The Internet and the Power of Networking

Introduction

As technology evolves, the internet becomes even more deeply entrenched in the daily lives of people around the world. While it has brought many profound changes at interpersonal, organizational, and intergovernmental levels, relationships have moved from “densely-knit and tightly-bounded groups to sparsely-knit and loosely-bounded networks” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton). The shift to network societies has greatly changed how people, organizations, and governments relate to each other, with the result that networked societies have both negative and positive implications.

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Broadband communication

As a multi-dimensional technology, the internet combines several media into one, creating unlimited possibilities and influencing people’s daily life in profound ways. The modern networked society is characterized by broader bandwidth communication that “facilitates the rapid exchange of large amounts of data, instant messaging, feedback, attached text, picture, and voice” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton). Network users can send simple text-based messages and upload and download videos, audio, images, and manuscripts. Broadband communication also facilitates live video and audio streaming, making it possible for people to share news as events occur.

Broadband connection has also resulted in the creation of the “on-generation,” meaning people that are connected “24/7.” This phenomenon has made the internet part of people’s lives, especially since anyone can communicate new ideas as soon as the ideas originate. There is no longer a need for a complex formal procedure for logging on to the internet to communicate. Connectivity is what makes people value the internet because they can share a thought with their friends at the exact moment they are inspired to share it.

Personalization of information

Unlike other communication media, internet communication has led to the personalization of information. People have a choice and control over the source of information and messages. They can decide, when, how, and what they will access on the internet. “This form of communication and the ensuing interactions are more tailored to individual preferences and needs, furthering a more individualized way of interacting” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton). To further facilitate personalization, wireless networks and connectivity are now everywhere. With wireless connectivity, people have access to the internet and phone services on the go. Communication is now directly targeted at an individual, not at the premises. There is no longer any need “for door to door communication; rather the focus is the person to person communication” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton). The core of a networked society is to combine personalization with portability.

Email as a way of communication

In a networked society, email is an accepted way of communicating between people and organizations. The web provides a means through which central society units, such as governments and organizations, can communicate with local groups and individuals. Many governments, especially in the developed world, have integrated e-mail communication as a standard way of communicating with citizens, resulting in the concept of e-citizenship. Besides speeding up service delivery and information dissemination, e-citizenship facilitates and “reinforces mass society, with the individual indirect relationship with the state without the intermediary of local and even central groups” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton). This eliminates the need for hierarchical, fragmented communication which in the past hampered service delivery to citizens.

In the past century, the world shifted from community-based neighborhoods to flexible communities based on networked individuals and families. This change re-defined the term community from people found in a distinctive neighborhood or within a small geographical unit to a group of persons who know each other through social interactions. The internet has expanded community beyond neighborhoods such that in “the developed world, the modal community is probably a community of shared interests, be they shared friendships, bridge playing, child-rearing, or cultural pursuits” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton). The networked society ensures that friends, families, and neighbors remain as communities by being linked across oceans and continents, with people forming communities based on common interests such as hobbies, work, and so on.

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The benefit from a networked society

The benefits people gain from increased involvement in a networked society cannot be weighed on the same scale as the benefits of participating informal communities. As such, it is hard to tell if the internet hurts how people interact or relate with each other. One thing is certain though, the internet provides an inexpensive means through which friends and family can communicate. Again, people have a greater choice in choosing the kind of community they may want to join based on their interests. The internet is also a useful means of supplementing “existing social relationships and follow[ing] patterns of civic engagement and socialization” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton). Using the internet, people can continue to “maintain existing social contacts by adding electronic contact to telephone and face-to-face contact” (Wellman, Boase, and Hampton).

According to John Bargh and Katelyn Mackenna’s 2002 study, The Internet and Social Life, many people form a “close relationship with someone they had first met on the internet” (Owens). The study also found that the depth and quality of such a relationship were the same as the relationship of people who met face to face. The study further showed that 50% of online relationships move to actual one-on-one relationships, and 25% of these relationships end up in marriage and/or living together. This study shows that people can form new relationships on the internet, as they can with face-to-face relationships. One advantage to an online-based relationship is that online friends do not judge a person based on physical characteristics like skin color, weight, etc. but rather base the friendship on individual personality.

As people continue to take advantage of creating and joining communities based on their interests, there is one problem that the networked world may be causing. Community involvement, the number of people participating in community voluntary services and formal organizations, such as sports clubs and neighborhood watch, has declined. There is also the issue of the internet drawing people away from friends and family. In far worse cases, the internet has led to increased numbers of isolated individuals fighting with large corporations and governments through blogs and chain emails all in the name of mass societies.

Conclusion

The internet is a multidimensional form of communication technology that combines many media. It has a considerable influence on people as it is deeply embedded into everyday life, leading to the creation of networked societies that are not bound by distance, time, or geographic location. The networked society enjoys many conveniences, including the ability to form communities based on one interest, 24/7 broadband connection that allows people to share information with their friends and family instantly. Governments have added integrated internet services, such as web and email, to their daily operations, leading to e-citizenship and facilitating faster service delivery. On the downside, the internet has led to a decreased number of people participating informal organizations such as sports clubs and volunteer services.

Works Cited

Crowley, David and Paul Heyer. Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society. Boston: Pearson , 2007.

Owens, Laura. “The Internet and Social Relationships.” 2009. Suite 101. Web.

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Wellman, Barry, Jeffrey Boase and Keith Hampton. “The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism.” JCMC Symposium Net Law. 2010. Web.

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