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Technology

Browsing Alone 339

Do media/entertainment technologies connect or disconnect people? That Americans have become increasingly disconnected from one another and the social capital that binds people since the rise of TV and the Net is an idea much debated since Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community two years ago (the book is now out in paperback). The Net -- ironically the world' s most connective medium -- could be radically advancing that trend. Putnam cites numerous surveys that show that interaction with family, friends, and neighbors, and participation in social activities -- from joining civic groups and bowling leagues to voting -- has declined as Americans find more reasons to stay at home. Online, fragmentation abounds. People turn increasingly inward. The big open spaces of the Net have either been corporatized, flamed to death or shut down, and communications steadily turned to exclusive p2p "me media," the fragmented, often self-censored, personalized and specialized weblogs, IM programs and mailing lists that dominate much of online communications.

In his book, Putnam argues that our access to the "social capital" that is the payoff for community and civic work is shrinking. Though the reasons are complex, technology and mass media are primary factors, Putnam says. We spend more time at home watching TV (and, increasingly, working and amusing ourselves online) and less with other people. Our detachment from communal efforts -- and opportunities to meet other people -- grows. In l960, 62.8 percent of voting-age Americans went to the polls to choose between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon; in l996, after decades of slippage, just 48.9 percent chose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole. The inverse correlation between the rise of screen-driven entertainment technologies and civic disconnection is persuasive. So is the epidemic hostility online.

Although Putnam's book focuses on TV more than the Net (since TV is older and its use has been more widely studied), it's impossible not to think about the new ways networked computing may contribute to this disconnection. The Net is the world's greatest communications medium, but the notion of cyberspace as providing a social connection -- remember the virtual community? -- has turned out to be a fantasy. In many ways, the intensely connective Net is helping people become more disconnected all the time. It's the new TV.

This is of no small consequence, Putnam argues. Social bounds are the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction. Communities with low social capital have poor schools, more teen pregnancies and child or youth suicide, and higher prental mortality. Social capital is also the most reliable indicator of crime rates and other measurable quality-of-life issues. Such disconnection has happened before in American life, Putnam writes, especially during periods of great migration and immigration, but it was reversed by periods of stability and the rise of organizations like the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, and thriving religious organizations.

Of all the many dimensions along which forms of social capital vary, writes Putnam, perhaps the most important is the distinction between "bridging" (or inclusive) and "bonding" (or exclusive). Some forms of social capital are, by choice or necessity, he writes, inward looking and tend to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups -- fraternal organizations, church-based women's reading groups, snooty country clubs. Other networks are outward looking and encompass people across diverse and different social networks -- youth service groups, civil rights organizations, ecumenical religious associations.

The Net, it was originally believed, would be a "bridging" technology, one that would connect the planet. But the most interesting evolution in software in recent years has been code that permits people to narrow, not expand, their universes. Blocking and filtering software has become epidemic to product against flamers, crackers and spammers. The explosion in weblogs, specialized mailing lists, instant messaging and other so-called p2p media means that people online increasingly talk only to one another, not to people who are different or unfamiliar. The rise of this narcissistic communications is understandable, but it hardly is inclusive. People all over the Web routinely block and filter points of view they don't like or don't want to hear (or buy), so nobody online really ever has to encounter all that discordant diversity that digital technology makes possible. More disconnection.

Thanks in part to the Net, Americans have never had so many reasons to stay home, so many entertaining or useful options when they do. I remember an e-mail I got from a grandmother last year lamenting all the TV ads showing AOL grandmas getting pictures of their grandchildren. "That's nonsense," she says. "My kids don't visit me nearly as much because they feel they can just e-mail me. I love digital pictures, but I rarely get to see my grandchildren in person." Her lament -- the illusion of connection, while facing the reality of tech-spawned separation -- was intriguing.

The rise of the Net would seem to have exacerbated this tendency. Americans had already been spending an enormous amount of time watching television. Putnam found that 80 percent of all Americans watch some TV every evening, while only about 60 percent talk with their families nightly, let alone neighbors, strangers or others. Watching TV has become one of the few universal experiences of contemporary American life.

