of political minorities, blogs enable citizens to take on the role of political watchdogs and challenge traditional power structures. Because the Internet has had a powerful impact on presidential politics and foreign policy, it will indirectly shape how both the Internet and community are allowed to function in the future.

Finally, the Internet most significantly enhances community and builds social capital because it allows the development of relationships and interpersonal interactions across geographic boundaries. As stated, this is crucial to the efficacy of POCs, whose members are physically dispersed but can gather in an online space. Minority cyber-communities, such as those for British-Chinese youth and South Asian American women, also function across state boundaries, enabling the development of powerful community-building and identity construction. In the same manner, political blogs can make interaction between Americans from a variety of geographical backgrounds possible.

These four key positive impacts highlight the way the Internet has been used in recent years to enhance the ideal of community that Bott identified in the 1950s, where individuals are freed from geographic boundaries as they build community and interpersonal ties. In this manner, the Internet can enhance existing social relationships and facilitate new social relationships. Instead of following in the trend of wishing for the glory days of harmonious community, it is beneficial to look for opportunities to use the Internet as a tool to develop a closer and warmer type of community both on and offline. By embracing and expanding upon these forms, we can forge community in the global village of tomorrow.

References

Bott, E. (1957). Framing and Social Network. London: Routledge.

Bichard, S. (2006). "Building Blogs: A multi-dimensional analysis of the distribution of frames on the 2004 presidential candidate web sites." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. Vol. 83, No. 2, 329-345.

Elias, N. (1974) "Towards a Theory of Communities." The Sociology of Community. ed. Bell, Colin and Howard Newby. London: Routledge. xiii.

Ferguson, T. (2000) "Online patient-helpers and physicians working together: A new partnership" British Medical Journal, 321, 7269: 1129.

Hall, J., moderator. (2007) "From Grassroots to Netroots: The Impact of the Internet and Other Media Technologies on Politics." American Forum. NPR. WAMU, Washington, D.C. 14 November 2007.

Hamilton, J. M. and Jenner, E. (2004). "Redefining Foreign Correspondence." Journalism. Vol. 5.
Hardey, M. (2001) "'E-health': the internet and the transformation of patients into consumers and producers of health knowledge." Information, communication & society 4(3): 388-405.

Josefsson, U. (2005) "Coping with illness online: The case of patients' online communities." Information Society, Vol. 21, No. 2, 143-153.

Kerbel, M. R., and Bloom, J. D. (2005) "Blog for America and civic involvement." The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 10, No. 4, 3-27.

Lee, D. and Newby, H. (1983) The Problem of Sociology: an introduction to the discipline, London: Unwin Hyman.

Mallapragada, M. (2006) "Home, homeland, homepage: Belonging and the Indian- American Web." New Media & Society, Vol. 8, No. 2, 207-227.

Messner, E. (2007) Lecture. American University, Washington, D.C. 15 October 2007.

Parker, D. and Song, M. (2007) "Inclusion, Participation and the Emergence of British Chinese Web sites." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Vol. 33, No. 7, 1043-1061.

Rodgers, S., & Chen, Q. (2005). Internet community group participation: Psychosocial benefits for women with breast cancer. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(4), article 5.

Team Reinforcers
Glued To Our Screens: How the Internet Hinders Community

by Anna A.

Team members: E. Feuerbach, A. Geisler, J. Musumeci, & A. Romano

The Internet for today's younger generation is embedded into their lives. The Internet is something expected to be seen in classrooms, homes, and even libraries around the world. With each day, we grow more dependent on the computer. Technology is advancing at rapid speeds, and the world is expected to keep up. Even words like "Google" and "the net" have become common knowledge. Many people may argue that the Internet connects million of people worldwide, which increases community. They say the Internet helps maintain old relationships strong and enhances new relationships. Although the Internet does do those things, it actually harms community more then it helps it. In this paper I will show how the Internet actually hinders community by making people socially isolated and distant.

Using the internet allows a person to spend countless hours in a virtual reality, when they should actually be using that time in their real communities they live in. Studies conducted with youth of this generation have shown that "the line separating real and virtual communities is often fluid and permeable. For these participants 'real' communities were those that existed offline. The internet often helped them to develop, manage, and grow these communities, but the communal experience existed firmly in the offline world" (McMillan, 2006, p. 82). I will argue that community must be fostered with face-to-face contact, not through the internet.

