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 college students, having grown up "online," it's easy to take for granted the "virtual" society we live in, seldom pausing to consider how it might be different from more traditional forms of community life.

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, Cyber-Optomists square off against Cyber-Skeptics. Until Tuesday, May 1, they will continue their classroom debate in the comment section of the blog. In the other blog pane, Team Social Change squares off against Team Reinforcers.

Each individual student will be evaluated on the frequency and quality of their posts, drawing on research and evidence to back up their claims.

At issue is the following:

CYBER-OPTIMISTS and 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.

CYBER-SKEPTICS and THE 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.

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Cyber-Optimists

From Face to Facebook: A Transformation of the 21st Century Community


Kristian H., Candace K., Alissa O., Jason P., & Maria .

At 7:15 am on April 16, 2007, a shooting was reported in a dormitory on the main campus of the Virginia Technological Institute. Within hours, thirty-two people had been massacred across campus, in what became the deadliest college shooting in U.S. history. While threatening the lives and shocking the nerves of people around the country, the horrors of the Virginia Tech massacre highlighted a global community we have recently grown to utilize and accept. The mass mobilization of people and news following the tragedy showcased the many mediums of communication available and the positive and productive means of connecting people for a common good.

This event serves as an example of just how imperative technology and computer-mediated communication has become in the past twenty years. Less than two hours after the first shooting--though criticized for its tardiness--an e-mail informing everyone of the first shooting was sent to the 36,000 members of the Virginia Tech community. Shortly after, press releases swarmed the internet informing all media outlets of the incident.

Online communities and social networking sites were immediately utilized in order to find out whether family and friends were safe. News, blogs and personal sites became outlets for intercommunication and a means to better understand the tragedy as the events of the day became clearer. Considering that at the time of writing this paper we were in the initial stages of crisis management, the use of such communication resources highlighted the importance of the internet to the community.

The internet has transformed our world into a global community where each individual plays the role of not only a local civilian--but on a grander scale--the role of a global citizen. The internet acts as a "cerebral cortex" that connects every individual user to every part of the world. With the help of internet technology and computer-mediated communication, we are able to interact with people from anywhere in the world. The internet builds social capital by bridging (across different groups) and bonding (strengthening personally intimate ties) (Putnam, 2000, pg. 23). The internet also facilitates the creation of loose ties, or in other words, it allows the user to have more "connections."

This paper will aim to further our understanding of how the internet has positively influenced the interrelations of community and communication through examples and comparisons of recent studies. Indeed, technology has redefined the connection between community and communication. We will specifically explore how the internet has changed civic participation, social networking, religious groups, crisis communication, and education.

"There have been fears in every generation that community has been "lost" and hopes that it has been "saved" (Wellman, 2001). Our argument lies within the theory that community has not been lost, but simply transformed. New communications and technologies are constantly reshaping the world, and the idea of community is no exception to change. Personal and face-to-face contact will never vanish, but social interactions are not the same as they were just ten years ago. Community and communication have had to change to fit a new era of technological advancement, and these modifications will continue to fit the new advancements of the future.

Community: Won't you be my neighbor?

Technological advancements have brought our world to a profound level of global interaction, thus forming new dimensions of community. The emergence of innovative types of communities parallels this growth of technology. Robert Putnam highlights the importance of a sense of belonging as the definitive aspect of community. Through a traditional community lens, the deepest sense of belonging we have is to our most intimate social networks, especially family and friends, followed by work, church, neighborhood, and civic life (Putnam, 2000). Barry Wellman brings a similar light to the term "community" and states that "it is a multi-meaning word that in Western societies, has traditionally been anchored in neighborhood interactions and enshrined as a code word for cohesion" (Wellman, 2001).

Internet technology has helped to create many new dimensions of community, breaking geographical barriers and allowing people to virtually connect while existing across the globe. "The traditional human orientation to neighborhood and village-based groups is moving towards communities that are oriented around geographically dispersed social networks" (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman & Rainie, 2006).