Increasingly, the Net is one too. It promises consumer use as great as television's, if not greater, since work connects with home. This seems especially ironic, since the Net was supposed to be one of the most powerful devices ever for connecting with humans. Mostly, it connects us with bits and links. In a sense, it is a connective medium. We can stay in touch with friends, colleagues and family members all over the planet. But Americans use the Net to get free data from music to weather, send messages, play games, shop and talk about sex. So the Net could exacerbate the techno-trend that television began. We're e-mailing and browsing alone as well as bowling. The Net could have an ever more striking impact, since it enables users to do things TV doesn't -- like play games and shop for nearly everything. Those, among others, were activities that people once had to go outside to do, where they might glimpse or even speak with a neighbor -- or go bowling.

America was founded partly on the notion of common civic spaces -- taverns, greens. A lot of cyber-idealists thought the Net was becoming our new common space. That hasn't happened. Nasty teenagers, spammers and greedy corporatists have made common turf on the Net either too expensive, hostile or annoying for most people to spend much time on.

Putnam's idea about social capital might be even more timely relevant than he understood.

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Browsing Alone

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  • by krugdm ( 322700 ) <{slashdot} {at} {ikrug.com}> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:07AM (#2882225) Homepage Journal

    I just got an email the other day from my good friend Mandy who I must know, because she says she remembers me. She says that she wants me to see her and all of her seven college coed roommates naked any time I want!

    So I've got friends! See!

  • Different Net uses (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Novus ( 182265 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:08AM (#2882236) Homepage
    Katz neglects to consider the fact that Net usage varies tremendously between different people. For example, your average couch potato is probably not very interested in participating in on-line discussions about the state of society, while others find a way to express their feelings, opinions and suggestions more efficiently to a wider audience through e.g. discussion boards such as this one.

    I find it somewhat ironic (in the popular usage of the word - disclaimer to avoid dictionary flames) that Katz posts this article on SlashDot.
    • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:26AM (#2882363) Homepage
      Actually, I'm inclined to think places like Slashdot are a part of this problem as well. We're a fairly homogenous group of readers on this site, with a lot of shared interests and opinions. Although we come from most parts of the world, we're not much more different from one another than would be the people gathering in a LUG meeting or attending a hardware swapfest.

      I wouldn't go so far as saying /. is insular, but the choice of topics and the language used on the site certainly does not welcome 'outsiders' to stay and become active. The same of course goes for many othe communities on the net (whether about computing, free software, right-wing or left-wing politics, religious matters and so on). A political site, for example, will tend to attract a like-minded crowd that will rapidly freeze out or otherwise ignore opposing viewpoints.

      This is not strange, of course. We come to /. precisely because we want to read the news and opinions that catches our interests. But it does have the inevitable consequence that we will not be exposed to different points of view.

      Another matter is of course, that on a site like this, you never get to know other people; it's little more socializing than following and contributing to the 'Letters' section in a daily paper. I've only seen truly social interactions on some less-popular chats or IRC channels, where the same bunch of people meet each other every day; or on some social mailinglists. They tend to suffer from the fact that many people know each other in person already, or are invited by someone already in that group. This does not promote diversity either to any appreciable degree.

      /Janne
      • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:38PM (#2882845)
        The same of course goes for many othe communities on the net

        And also, of course, of offline communities.

        I used to live in North London, and a route I often took to and from home lead me past a number of annonymous looking establishments along the high street, all of which were members only "socail clubs". These are places where like-minded individuals can go, to chat, smoke, drink, play pool, whatever.

        They are all for members only, and membership is presumably (I never checked) by invitation only.

        The way I see it is that the net has only served to increase the popularity of this sort of thing, and to enable people who are not geographically close to each other to interact. It certainly didn't cause it to happen.

