Nineteen years ago Barry and I published our first, of what would become many papers together. “Living Networked On and Offline,” published in Contemporary Sociology, set much of the foundation for our work over the following two decades. We talked about a paradigm shift in how the Internet was shaping community, we explored the fallacy of separating ties into the dichotomy of online/offline relations, glocalization, and the groundwork for the concept of networked individualism.
We are back with a new installment in the latest issue of Contemporary Sociology. “Lost and Saved… Again: The Moral Panic about the Loss of Community Takes Hold of Social Media.” Again, we talk about how new technologies are (and this time, are not) responsible for a paradigm shift in how we think about community. We take on the hype about how social media is destroying community, and recent commentary critical of the impact we have had on the study and conceptualization of community. In the 15 years since Barry and I last published together, our thoughts on community branched in different ways. This is also our attempt at unifying our view of community in an age of social media and digital mobility, including recognizing that as community is increasingly subject to ‘relational persistence’ and ‘pervasive awareness’ it has characteristics of both traditional community and networked individualism.
You can find an open access copy here.
This paper provided a unique opportunity to say a lot of things that otherwise would never have found the right forum. It is a rare opportunity to publish something this long and deep. What other venue let’s you get away with having 175 citations! Enjoyed writing about and reliving the history of qualitative and quantitative digital research, engaging with the work of so many scholars that I respect (including those I don’t always agree with). You can find an open access copy here.
The methodological tool chest available to those who study digital technologies ranges from those that are uniquely digital methods to approaches that are well established in the social sciences. This domain of work includes the application of methods to answer questions about the relationship between digital technologies and the social world, as well as the use of digital methods to answer questions about the offline world. New or old, quantitative or qualitative, the methods used to study the digital have strengths and weaknesses unique to this area of research. These issues include questions about the scope of cyberethnography, the validity of trace data, and the analytical division between on- and offline interaction. This review focuses on an overview of different methods, their history, and their strengths and weaknesses as applied to the study of digital technologies, including ethnographic approaches, interviews, surveys, time and media diaries, trace data, and online experiments.
I am particularly pleased to see this paper in print, it took fifteen years and the help of over 50 research assistants to collect the data for this study. This paper started as a pet project the year my wife and I moved to Boston. That year, there was an article in the Boston Globe about a woman in Montreal who was attacked on a street and left unaided by passerbys. The Globe suggested that despite Canadians reputations, maybe Americans were now more altruistic. A hypothesis ripe for testing! Replicating an approach often associated with the famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram, with much assistance, I set out to “lose” nearly 4,000 letters in 62 urban areas in the US and Canada. The return rate served as a measure of helping/altruistic behavior. In 2001, the data confirmed a statistical tie. But, the end of data collection in 2001 also marked the horrible events of 9/11. It was immediately clear that this was an opportunity to measure how one of the most tragic events in American history might change community helping behavior. I sat on the data for ten years, returning to the field in 2011 and replicating the study in the same 63 urban areas. I expected to find a spike in helping behavior in the United States. Surprisingly, there had been a 10% decline in altruistic behavior in the United States relative to Canada. And, the decline was especially strong in those communities where the proportion of non-citizens had increased. Even more surprisingly, the trend was in the opposite direction in Canada. Since 2001, areas of Canada where the proportion of non-citizens increased experienced an increase in altruistic/helping behavior. What changed over that decade? One of the most obvious is the divergence in Canadian and US attitudes and policy towards immigrants. Canadian public opinion and the political rhetoric towards immigrants and diversity in general is much more positive than in the US. While Canada has institutionalize policies aimed at inclusion, valuing diversity, and a relatively speedy path towards citizenship, the US has not. Unintended evidence of how intolerance can hurt us all, while policies of inclusion and respect for diversity can lift us up. I discuss the implications of this trend a little further in an op-ed on why we should Stop blaming Facebook for Trump’s election win that was published in The Hill.