The most important factor, in regards to community and today's level of technological advancement is the indispensability factor. When looking at the Virginia Tech shootings, the internet instantly connected a campus community as large as 36,000 people with information that potentially saved their lives. Furthermore, online social networking sites enabled interaction between thousands of smaller communities and linked a greater networked community making it possible for family members and friends to assure the safety of their loved ones.

Making Sense of the Plethora of Information

Applebee's America (Fournier, Sosnik, Dowd, 2006) makes clear that the American public is faced with an overwhelming amount of information. While Americans had a choice between two or three TV networks in the 1950s, today consumers of information can pick among 200 channels and an endless profusion of internet sites. Nowadays, Americans are constantly connected, from instant messaging, text messages, e-mails, cell phones and other information news outlets. More and more, Americans are becoming reliant on people they trust to help them make very important decisions in their lives. The authors call these people navigators and they have been useful in guiding the recent political process. As they are described, "a navigator is anybody who influences an opinion in peer-to-peer conversation" (Fournier, Sosnik, Dowd, 2006).

In the 2004 political campaign, Bush used these navigators to win the election. After coming to an understanding of the strategy used by the Bush campaign, election marketing gurus Ed Keller and Jon Berry knew that the election was already decided by early spring 2004 when Berry told his partner, "It's over, Bush will win." The Bush campaign's plan was to use seven million volunteers to build a database of two million self-identified navigators. These people would play a critical role in writing letters to the editor, talking politics, forwarding emails or attending public meetings in order to get voters to the polls on Election Day. The internet made this all possible because of the two-way flow of information between the members of the grassroots and the campaign itself. The success of the Bush campaign demonstrated a bolstering of human interconnectivity. According to Applebee's America, the greatest accomplishment of the Bush team was in the use of human resources, which was made possible through the internet and virtual communities.

As Mark Halpern and John F. Harris wrote in their book The Way to Win, "presidential campaigns are about storytelling. A winning presidential campaign presents the candidate's life story to the voters." Halpern and Harris's analysis of success evaluates the 2004 election and looks forward to future campaigns. The lessons of 2004 showed that a better connection to the voters through blogs and virtual communities is exemplarily of the positive effects of the internet and the community it fosters. "Who would you rather have a beer with?" became the casual question that won Bush the election. Furthermore, it was through the bottom-up, grassroots method that these messages were achieved--an objective improvable without the use of the internet.

Beyond needing a personable candidate, Halpern and Harris emphasize personability and strong relationships. "Be nice to your donors, cater to your political supporters, stroke your volunteers, but above all else, return our phone calls." While the two authors do not discuss online communities, as the Applebee's America does, Harris and Halpern do emphasize a fundamental difference in the two campaigns. The losing campaign did not care about or value relationships, while the winning campaign did. The Bush team focused on these connections and built a strong unified, seven million person community as a front to win the election.

Social Capital and Civic Ties

Applebee's America outlines the role of an active citizen. "Across America, people are investing their time on their own terms to be a part of self-serving groups that make things happen" (Fournier, Sosnik, Dowd, 2006, p. 149). Americans are getting involved in the world around them through the increasing means to do so. When campaigns require civic engagement, seven million people volunteer themselves. When a tragedy strikes a college campus, human interconnectivity is heightened through Facebook messages where events and groups are created instantaneously. "They are creating what Putnam calls 'social capital,' the measure of civic activity and personal connections that improve the quality of life" (p. 149). It is this argument presented in Applebee's America that directly corresponds to the idea of increased civic engagement with increased ability to be engaged.

These are unsettling times. The war on terror, the war in Iraq, economic insecurity, a spate of natural disasters, the loneliness and isolation of a highly mobile, hard-wired populace in an era of sprawl--these things and more create an emptiness in America. This is a nation filled with people searching for assurance from one another or the sense of purpose they can get from causes greater than themselves. (p. 149)

As Applebee's America spells out the need for increasing number personal ties in these troubling ties, the plethora of online mediums answers this plea. From crisis management to a simple friend, the Internet has not only enabled a greater amount of civic engagement, moreover, the public has reached a greater ability to interact on new levels.