        Cheers,

        Tim
  • by AdamBa ( 64128 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:09AM (#2882244) Homepage
    I feel that blogging, which its proponents claim increases communication, is actually a negative. Unlike discussion groups like slashdot where community actually forms and issues are debated back and forth (between the trolls), a blog is just one person shouting out. "Discussions" between bloggers are rare and usually involve one of the two parties simply dropping the issue after a few exchanges.

    Furthermore, bloggers get "pundit syndrome" where because their views are "published", they feel they know more than others, thus reinforcing their tendency to intone imperiously rather than enter into debates. This further destroys any chance for a community to form, unless you count a swarm of boot-licking toadies congregating around one blog to be a community.

    - adam

    • I disagree! Please compile and execute the following program to hear my comments on the matter.

      #include
      void main()
      {
      int i=0;
      while (i != 1)
      printf("Blog blog blog, blog blog blog.\n");
      }
    • by samael ( 12612 ) <Andrew@Ducker.org.uk> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:38AM (#2882455) Homepage
      This is the reason I've decided to have a livejournal account rather than use Radio Userland to roll my own. This allows me to be partof a group, and so far I've had 6 or 7 people comment on my blogs, find people with similar interests who's blog's I subscribe to, etc.

      It's not a substitute for newsgroups, but It's pretty fantastic for ranting and getting thoughts out of my head and down on 'paper'.
    • Well, for what it's worth - I disagree. There are more than enough places on the web where a guy can go and argue his head off, braving flames and trolls, trying to make a point.

      But there is a place for debate, and there is a place for putting down one's thoughts without having to worry about some twit with a giant-killer complex spoiling it all. In fact, I suspect that blogs are becoming so popular for precisely this reason.

      Understand that there is a difference between letting the world know what you think, and taking on the world in a battle of words/wits/etc. Unfortunately, such battles are rarely won when the winning party makes sufficient credible points but (as you rightly point out) when one or the other party just gives up.

      If you are worried that the bloggers are taking over - not to worry, I suspect that as long as places such as SlashDot exist, there is little chance of that happening. ;-)
    • I've seen very few weblogs that really do a good job of fostering discussion. They don't work well for that purpose because it's very hard to develop an identity on a site that's all about another person (as compared to developing an identity on Slashdot or Plastic or a Usenet newsgroup).
      What I have found that my weblog (which doesn't provide any space for comments or discussion) is good for is giving people a chance to see what I'm up to. I think mine is mostly read by my girlfriend and some local friends, and the occasional far-away acquaintance. I sometimes visit the weblog/LiveJournal of someone I don't see often just to get a quick dose of their sense of humor or something. There are also strangers who do interesting work or have interesting hobbies and I'll sometimes read their weblogs even though I'd have little to discuss with them. But I definitely have much more 2-way communication with strangers whose writing I read in non-weblog forums than with the strangers whose weblogs I read regularly.
    • by PD ( 9577 ) <slashdotlinux@pdrap.org> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @01:30PM (#2883125) Homepage Journal
      I'm a blogger, sort of. My logs are all static pages so there's no conversation forum. I maintain my logs strictly for myself, in the place that is most useful to me. If others want to read them too, that's fine. Basically it's just a large mash of things that are neat and worth writing down someplace. But mostly, I am a logger so that 50 years from now I can read them and say "was I really that stupid back then?" It's an amazing sensation to read something you wrote a long time ago, you ought to try it.
    • If the blogger is that bad, why is anyone reading it?

      For a decent blog/heavily moderated discussion group, check out www.jerrypournelle.com
    • Furthermore, bloggers get "pundit syndrome" where because their views are "published", they feel they know more than others, thus reinforcing their tendency to intone imperiously rather than enter into debates.

      What, you mean like JonKatz?
    • Alright, I give up. What's a blogger?

      (See, I'm being social! I could just look it up on google but I want to interact...)
    • Why is people "shouting out" bad? If anything, it's the beginning of new social groups and societal gatekeepers.