What Is Community?

In order to understand why the Internet is harming the sense of community, community first must be defined. Over time, the definition of community has changed to fit technological advances. But the true definition of community is a set of populations "cohabiting a bounded environment with finite resources" (Kayany & Yelsma, 2000, p.217). Community can be seen as "most conventional approach related to people sharing a geographical area" (Crow, 2007). In this way, communities form relationships where everyone knows everyone else. These relationships therefore are more intimate and close because of the face-to-face contact.

This seems vastly different than the newer definition of the word community. According to a recent Pew report, community is now defined as "oriented around geographically dispersed social network...people communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidary community" (Wellman, 2006, p. i). But, this view is not healthy for the close bonds that we get only through the traditional definition of community. In the study conducted by Sally J. Mcmillan entitled "Coming of Age With The Internet," she shows through a series of essays "the potential downside of communities defined by technology and interests, rather than geography and relationships" (McMillan, 2006, p 82). A participant named Lisa commented on the new virtual communities saying, "This type of community should not replace basic social interaction. We cannot become glued to our computers and forgo all other human contact" (McMillan, 2006, p. 82).

The Internet is not like real life. We cannot create virtual communities and say that they are similar to real communities. It is very easy to be anonymous on the Internet, which causes many problems. On the Internet, "even when using one's real name one is relatively anonymous when interacting with people from other cities and countries (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.60). This is a topic that needs to be considered. In traditional communities, people knew each other by their names and faces. This is because there is so much face-to-face contact between cohabitants of the community. However, a person on the Internet can use a hidden identity which can lead to many problems like on social networking sites which I will address later. It also must be noted that on the Internet people can "construct and reconstruct their identity in numerous ways on the Internet--something not possible for the average individual in non-Internet life" (Bargh & Mckenna, 2006, p 60). Thus, people are engaging in behaviors that they would not do in a typical community. They can act in ways that are very different than they would in a real world community.

In the following sections, I will address how the Internet impacts social capital and time spent in communities. I will then show how there is time displacement on the Internet, which leads to social isolation and an absence of social cues. I will also review how cyberbalkanization occurs on the Internet because users can search for like minded people rather than diversifying themselves. I will then show how the Internet hinders community across specific examples using social networking sites, online dating sites, and virtual communities.

Social Capital & The Internet

Social capital is a concept "broadly referring to the ways people connect through their networks, common values within these networks such as trust and reciprocity, and how this constitutes a resource that equates to a kind of capital" (Edwards, 2007). It is also the network and resources people have in their communities to help solve problems. It is comprised of things like trust, knowledge, friendship ties, activity in the community, and so forth.

In Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone, he asks, "whether virtual social capital" is itself a contradiction in terms" (Putnam, 2000, p.170). The Internet is changing the concept of social capital. The truth is that the "internet may be diverting people from true community because online interactions are inherently inferior to face-to-face interactions" (Wellman, 2001, p. 439). Ties online are not as complex as offline relationships and do not provide the same sense of support you can get through face-to-face interactions. The Internet also competes with time for other community activities in a day. The Internet can "draw people's attention away from their immediate physical environment because when they are online they pay less attention to their physical and social surroundings" (Wellman, 2001, p 439). Thus, this is another way in which the Internet detracts from social capital and time spent in a community.

Cyberbalkanization and Time Displacement

The Internet allows people to seek out others who are very similar to them. In this way individuals can "easily find other who share highly specialized interests" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.66). The Internet therefore is used to just reinforce one's current beliefs and feelings rather them become more diverse through face-to-face encounters in traditional communities. This causes problems because in the real world, people are vastly different than us. We have to be able to deal with different people and situations, and the Internet does not prepare us for those kinds of situations.

Putnam notes that "the internet allows us to confine our communication to people who share precisely our interests" (Putnam, 2000, p. 177). Ultimately this leads to problems in the real world, where diversity has to be dealt with. As Putnam's article states, "In cyberspace we can remake the world out of an unsettled landscape." (Putnam, 2000, p. 178). However, in the real world we are forced to deal with diversity. Increased communication on the Internet therefore will cause less diverse groups and a narrower group of like minded people. Eventually we will only care about certain things that matter to us and we will "[know] and [care] about less and less" (Putnam, 2000, p. 178).