Facebook: Not Quite a new Form of Face-to-Face, but Close


The world was able to observe this new world community created by the internet and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook because of the tragedy that occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech last Monday. Following the shooting, the vast number of cell phones utilized on campus flooded the circuits, and prevented many students from calling home to let friends and family know they were unharmed. Thus, students turned to these networking sites as their form of communication, and responded immediately to words of inquiry for their safety posted by friends and family on many of their MySpace and Facebook posting walls. Likewise, students were able to edit their status bars on Facebook so they would read messages announcing their safety for everyone to see.

Within hours of the shooting, these sites became places of collective mourning and tribute as well. Among the American University network, a Facebook Event was created and sent as an invite to hundreds of students across campus to attend a late night vigil at the school's spiritual center, resulting in a standing room only event the very night of the shootings. Moreover though, Virginia Tech students began to create Facebook groups in memoriam of the 32 dead students, which even before the mainstream media, began to list the names of the fallen among the group descriptions. As such, the wall posting boards for these groups became places to express empathetic condolences, sympathy and anecdotes of those who had been killed in the tragedy--these including a posting of thanks by the older sister of one the victims, who while still at her own college the night of the shooting, found solace in the mourning and support of others through the Facebook group. The actual profiles of those fallen students also remain as lasting memorials to their lives as they stood the morning of April 16, 2007 (Pelofsky, 2007).

With this event, it is clear that although social networking sites were used as an active form of communication and promotion of community togetherness, they in did not necessarily deter the ultimate goal of making face-to-face or voice-to-voice connection with family or friends among users; the internet only assisted in this effort. A social networking site is defined by the Pew Internet and American Life Project as "an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him or her to other users" (Lenhart, 2007). With this, researchers at the University of Kansas and Kent State University conducted a study of college students as a snap shot of a demographic that often uses social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. The study aimed to find truth in the claim that there is a trade-off of social interaction between online interactions and other forms of social interaction, a trade off that could have arguably occurred during the Virginia Tech event.

However, the results of the study refuted the common notion among some social scientists that there is that trade-off. The study found that social internet use does not impact the quantity of communications among other media like face-to-face or telephone conversations. In fact, the researchers concluded that the more a person communicated with another via the internet, the more likely they were to communicate with that person face-to-face or by telephone. The argument that face-to-face conversations promote "richer" interactions was also refuted. "The quality of online interactions was lower than that of face-to-face conversations, but only by the slimmest of margin." Thus, "instead of a trade-off between high quality face-to-face conversations and lower quality internet interactions, students are supplementing high quality face-to-face conversations and telephone calls with really good internet interactions." In actuality, the researchers concluded that any argument claiming such a trade-off of interactions or impediment upon social interaction existed was in their words "shaky at best" (Baym et al., 2004).

Education Development and Internet Technology

Weaving both the political and social aspects together, the internet has changed the face of education in countless forms. Since its introduction, the realm of knowledge has taken on a completely new dimension. From scholarly search engines to instant messaging, the internet provides numerous resources that are globally accessible and aid to further educational possibilities. One study done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that students have had largely positive academic experiences with the internet. Seventy-nine percent of college students reported that Internet use has had a positive impact on their college academic experience. Nearly half reported that e-mail enables them to express ideas to a professor that they would not have expressed in class (Jones, 2002).

The internet is now a fundamental teaching tool from secondary, through professional education. Traditional educational communities that once revolved around libraries and academic gatherings are now able to reach new levels of connectedness with the help of virtual access to millions of scholarly databases, resources, people, and ideas. In the realm of higher education, the internet plays an indispensable role. Research is now primarily conducted on the internet, the majority of communication between professors and students is conducted via email or IM, and the campus community is solidified by the internet. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of college students say they use the internet more than the library, while only 9% said they use the library more than the internet for information searching (Jones, 2002).

The college demographic is exceptionally interesting in regard to online educational experiences because Generation Y has grown up in an online environment. The internet is a vital component of our social, personal and educational lives.