      Social Group - Bloggers create group knowledge. If I frequent 10 blogs and you regularly visit only 3 or 4 of them, chances are you are exposed to the same sorts of information and you're thinking about the same news and issues as me. This has created two distinct social groups in my life- bloggers and everyone else. (Bloggers do communicate with each other.)

      Gatekeeper - TV networks, newspapers and radio networks are the traditional gatekeepers. They collect all of the information and decide which bits to show you in your geographic region. Well, bloggers are now picking through the randomness of the world and assembling their own messages. I see more news from CNN and MSNBC through blogging than I would ever see through casual browsing of CNN's and MSNBC's own web sites! Why? Because part of the corporate gatekeeper's mission is to prioritize news and they bury important issues (important to me) in places I'm not likely to casually discover. Many times CNN & MSNBC keep the gate closed and it's the bloggers who find alternate information sources and sneek me past the gates of the corporate American media.
  • by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:09AM (#2882245) Homepage Journal

    As is evident in my sig, I have a problem with the lack of localization of the net: Basically, despite the fact that about 95% of our lives are still local, and always will be (whether it's entertainment, restaurants, grocery stores, etc, or it's issues like potholed roads, a new park going up, etc.), there is exceedingly little localization on the net: There was more of a sense of community when I was on a small town BBS->We all shared common issues and could discuss things that affected our lives locally.

    • Excellent point. I recall using BBSes a great deal during those first formative "online" years. Dialing up was a pain in the ass unless you had a BBS host that was cool enough to have two phone lines into his house/bedroom. Half the time you actually knew most of the people who frequented the site and met those that you didn't. Actually knowing these people also had a worthwhile effect: it cut down the flaming to managable levels. It's easy to troll or flame when you've never met a person and probably never will, but when you know that you'll a) be talking to a person on a consistent basis for the foreseeable future and b) there's an excellent chance of actual face-to-face in RL, you tend to try to keep a least a bit of civility. Perhaps the concept of nodes is a good idea. The net itself remains completely connected and far-flung, but is composed of local main nodes where everyone in a specific geographical area can primarily go to exchange ideas. Colorado node anyone? Not sure if it would even be feasible, since most "nodes" now are based more along idealistic and mentality lines (AOL, specific concern groups, slashdot, etc.) Okay, I'm done rambling. But for the record, I miss those BBS door games; I was unbeatable in The Pit and Star Traders! --
    • by Knightmare ( 12112 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:46AM (#2882515) Homepage
      That is one of the exact things that got me interested in the Internet way back when. The fact that it doesn't matter where you are located, what age you are, your skin color, etc... It gives the opportunity for a group of people to exchange ideas that normally would walk by eachother on the street and have no interest in talking to eachother. Be it for reasons of descrimination, type casting, lack of knowledge that you might have something in common. But if you happen to see the person in a chat room about there is a damn good chance they are interested in that subject, so the ice breaker is out of the way. You just start talking and have fun.
      But if you want localization you can seek it out... For example there was a large issue around here awhile back with some bus drivers, and sure enough browse to the local news channel and they have a public forum up where people are discussing their views on the subject. If you feel that there is no vent for your local subject matter, make one. spend the couple of dollars on a domain that would make sense to people in your area and start a small site with what you think is missing in your area. With programs like frontpage and dreamweaver and the zillions of script archives out there it's really not that hard to put together a beginner site anymore... So don't complain about it on slashdot, do something about it.
      • That is one of the exact things that got me interested in the Internet way back when. The fact that it doesn't matter where you are located

        That is a neat factor, and I'm not advocating that we get RID of the global aspects of the net, but rather that there is a large void in local content. People like looking at the "big picture" when what affects them most is the "little picture" : In your country I'll bet you're most aware of National politics, despite the fact that 90% of the services that government gives you is actually local.

        But if you want localization you can seek it out... For example there was a large issue around here awhile back with some bus drivers, and sure enough browse to the local news channel and they have a public forum up where people are discussing their views on the subject.

