I have a new paper, How new media affords network diversity: Direct and mediated access to social capital through participation in local social settings, in print in New Media & Society. Co-authored with my former students Chul-joo Lee (The Ohio State) and Eun Ja Her.
This paper is based on data that I collected with the Pew Intenret Project in 2008. The paper addresses two important questions:
- Are people\’s social networks (the real stuff, not just Facebook) less diverse as a result of their participation in mediated activities? In other words, does the Internet create silos?
- If ICTs are are associated with higher levels of diversity, how does the diversity associated with online engagement compare to the diversity associated with offline engagement (in public spaces, voluntary groups, church, cafes, neighborhoods, etc)?
I explore the relative contribution of traditional physical settings to social network diversity and answer the question of whether virtual community really is like a public spaces or a \”3rd space\”. The conclusions contrast with the notion of \”networked individualism\”. I suggest that there is a duality in how ICTs influence social relations: they support relationships globally and locally â€“ \”glocalization.\” That is, ICTs afford social participation that is both unbounded from shared time and geography (\”global\” and not dependent on place) and tied to participation in foci of activity that are very \”local\” (contextual and tied to place). Different uses of new technologies afford one or both of these trends.
Findings provide very limited evidence that place-based relations have less resonance with internet users. A claim that the structure of personal networks has shifted from place-to-place to person-to-person underplays the continued role and technological affordances that are associated with traditional social settings. Place is not lost as a result of the affordances of new technologies — place-based networks are reinforced and made persistent. I argue, in contrast to a belief that networks would be more easily abandoned in the electronic age, social networks may be more persistent now than at any point in modern history. Not only are networks persistent over time, but they are increasingly pervasive and visible across what were once clearly articulated and bounded cliques. New technologies, such as the \”status update\” offered by many social networking services, afford opportunities for \”pervasive awareness,\” whereby individuals are regularly broadcasting and receiving information from their networks.
The pervasive awareness afforded by many new technologies has more in common with a traditional village-like community than it does with individualized person-to-person contact. Pervasive awareness provides a shared history, familiarity of daily labor, shared context, density, and public life that is reminiscent of traditional village life. The fundamental difference between a village-like community and the person-to-network structure that characterizes contemporary networks is the possibility for personal networks that are larger and more diverse than at any time in human history. I go on to explore how newer technologies, such as \”social search,\” in which the use of the internet to search for information privileges or limit exposure to information
collected or accredited by members of a personâ€™s social circle, may promote prevailing ideology and information while omitting important bridges, divergent views, and unique resources that exist between networks — possibly reversing the trend found in this paper and the advantages of network diversity.