Crisis Communication: Use of the Internet when Times are Tough

When crises arise, the framework of any and every type of community is threatened, and each individual adds to the sum of community awareness, participation and support. Just as we have seen with the events at Virginia Tech, regardless of the scale of community, when any group of people are in a state of emergency there are fundamental relief and support aids that people seek.

Of the many mediums of communication, the internet allows for the most access to knowledge, communication, and social networking--factors which are essential to the alleviation of an emergency. Online crisis communication consists of numerous branches that intersect to neutralize the impact of any particular calamity. Warning systems, news updates, search engines, social networking sites, blogs, and social support groups all greatly facilitate access to vital information that can help to save lives.

The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 serve as an example of not only a national rise in online connectedness, but a global increase in awareness. One study which evaluated the connection between community participation and internet use after the attacks reported that individuals who participated in online communities, through posting and reading thoughts about the attacks, were also more likely to participate in real communities, demonstrating complementary patterns of online and local community participation (Dutta-Bergman, 2006)).

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina brought forth a national cry for help when more than 500,000 families were forced to evacuate the city of New Orleans. The internet served as a crucial tool in the unification of the country for immediate relief and support systems to help the victims. "Reports suggest that evacuees, and people who helped evacuees, used the internet to find family and friends, to search for updates on the state of their neighborhoods, to search for housing and jobs, and to exchange needed services, goods, and monetary aid" (Shklovski, 2005). The traditional neighborhood communities of New Orleans had been both physically and psychologically destroyed, and the internet came to serve as a life saving bridge that reunited families, friends, and communities. Without the virtual world there would have been little hope to restore the old ties that these families once had.

War is a time of crisis that precisely tests the strengths of community, communication and rationality of any nation. The Iraq War has been a focal point of all of the different mass mediums for the past six years, but the internet has added a new dimension of global connectedness that allows individuals all over the world to share their experiences, opinions, and insights. More than three-quarters of online Americans (77%) have used the internet in connection with the Iraq War. They are going online to get information about the war, to learn and share differing opinions about the conflict through the sending and receipt of e-mails and to offer their thoughts and prayers to those involved. In addition, a smaller portion of internet users are using email to mobilize others and gain support for their views about the conflict (Raine, Fox & Fallows, 2003).

The blogosphere also plays a key role in social networking and connectivity in order to gain support for individual views. People from all over the world are launching blogs and attracting online traffic, which create a virtual community, to represent their views. Technorati is now tracking over 70 million weblogs, and the world is seeing the creation of about 120,000 new weblogs each day. That's about 1.4 blogs created every second of every day (Technorati, 2007). Blogs allow people who would have never gotten the chance to meet otherwise, to converse.

Conclusion

Now that we find ourselves in the most technologically advanced era in history, it is impossible to avoid the impressive influence the internet has had in regard to all aspects of our lives. The definitions of community and communication have undergone infinite changes throughout the past twenty years. Internet technology has redefined every individual's place in the world and proven that we are no longer solely part of our local community, but rather members of a global society that connects every individual user to every part of the world. Geographical barriers have been broken down by computer-mediated communication, and the internet has facilitated the development of social capital through vast social networks, virtual communities, greater loose ties, and strengthened existing ties.

The examples used throughout this paper prove that internet technology is an incredibly powerful tool that enhances all branches of communication. "The careful examination of actual internet use in its numerous forms should be organized by the task of discerning, recognizing and articulating the empowering aspects of the technology as they arise out of the everyday lives of real people in particular situations" (Bakardjieva, 2003). The internet serves as a tool that adds a new dimension of communication to the global community. From civic participation and education, to social networking and crisis management, the internet has positively influenced our world.

Observing unfortunate events that occurred at Virginia Tech last week, it is clear that the internet is an indispensable form of communication in today's world. The efficiency, accessibility, rapidity, and connectivity to which the internet provides is unmatched in comparison with any other form of communication. Without the internet and its elevation of such communication, the Virginia Tech tragedy could have escalated to devastating heights. A new form of online community was spurred because of this tragedy, and continues to develop.