        This is like the prototypical anti-socialization "Search Google!" response (and I've found that it's the anti-socials that will always rant about how great the grand worldwide net is). Debating in hit-inducing "discuss the topics we want with our censoring" on the Toronto Star website doesn't quite fill my community needs. My point is that there is something missing, and anyone who was involved with the BBS world (when long distance kept it local) can likely empathize with that. Yeah I know how to use Google.

        So don't complain about it on slashdot, do something about it.

        Hehe, this is almost ironically funny in a discussion about socialization and conversation. In any case, it isn't a "complaint", it's an observation: Back in the day I was a member of several BBS' and met quite a few friends who I still know today.

    • I think the use of the Net in general doesn't come from people trying to duplicate the 95% of their lives that they can live locally, but trying to fill the other 5% that they *can't* live locally. To borrow an idea from another post in this thread, if you live hunderds of miles from the nearest car club, how do you get advise locally when you need it? The idea that localization will solve some problem with the Net doesn't make a lot of sense when (one of) the Net's big idea(s) was the elimination of being limited by locale. When we all live in a tight group, we live peacefully with each other, (a big point of Katz's article) but we lose out on individuality as we're forced to conform. When we live *without* groups (or localization) we become overly individual, and forget to play nice with each other. We've been to one extreme with conformity, and now we're moving toward the other extreme of individualism.

      Wow, another probably that's likely *never* going to be solved.
    • This is admittedly offtopic yet somewhat relevant: What if the internet had never happened? We would still see splintering of ethnic and regional groups based on various criteria. Linux would probably not be as widespread as it is now. The issue I have with Katz and his latest ramble is that he operates on the assumption that the internet has somehow fed social splintering and driven a digital divide between individuals in regional communities. On the contrary, people worldwide are open to new ideas from people they normally would never meet or speak to in real life. People who are racist will gladly carry on an online conversation with the race of their ire due to the shield of anonymity that the net allows. This goes for all prejudices, and nobody can claim they have none. The internet has been a larger bridge to new people and new ideas than anything in history, maybe even surpassing that of the printing press.
      Long live the internet.
  • by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <ememalb&gmail,com> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:12AM (#2882259) Homepage Journal
    It does both. If I am interested in something, I let my friends know about it. If they like it, more often than not, we will check it out together. A perfect example of this is muds. I know most here have probably dabbled at a mud or two back in the day, so this hopefully will stay somewhat on topic. I was a fledgling netizen in the early 90's. A friend of mine introduced me to a mud, and I watched him play for a while. I soon became interested in this, and we started playing together, me on one pc, him on the other. Soon, we introduced other people to it. More and more people joined us, and we would have mud gatherings. Now, that is an example of how you can get a group online doing something together. For the opposite example, when IRC first came out, that was most definetely something I did on my own, as I didn't want to take the abuse from my friends when they would read a response or something. IRC required a bit of privacy. No big deal. The bottom line IMO is if you are typically a closed person with few friends outside of your computer life, then chances are you surf alone. If you have friends outside of the net that are interested in you, then you will do stuff together. Loners will be alone, those that aren't won't. Or something like that. Anyhow, my $.03
  • If it was something we needed, we'd be out jitterbugging at speakeasies, but obviously it ain't. Resistence is futile...
  • No surprise... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CMBurns ( 38993 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:13AM (#2882270) Homepage
    As Katz stated, many places on the net

    > turned to exclusive p2p "me media," the
    > fragmented, often self-censored, personalized
    > and specialized weblogs
    [...]

    That's my main concern. You see censorship almost everywhere popping up like mushrooms, be it Napster-like services blocking content or Slashdot bitchslapping whole threads because they "are not what we like our users to see" (this was practiced in the infamous "troll survey" thread).

    Is there anything we can do against this? Maybe. A few years ago there was a company that provided a "second opinion" service for websites. Users were able to comment on certain pages and could also see the comments from other users visiting the site. No support from the commented sites was required, since the whole process was handled by a plugin.

