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Internet And Social Life Essay

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Examining the Internet in Everyday Life[1]
Barry Wellman, Anabel Quan-Haase, Jeffrey Boase, and Wenhong Chen Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto

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Keynote address (given by Barry Wellman) to the Euricom Conference on e-Democracy, Nijmegen, Netherlands, October 2002

Introduction As the Internet evolves, its users and uses grow and diversify globally. Internet use dramatically increased worldwide between 1995 and 2000.Today, approximately 55 percent of the North American population is online (Howard, Rainie, & Jones, 2002; Reddick, Boucher, & Groseillers, 2000). For a large proportion of the population of Internet users, Internet access has become a daily activity (Howard et al., 2002)[2]. There is less agreement, however, about how the internet has influenced different aspects of society. It is important to understand what the consequences of the diffusion and high use of the Internet are for people’s lives. We present evidence about how people use the Internet, how it fits into their everyday lives, and how it is influencing other aspects of community. Our special concern here is the impact of the Internet on the change in society away from groups and towards individualized networking. This change is not only occurring at the interpersonal level but at the organizational, interorganizational and even the world-systems levels. It is the move from densely-knit and tightly-bounded groups to move sparsely-knit and loosely-bounded networks. This more to networked societies has profound implications for how people mobilize and how people and governments relate to each other – in all forms of societies – but especially in democracies. Our Toronto-based NetLab has been especially interested in how the Internet has influenced people’s interactions: open in browser PRO version

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Do people communicate more because the Internet offers them with the capability to contact people at a distance? Do they primarily communicate via the Internet or are face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and gatherings still important in creating closeness and providing emotional support? We also ask how the Internet is influencing community life with regards to how often people participate in community activities: Are people reaching out to neighbors and to their communities? Are they getting involved in neighborhood associations and in public activities? Does the Internet reduce the time we have available to dedicate to community life? How do people use their networks, social communication, and computer to access information at home, work, and leisure? What sense of self and belonging do networked people have? We draw from previous research done by NetLab. This research includes: An ethnographic study of a wired suburb (see Hampton & Wellman, 1999). A web-survey hosted at the website of National Geographic Society. The North American data focuses on 20,075 adults: 17,711 Americans (88 percent) and 2,364 Canadians (12 percent).[3] International data from the same with respondents from 178 countries (Boase, Chen, and Wellman, 2002 for the worldwide data). A study of Catalans and their uses of the Internet (see Wellman, 2002b; as well as Castells, et al., 2002). We also incorporate into our discussion results from similar surveys, such as the Pew studies of the Internet and American Life, and the American component of the World Internet Project, based at UCLA(collected in Wellman and Haythornthwaite 2002; see also Kraut, et al. 2002). Rethinking Sociability, Neighborhood, and Community Many definitions of community treat it, explicitly or implicitly, as occurring within rather small territorial limits, such as would be open in browser PRO version

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found in a rural village or a distinct neighborhood. As "community" is partially defined by social interactions among a set of persons who know each other, the composite definition of a "neighborhood community" is of a bounded geographical area in which many of the residents know each other. This approach has been the traditional one in the past, arising out of the pastoralist assumption of happy rural villagers as being the paragon of community life, with urban communities struggling vainly to approach this pastoral ideal (Wellman and Leighton, 1979; Wellman, 1999). Since the 1960s social scientists have vigorously contested the one time orthodoxy about the nature of sociability, community and domestic life. The debate about the nature of community under contemporary conditions has been called the “Community Question” by Wellman (1979), building upon Manuel Castells’ The Urban Question, (1972a, 1972b). The Community Question wonders how: · Societal changes such as informatization, computerization, bureaucratization, industrialization, and urbanization have affected community. · Reciprocally, how the changing nature of community affects society. The Community Question has evolved as community scholars changed their ideas about what constituted community and where to find it. Given its importance to human kind and accessibility to public discourse, it is a safe guess that the Community Question in some form will remain open to the end of time. Yet, important transformations have taken place in analyses of the Community Question: · The zeitgeist of community optimism born with the student and civil rights movements (Fellman 1973; Castells 1982; Gitlin 1987); · A turning away from armchair speculation to ethnographic and survey techniques that has demonstrated the persistence of communities whenever social scientists bothered to actually look for them (Wellman and Leighton 1979; Wellman 1988); · The discovery by social scientists that violent political conflicts arose more out of the clash of connected communities of shared interests than out of the cri de coeur of the disconnected and alienated (Feagin 1973; Feagin and Hahn 1973; Tilly 1979; Castells 1983). · A view of the past that emphasizes the strength of community in the transition from the pre‑modern to the modern world (Wrightson and Levine 1979; Kertzer and Hogan 1989; Sabean 1990). · A renewed emphasis on the importance of family, kinship and community relationships in history (Hareven 1977, 2000; Laslett 1965, 1988). · An interest in communities defined by shared subcultures, rather than by shared locality (Fischer 1975). open in browser PRO version

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· An interest in communities of practice, defined by shared interests in work and learning. Both fieldwork and survey research show that sociable community relations continue to be abundant and strong. Large institutions have neither destroyed nor withered communal relations. To the contrary: the larger and more inflexible the institutions, the more people seem to depend on their informal ties to deal with them. Research shows that while communities may have changed in response to the pressures, opportunities and constraints of large-scale forces, they have not withered away. They buffer households against large-scale forces, provide mutual aid, provide partial identity and a sense of belonging, and serve as secure bases to engage with the outside world (see reviews in Choldin 1985; Fischer 1976; Gordon 1978; Keller 1968; Warren 1978). In North America, neighborhood ties remain important, but usually only as a minority of relationships in personal networks. For example, although ties with neighbors and workmates comprise only a minority of Torontonians’ active and intimate ties, the easy accessibility of such local relationships means that they comprise nearly half of all encounters with community members: face-to-face, by telephone, and by the Internet (Wellman 1996). In the inner streets of Chicago (Sampson, Morenoff and Earls 1999) and the orderly buurts of the Netherlands (Thomése 1998; Zamir, Volker and Flap 2001), companionship, support and social control by neighbors remains important. One way of engaging in such community is for people to interact in semi-public spaces such as pubs or cafés (Scorsese 1973; Oldenberg 1989).This is community as a public activity, one that is visibly alive and well on the streets of Catalonia (Wellman, 2002; see also Castells, et al., 2002). In North America, much sociable community is private activity, based on interactions in people's homes. This is a situation more feasible in contemporary North America because the large size of homes facilitates entertaining community members (Warren 1978; Michelson 1976). Thus in suburban Levittown, NJ (Gans 1967) and exurban southern Ontario (Clark 1966), analysts documented little community interaction in public spaces but a fair amount of in-home visiting among neighbors. There are many indicators in the United States “of an increase in private activity at the expense of public activity” (Lofland 1989, p. 92). At the same time, the emancipation of women has meant that women's community, which often had been private in the past, is becoming more public. The Internet in Everyday Life The Internet is expected to lead to changes in how people communicate, how they work, and how they spent their leisure. The evidence suggests that the Internet has blended into the rhythms of every day life: the Internet is used at work, in schools, in universities, and hospitals. It is used for a wide variety of purposes, such as surfing for information, playing online games, and chatting (Howard et open in browser PRO version

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al., 2002; Quan-Haase et al., 2002). An analysis of the impact of the Internet needs to consider how the Internet may be contributing to new forms of interaction and community that cannot be measured using standa...

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