Our argument does not aim to negate the value of traditional community or traditional face-to-face contact, but rather, to show its transformation. Traditional communities are still alive today and face-to-face contact will never squander, for it is the essence of humanity. But it is clear that community and communication change, even on a daily basis, and there is no way to halt these changes.

Ultimately, we cannot reestablish the traditional communities of the 1950s. Instead, we must embrace the changes in our world because such changes are unyielding. As long as we are progressing socially and technologically, communities and communication methods will simultaneously transform to fit these changes. The internet is an integral part of the lives of 21st century citizens, and will only empower those who take advantage of it. The advancements that the internet has brought us thus far have miraculously transformed our society and simplified numerous aspects of our lives. We must look not behind us to try to grasp what is now gone, but ahead to broaden the possibilities of what lies ahead.


Bibliography

Bakardjieva, Maria. (2003). Virtual Togetherness: an Everyday-life Perspective. Media, Culture & Society, Vol. 25, No. 3, 291-313.

Baym, Nancy K., Zhang Yan Bing, and Mei-Chen Lin. (2004). Social Interactions Across Media. Sage Publications. 299-316.

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

Feldstein, Lewis M. & Putnam, Robert D. (2003) Better Together: Restoring the American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Fouriner, Ron, Matthew J. Dowd, David B. Sosnik. (2006, September 5). Applebee's America: How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jones, Steve. (2002). The Internet Goes to College: How Students are Living in the Future with Today's Technology. Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Lenhart, Amanda, Madden, Mary. (2007). Social Networking Sites and Teens: An Overview. Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Mohan J Dutta-Bergman (2006). Community Participation and Internet Use after September 11: Complementarity in Channel Consumption. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11 (2), 469-484.

Pelofsky, Jeremy. "Facebook Becomes Bulletin Board for Virginia Tech." Yahoo. 1 Apr. 2007. Reuters. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from .

Putnam, Robert D. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Raine, Lee, Susannah Fox & Deborah Fallows. (2003). The Internet and the Iraq War. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.actonvision.com/Market_Research_PDF/pew_American_life.pdf.

Sifry, David. (2007 April). The State of the Live Web: April 2007. Technorati. Retrieved April 20, 2007, from http://technorati.com/weblog/2007/04/328.html.

Shklovski, Irina, Robert Kraut & Sara Kiesler. (2005). Adapting to Evacuation: Using Information Technology for Social Support. Human Computer Interaction Institute- Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.cs.cmu.edu/People/irinas/pubs/KatrinaProposal.pdf

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Cyber-Skeptics

How the Internet Hinders Communication

Brittany A., Christina F., Cory C., Ryan K., Remy P., Marlisa S.

The internet has expanded the way many people communicate with others in their community, bringing with it opportunity, but also many draw backs. When defining community, one may think back to the traditional view of community which first takes place within a certain location, such as a city or town, and how people who make up the community communicate with one another (M. Nisbet, personal communication, March, 26 2007). Classically, this would involve face to face communication and bonding, which ultimately can nourish a relationship and transform it into something deeper and more significant. While the internet does provide another means of communication, it is also the basis of heavy debate as to whether or not it helps promote communication within a community, or is only expanding a superficial network of contacts. From the point of view of a cyber skeptic, while the internet does provide some positive opportunities, bonding and furthering meaningful relationships is lost online. According to author Robert Putnam, there are five concepts that support the basis that the internet is hindering communication, which are cyber balkanization, loss of social cues, the digital divide, reinforcement, and time displacement.

While the internet seems to be a vast wonderland, bringing many different types of people together to expand their communities, in actuality cyber balkanization often occurs. Cyber balkanization is the effect of people looking for people who are similar to themselves to interact with online (M. Nisbet, personal communication, March, 26 2007). This may include people with similar interests or opinions. Real world interaction offers people with different social and political views and interests to communicate and engage in dialogue, with the possibility of creating new ties with different people and hearing a variety of opinions. However, the internet can promote homogenous interactions based on similar interests and personal outlooks (Putnam, 2000, p. 178) because people are looking for others who share their own predispositions.