    This seemed like a rather useless idea back then, but come to think about it, I must admit I've changed my opinion.

    C. M. Burns
  • by Matey-O ( 518004 ) <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:15AM (#2882285) Homepage Journal
    I read half way through the second sentence, then looked up at the submitter. Yup, another JonKatz diatribe. As sensational as it is empty calories.

    What's never mentioned in these sensational diatribes on how TV, the Internet, Automobiles, Reading, and Fire isolate us from our community is how social people tend to be social and non-social people tend to be non-social.

    Geeks have their own social groups and operate just FINE there, with robust interactions and healthy communications.

    I've found the Internet allows me to discuss and communicate with folks I'd never have a chance to in the photographic community.

    I've found that email and IM makes communication with my parents cheap and effortless, even though they're 1200 miles away.

    I've run a local Corvette club for YEARS that wouldn't have occurred had I not met these folks on the internet.

    The internet allows for some loosely connected groups that WOULDN'T EXIST without it. A continual subscription to ThinkNIC allows me to get the support from the company directly, as well as talk to an audience of like minded folk that use the NIC. That social group is tenuous enough that there would never be a Denver ThinkNIC group worth attending, much less a thinknic club of lower North Dakota. There's maybe 50 people NATIONWIDE on that list.

    Further, the Corvette Forum may have 1200 folk, but if you're looking for Automatic-1989-convertible-owners-who-are-rebuildi ng-their-engines. I'd bet I was the only person in the State of Colorado. Yet, that group provides valuable insight, as the collective has the knowledge I need to complete the restoration.

    Don't blame the Internet. Non-social people would be that way with or without the Internet just as repeated handwashing is not the cause, nor facilitator, of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
    • There is a second point to Katz's diatribes -- that people are separating themselves into different communities and not talking to each other. E.g., "conservatives" watch Russ Limbaugh, and set their filters to exclude anything liberal, "liberals" watch only liberal commentators and set their filters... The danger is, if those filters ever get reasonably effective, people may separate into groups that no longer even comprehend the other groups positions.

      What sets me to giggling is that every few years someone new notices this process for the first time and gets all worried. Really folks, it was pretty much the same in the 80's, the 70's, and the 60's. (It's probably been like that right back to 1776, but my awareness of such things goes back only to 1964. Although I do vaguely remember a Goldwater rally that must have been pre-1960...) The liberals read their magazines, and the conservatives read theirs, and rarely did the twain meet.
    • I read half way through the second sentence, then looked up at the submitter. Yup, another JonKatz diatribe. As sensational as it is empty calories.

      I totally agree with you. I never thought I'd have to do this but I think I am at the point where I'm going to filter his postings out. I can find sensational fluff just about everywhere I look, I don't need to come to Slashdot to find more of it.

  • by crumbz ( 41803 ) <<remove_spam>jus ... o spam>gmail.com> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:16AM (#2882293) Homepage
    The premise is too complicated to be answered in a binary manner of yes or no. The answer is probably both, yes AND no. I don't interactive with my neighbor when I am on Slashdot. I am interacting with you as you read this. Instead of a flesh and blood interaction, it is mediated through distance, time and the cool glare of phosporus or LCDs. Is it better or worse? Humans evolved to interact on an small scale personal level like most intelligent animals. No we are evolving to interact via discoporeal means. Do mediating technologies throw our psycology off of balance. Probably. Is it bad that kids are getting fat sitting in front of TV and computers? Yes. Is it dehumanizing to interact with my girlfriend over the phone? Probably.

    Things change. Life changes. My life changes daily, weekly and yearly through my aging, my growth and my development. Changing technology certainly affects my life. I used to call my folks all the time. Now I email. Less bandwidth. They don't hear the inflections in my voice. Good or bad? I write better than I speak, so my email to them tends to be more thoughtful than my speech. Good or bad?