Another issue with the Internet is time displacement. Real life scenarios require immediate responses to a situation. However, on the Internet, an individual "can take as much time as he or she needs to respond to another person on the Internet" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.66). This causes problems because a person can carefully craft what they want to say on the Internet, whereas in real life they need to be quick and spontaneous. This poses a problem particularly for the youth of this generation, because they use the Internet all the time. They need to be able to learn the proper skills to react in situations rather than just relying on endless response time through the Internet.

Loss Of Social Cues and Social Isolation

Not only does the Internet decrease time spent in community, but it also leads to a loss of social cues and social isolation. Especially in the youth of today's society, if the amount of time having face-to-face interactions in decreasing, "there may be significant consequences for their development of social skills and their presentation of self" (Brignall, 2005, p.337). Also, "individuals who lack the normative communication, cultural, and civility skills in a society would find it difficult to interact with others successfully" (Brignall, 2005, p.337). The Internet allows individuals to spend countless hours by themselves on the Internet, and they have no need to learn the skills to have face-to-face interactions with others. Thus this poses a problem because of the social isolation. Face-to-face interactions require emotions, quick responses, and gestures that cannot be experienced online. Often times, things can be miscommunicated on the Internet. This causes problems because it gives the individuals "little practice on how to maintain stable relationships in the real versus the virtual world" (Brignall, 2005, p.340). A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon concluded that "the Internet leads to significant increases in loneliness and depression" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.58). The researchers found that online people "behave more bluntly" than they would face-to-face. Thus, this further proves the loss of social cues online.

Since many misunderstandings occur, "greater hostility and aggressive responses, and nonconforming behavior are more likely to occur in computer-mediated interactions than in interactions that take place face to face (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.61). Also, on the Internet since one is basically anonymous, visual cues and appearance are not present like they are in the real world. This therefore will "alter the course of interactions and relationship formation" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.61). Without these social cues, which can be ignored using the Internet, people can make themselves seem different online as opposed to the real world. The Internet allows individual to construct themselves in different ways. They can do this because people on the Internet "have no prior conceptions or expectations about the kinds of identities or roles which this person should adhere" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.61). However, this may not be good for community because a person can basically mold themselves into someone they aren't which is not good for society.

Putnam notes that "computer mediated communication transmits much less nonverbal information than face-to-face communication" (Putnam, 2000, p. 175). Non-verbal signs of communication like gestures, emotions, are very important aspects to building relationships. Without these visual cues, the strength of relationship weakens. Therefore, the nonverbal communication on the internet lack the nuances of face to face contact like "eye contact, gestures, nods, body language,, a faint furrowing of the brow, even hesitation measured in milliseconds" (Putnam, 2000, 175). This leads to a lack of trust, and a less strong relationship between the two people in a relationship. These aspects must be present in order to "truly understand what others are communicating to them" (Putnam, 2000, p. 177).

Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites are good to look at when studying the Internet, because many of the users are of the younger generation who use the Internet regularly. Social networking sites are ones in which users build person pages of themselves, where they are able to post pictures, communicate with others, and share personal information. 55% of teens ages 12-17 have used social networking sites like Myspace or Facebook, according to the PEW life reports on Social Networking Websites and Teens (Lenhart, 2007, p. 2). The study also concluded that 48% of those teens visits social networking sites daily (Lenhart, 2007, p. 2). However, these sites are used to reinforce one's current beliefs and values. Often times, users can easily seek out others who are very similar to them, or have similar interests. In this way, they are only reinforcing personally held beliefs or values. They create a very narrow set of friends who all are similar to them. Facebook is often used before college to meet new friends, however, most the "new" friends having something in common with the person and is very different than meeting people in the traditional face-to-face method. When meeting people for the first time, you encounter many different kinds of people, but the Internet allows users to seek out others who are similar to them. This detracts from the diversity of groups that occur in real world communities.

Sometimes an individual on a site will mold themselves to fit in better on these sits. Often times, an individual may "misrepresent themselves by feigning a different gender, skin color, sexual orientation, physical condition, or age" (Brignall, 2005, p.337). This proves how one can simply change to fit in on the Internet. However, as already stated people need to learn diversity and differences because that is the way the real world works.