The loss of social cues can develop from replacing face to face communication with communication online. The internet is a forum for communication which attracts many social people; however, according to Putnam (2000) "the net disproportionately attracts civic dynamos and sedates them," (p. 171). Essentially, limiting one's communication to mostly online communication can cause people to lose their ability to effectively communicate in person due to the lack of in-person social experience. Whitty and Gavin (2001) wrote that there are theorists who believe in "the social presence theory" and/or "the social context cues theory," both of which describe the loss of social cues from online communication due to such factors as fewer non verbal cues (facial expression, posture, etc) and the decline of personal communication from lack of social presence (p. 624).

The digital divide is the "social inequality of access to cyberspace," (Putnam, 2000, p. 174). Instead of bridging the gap between social and racial groups and creating social capital, the internet is furthering this division due to its select availability to privileged groups of people. According to Putnam (2000) this can result in a cyberapartheid, which makes "elite networks" less available to minorities and people of a lower socioeconomic class (p. 175).

The internet also provides a reinforcement element for its users, which is similar to the telephone (M. Nisbet, personal communication, March 26, 2007). Both of these means of communication "have had the effect of reinforcing, not transforming or replacing existing personal networks," (Putnam, 2000, p. 168). Therefore, while the internet does allow people to maintain contact with others, it does not allow them to transform their relationships into something more meaning and significant. Also, instead of opening up new possibilities, Americans use the phone and internet to further pursue a way of life they would have originally (Putnam, 2001, p. 169).

The internet can also cause time displacement, during which avid internet users are using their time online, rather than in face to face communication. Internet users spend "hours during which they are away from their family and friends, resulting in depression and loneliness for the individual user, and further weakening neighborhood and community ties," (Bargh & McKenna, 2004, p. 574). Instead of reinforcing existing relationships, the time displacement factor can cause distress in already formed relationships.

Although Putnam focuses his cyber skeptic argument on five basic points, we will focus our argument on the internet's role in online relationships and social networking, the digital divide, and hacking. The internet can help its users meet other people through social networking websites, such as Facebook; however these relationships are often shallow and impersonal in comparison to relationships that are established and maintained through face to face contact. We will also explore the digital divide and the unfair advantage that those of a certain demographic have over others in access to the internet and its opportunities, which instead of bringing a community together, is actually creating a further divide. Lastly, cyber hacking is a side effect of internet use that can result in fraud and identity theft. These three factors help internet users communicate with a large social network of shallow ties rather than create and maintain deep significant ties, which results from face to face communication.

Online Relationships and Social Networking

The internet develops a less socially conscious character, which largely develops on online networking and dating sites, specifically among young adults and teens (Whitty, 2001, p. 626). Slow social development and lack of social cues can inhibit a person's ability to move forward in society. They are unaware of what nonverbal cues they maybe sending others and what nonverbal cues others may be performing. Particularly, in romantic love, women and men find it difficult to develop healthy relationships when they are unaware of nonverbal communication (Whitty, 2001, p. 626).

Studies have shown that a relationship conceived on the internet does not have much hope of lasting because partners are unable to identify each other's emotions and men and women tend to look for different aspects in an online partner. Each sex also tends to lie differently; men lie about personal topics, while women tend to lie simply to protect themselves from any harm (Whitty, 2001, p 628). These dishonest strategies coincide well with the argument that men believe an online relationship is "shallow and meaningless," (Whitty, 2001, p 629).

The reason why online relationships, not only romantic ones, are so shallow and meaningless is because there is a loss of cues that signify all the typical factors people desire in a relationship. Factors like trust and honesty, but most of all the fact that two people can be completely different (Whitty, 2001, p. 630), but when they meet online all boundaries are down because they can not differentiate between the online world and reality (Whitty, 2001, p. 627).