    Life is meant to be enjoyed. Mediating technology can be "value-free" with regards to this endeavour. Use it or not. The choice is yours.
  • by gtaluvit ( 218726 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:17AM (#2882299)
    I'm a college student, and as a college student, I'm at the peak of my social career. I use the net and my computer more than ever but that definately doesn't detract from my socializing.

    There are many more factors involving why people are turning to the net instead of socializing outwardly. Lets face it, you can't name "BoyScouts and thriving religious organizations" as the namesakes of socialization. Family and religious values went right out the window a long time ago due to science and the information age. When you see Islam, Buddhism, etc. on TV and in the paper, you start to rethink that maybe your beliefs aren't "perfect". I'm not saying religion doesn't have its place, but free information prevents you from being sheltered in.

    If you want to show the connection between social interaction and the net, find out how often people communicate with distant relatives compared to how they used to. Compare the social hierarchy of the current workplace to that of the 50's and 60's. Take a look a GOOD look at how communication with the deaf has changed with the advent of instant messaging. Take a look at what things now take up people's time in terms of work and play. You need to take every factor into account.
  • by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:18AM (#2882316) Homepage

    "1802 England

    Social Scientist today reported that less people are staying in the village and are moving into the towns. Lord Fotheringay today said "Its getting much harder to get staff these days and I'm having to pay them much more". Lord Fotheringay blamed the movement of people away from the villages on the Industrial Revolution and the improved communication structures in the country.

    "Mark my words" he said "They'll be looking for the vote next"

    Okay so I'm taking the piss but really is this worthy of an anal gazing article ? I say not, society changes as technology changes, this is about as suprising as your thumb hurting when you hit it with a hammer. Previous Katz articles have been at least contraversial, this is just plain Sociology... ie not worthy of printing out for loo paper. Every generation some Malthus predicts doom and gloom, and is wrong and short sighted.

    All research in the social sciences can be reduced to the following statement "some do, some don't" - Ernest Rutherford.
    • by Kwil ( 53679 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:51PM (#2882931)
      Sure, for the industrial revolution, it turned out that the changes worked out okay.

      Of course, other societies haven't been so lucky. The Romans are the prime example. A society that grew so wealthy, fat, inward looking, and of particular relevance, internally divided - they didn't see the invaders at the gate until it was too late, literally.

      There is little to suggest that the same can't or won't happen to us.

      Like the Romans, we are the most powerful economic and military force in the world. Like the Romans, we use that to get what we need and want - often with no care for any of the consequences that don't immediately affect us.

      Like the Romans, divisions between those with power and those without are growing, those without are kept busy with bread and circuses, those with are kept busy creating better circuses and controlling their own power structure.

      Like the Romans, participation in the larger
      civilization systems are dropping, and increasingly small and diverse groups are forming, strengthening, and working against other similar groups within our society.

      Like the Romans, the power held over people's every day lives is growing, and people in the society are increasingly resenting the ways power is being used.

      Meanwhile, we in Western Civilization are vastly outnumbered, and those in other civilizations are increasingly turning their eyes toward injustices (real or percieved) that we have perpetrated on them.

      Every generation some Malthus predicts doom and gloom, and is wrong and short sighted.

      It's kind of like the parable of the boy who cried wolf. The thing that most people forget is the wolf did come at the end.
      • Brits.... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by MosesJones ( 55544 )

        And from 1700 to about 1941 Britain was the kingpin of world politics, during the 1800s there was one super-power who went round and pinched 1/4 of the globe. Sure its declined but not like the Roman Empire. The reason ?

        Communication, societies now exist across borders and have the ability to spread their ideas and their concepts much further. The Romans lost because they had no clue about what was going on, Britain lost the empire because the empire gained concepts like Democracy and equality from Britain.

        The Roman empire applies in one sense. Britain eventually listened and now the Commonwealth is one of the most powerful political forces on the planet, especially in Africa, it is the empire, but with everyone as equals.

        Romans fell because of invasion at a time when weight of arms was the power, the British Empire saw the transition from arms to economy as the driver behind power.

