The Strength of Internet Ties

  • Boase J
  • Horrigan J
  • Rainie L
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Abstract

The internet and email aid users in maintaining their social networks and provide pathways to help when people face big decisions J a n u a r y 2 5 , 2 0 0 6 This report confronts one of the great debates about the internet: What is it doing to the relationships and social capital that Americans have with friends, relatives, neighbors, and workmates? Those on one side of the debate extol the internet's ability to expand relationships-socially and geographically. Those on the other side of the debate fear that the internet will alienate people from their richer, more authentic relations. Once upon a time, the internet was seen as something special, available only to wizards and geeks. Now it has become part of everyday life. People routinely integrate it into the ways in which they communicate with each other, moving between phone, computer, and in-person encounters. Our evidence calls into question fears that social relationships-and community-are fading away in America. Instead of disappearing, people's communities are transforming: The traditional human orientation to neighborhood-and village-based groups is moving towards communities that are oriented around geographically dispersed social networks. People communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidary community. Yet people's networks continue to have substantial numbers of relatives and neighbors-the traditional bases of community-as well as friends and workmates. The internet and email play an important role in maintaining these dispersed social networks. Rather than conflicting with people's community ties, we find that the internet fits seamlessly with in-person and phone encounters. With the help of the internet, people are able to maintain active contact with sizable social networks, even though many of the people in those networks do not live nearby. Moreover, there is media multiplexity: The more that people see each other in person and talk on the phone, the more they use the internet. The connectedness that the internet and other media foster within social networks has real payoffs: People use the internet to seek out others in their networks of contacts when they need help. Because individuals-rather than households-are separately connected, the internet and the cell phone have transformed communication from house-to-house to person-to-Summary of Findings The internet helps build social capital.

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Authors

  • Jeffrey Boase

  • John B Horrigan

  • Lee Rainie

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