Digital Divide

It is undeniable that the internet provides it's users with a wealth of information and paves the way for social change through communication. However, as with many other privileges, there is unequal access to the internet which comes in the form of the "digital divide". This term refers to "inequalities in access to the Internet, extent of use, knowledge of search strategies, quality of technical connections and social support, ability to evaluate the quality of information, and diversity of uses," (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001, p. 310). The internet is a powerful tool, however there are documented differences of its usefulness and accessibility, both of which favor those who are college educated, white, of high socioeconomic status, and under 55 years old. The internet is also used more by males in urban settings (DiMaggio et al, 2001, p. 311). This secludes a large portion of the population from internet access and all the opportunities it has to offer, such as up to date news, social networks, jobs, access to political and social dialog, and much more (DiMaggio et al, 2001, p. 310).

There is a large divide between internet access in urban and rural areas as well. Due to the high population of poverty stricken people in urban areas, these libraries are more likely to have high speed internet access than libraries in rural areas who serve a lower number of poverty stricken people (DiMaggio et al 2001, p. 312). There is also a divide of internet access between whites and minority groups (DiMaggio et al, 2001, p. 311).

The result of the digital divide of who has access to the internet is like a cycle. The privileged are the ones with access to the internet, and in turn have greater access to a variety of opportunities, while the poor, uneducated, and minorities have less access to the internet and its possibilities that could ultimately help improve their situation.

In the end, while the internet is a communication tool that provides many opportunities for social and political development, it's "inequalities in access to information services tend to persist in contrast to the rapid diffusion of information goods," (DiMaggio et al, 2001, p. 310).

Hacking

One of the major risks of entering the online world is the ability of others to manipulate the carefully thought out protection systems, and penetrate unauthorized information, also known as hacking. Hacking into someone else's information is not only illegal; it can become very costly for the victim, especially in cases such as identity theft (O'Brien, 2000, p. 1). One of the triggers for hacking can be cyber-stalking, or "the illegal monitoring of private information and communication of ex-lovers and spouses as a form of domestic violence (Jenkins, 2007, p.1).

According to Timothy O'Brien, "law enforcement officials and consumer advocates say the Internet is making identity theft one of the signature crimes of the digital era (O'Brien, 2000, p.1)." Personal information can be accessible to almost anyone with access to the internet. Information like date of birth, a home address and even a Social Security number, which is consider very private information since it gives access to things like credit cards and identification cards (O'Brien, 2000, p.1) can all be found through hacking.

Search engines can make hacking and cyber-stalking so much easier because of the easy access to Social Security numbers (O'Brien, 2000, p.2). Cyber-stalking is the illegal screening of a partner, or former partner's information available online, which may result in domestic violence (Jenkins, 2007, p.1). The internet discloses a new world for abuse to occur, and like many domestic violence cases, it is not easy to stop with legal action. Victims who are aware feel powerless and "it becomes clear these...tactics are designed to induce fear (Jenkins, 2007, p.2)." Cyber-stalking and hacking can endanger the lives of those who use the internet; the easy access works against the community oriented atmosphere of the internet. Any rules set by the community, with respect to privacy and personal information, are broken.

Conclusion


As stated in the introduction, community classically involved face to face interaction and improving and strengthening a relationship on social terms. However, the innovation of the internet, which was originally believed to strengthen social ties, puts the users at a disadvantage because he or she loses so much. These losses include social cues, the ability to form lasting relationship, and even the loss of personal information to hackers. The internet also creates a divide, where some are welcome and some are not.

People love technology, and tend to take full advantage of it whenever a new product or item comes out. However, society does not often warn about the effect of the product, even when it is misused. The internet is potentially detrimental to society because it creates a world in which there are no boundaries. Willing people add their information to the internet daily, giving people around the world access to personal information. Above all else, the internet creates a morphed sense of community where any individual can retrieve information about another with no regards to privacy. Community requires a balance between its members, but the internet interrupts that balance, severely tipping the scales.

Society should stop using the internet as a social hub and use it instead as a tool. Community is the development of relationships and the creation of social bonds. Without the structure community gives us, we are at a loss and cannot properly function. Community strengthens bonds and establishes a sense of the populace, face to face.

References

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