Online Dating

Online dating is another arena to be looked at when seeing how the Internet hinders community. Services such as E-harmony or Match.com allow people to put up personal information and upload pictures and then they can search for others they want to meet. In the article "The Truth About Online Dating" by Robert Epstein, he concluded from studies that, "20% of online daters admit to deception" ( 2007). As already stated, being online allows a person to be anonymous, which can lead to deception. In the article, studies suggest that people use screen names instead of their real names, thus their "ramblings are anonymous and hence not subject to social norms" (Epstein, 2007). Also, as mentioned before the lack of social cues allow people to post whatever they want. Online contact has "no visible communication gestured to keep people's behavior in check" (Epstein, 2007). Therefore this leads to people creating their ideal self rather than their real one.

E-harmony claims that it can match people for long term compatibility. However, a team of credible authorities including Philip Zimbardo, former president of the American Psychological Association, said that "there is no evidence that...scientific psychology is able to pair individuals who will enjoy happy, lasting marriages" (Epstein, 2007). Therefore, this shows that this online dating is no better than the traditional meet and greet way of meeting a potential person to date. By having people rely on these websites, it only causes more time spent on the Internet, when people should really be spending their time meeting people in their community.

In the article "How Do I Love Thee?" by Lori Gottlier she talks about the use of Internet dating services. Match.com was the first site that appeared in 1995 and people could meet others who shared "their criteria in terms of race, religion, height, weight, even eye color and drinking habits" (Gottlier, 2006, p. 58). These online dating sites "devised special algorithms for relationship-matching, developed sophisticated personality questionnaires, and put into place mechanisms for the long-term tracking of data" (Gottlier, 2006, p. 58). However, this points out how people will just meet people similar to them and not go out and date the old fashioned way. The Internet therefore begins to tailor to their personality types, which is not the way to meet people. Online profiles cannot simply represent what a person is like. The only way to get this is through face-to-face contact.

Virtual Communities

The newest types of communities are "virtual" communities where people can meet others and live a life with them through The Internet. Although there are not many published journal articles on the subject, the current trends in newspapers and other articles suggest that research will be done on the subject soon. These communities however are not good for society. They only take away time spent in the community and the relationships are virtual and not as strong as traditional community relationships.

According to Time Magazine's article "Internet Dating 2.0", a new company iDATE has users "meet, court, virtual date and even marry without ever leaving home or taking to trouble to actually meet your intended" (Gates, 2007). The conference coordinator from iDATE Mark Lesnick said, "people don't have time, do they date online" (Gates, 2007). Another similar company called OmniDate, allows individuals to go to a virtual restaurant with an animated date. "Both parties work keyboards and save thousands of calories on the five-course Italian dinner" (Gates, 2007). You can do everything you would on a date from your home "without abandoning the comfort of your pajamas" (Gates, 2007). However, this service is not good for community. There is no face-to-face contact, and the individuals never even meet. As I have already mentioned, you cannot build strong relationships without social cues and face-to-face contact.

Conclusion

Community was traditionally a place where people interacted face-to-face on a daily basis. In this way, there was a lot of social capital and time spent in the communities. However, when the Internet developed the concept of the community changed. Time spent in community has decreased, and face-to-face interaction is less frequent. Due to this, social capital has decreased over time. Since there is less face-to-face interaction in communities, there is a loss of social cues and people are socially isolated. This puts people on the Internet at risk for acting in ways they normally wouldn't in real communities, and also for being lonely and isolated. The Internet also causes people to seek out others who are like them, and reinforce current beliefs in values. In this way, they are not diversifying themselves but rather they are forming a more like minded group.

Time spent on the Internet takes away from the time spent in real communities. No matter what way it is looked at, interacting on the Internet and in real communities is completely different. Traditional communities are full of diversity, and social capital. On the Internet however, an individual can stay online for hours in their own world never experiencing diversity or much social capital. This can be seen through social networking sites, online dating sites, and in virtual communities. The current research on social networking sites, online dating sites, and virtual communities all point to the detrimental effects that the Internet has on community.

Although the Internet increases communication worldwide, it is not good for society as a whole. If we keep using the Internet as we are, we will slowly turn into a society where there is virtually no face-to-face communication and everyone is socially isolated. It is important to note that face-to-face communication is what strengthens and builds relationships. As a society, we should rely less on the Internet and spend more time in our communities. In this way, we will be able to foster old relationships, diversify ourselves, and create social capital.

References


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