        There is a similarity between the US and the Romans however, the Romans didn't except that others should ever be treated as equals or that inclusion was a good thing. The US grew strong on the opposite of those principles, on a foundation of equality, inclusion and an objection to tyranny... unfortunately things have changed. Even so the US is not the important factor, it is its corporations. Today is a corporate not a national society.
    • "1460 - Europe"

      Researchers are lamenting the rise of books and journals produced by the new invention, Gutenburg's so-called "printing-press". Studies have shown that people who spend more time reading spend less time interacting with their peers.

      Many promised that the "printing-press" would help people stay up to date with the important events of the day, but people are increasingly reading books with out-dated, irrelavent information. Dead Greeks, such as Socrates and Aristotle are especially popular - what relavance does this have with today's society? Moreover, rather than being important events, daily "news" journals are mostly filled with frivolous information such as births/deaths, marriages, graphical cartoons, and political messages.

      --------

      The thing that really disturbs me about Katz is that he is an authoritarian communist. Much of his comments reduce to: people shouldn't do what they want. People want to filter news according to what they are interested in. The leftist, authoritarian view is that whatever people want is bad; they should be coerced into always thinking about what society wants. (The libertarian view is, of course, if that's what people want, then that's what's good for society).

    • AFAIK, the major force moving people out of Lord Fotheringay's farms was most likely Lord Fotheringay. The industrial revolution began with textile equipment, and one immediate result was that raising sheep for wool often became much more profitable than parceling your land out to sharecroppers to farm. That took something like 1/10 to 1/100th the labor force, and the rest had to go. They could emigrate to America (if they could buy a ticket), or move to the new industrial cities and work in the wool mills, find other jobs, or starve -- Lord Fotheringay didn't worry which, unless they turned to thievery, then it was Australia or hanging...
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:20AM (#2882325)
    I've personally noticed this trend- that many
    organizations filled with boomers seem to be
    getting grayer as the younger generations
    dont participate. These include professional
    societies, hiking & running clubs, etc.
    Then too, boomers boycotted the organizations
    of their parents- chambers of commerce, church
    socials, etc. This book notes in the last 50
    years, each generation has been doing less
    compared to the previous. The book suggests
    about a dozen causes, but none really clinches
    it. Nor do the sum of of clauses explain things.
    The trend of less civic participation began long
    before the InterNet became popular, so I wouldn't
    blame the net.
    • I think you're right; the biggest problem I find with most of these arguments (and much of sociology in general) is that they seem to rely on correlation indicating causality. Katz states "The inverse correlation between the rise of screen-driven entertainment technologies and civic disconnection is persuasive." Why is it persuasive? As I've lived through my life the Dow Jones industrial average has trended consistently upward; am I to assume the stock market rise is caused by my aging process?
  • by elchulopadre ( 466393 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:21AM (#2882330)
    Katz writes that, in providing an alternative for activities that require public presence, such as shopping, interaction between real people has been cut down by the net.

    Seriously, though... How many of you have had meaningful conversations with random people you meet at your local mall? And how many of you have had meaningful conversations with strangers on ICQ/IM/whatever? In my case, at least, the latter has happened far more often than the former. While I'm of the old-fashioned mind and believe that you can't really know anyone until you've spent a few hours with them in person, I still find that IM is a complement, not a substitute, to my social life.

    In terms of 'public life', the use of the net as a shopping medium doesn't cut into social interactions; on the contrary, by allowing me to shop late on weeknights, for instance, I don't have to lock myself in a car, drive for however long, walk around a mall full of people I probably won't have conversations with, etc. Instead, I spend that daytime with my friends.

    Any thoughts?
    • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:38AM (#2882458) Homepage
      Meaningful conversations with random people at your local mall is a trite example.

      Shopping is but one of the many (dubious) activities we participate in. Hell, the idea of shopping at the mall is an idea about, say, 60 years old. Humans have been around much longer than that. The perilous and totally out of proportion value of material gain aside (as it's really only been in the last 200 years that material gain has been valued over various other social activies such as family, music, art, etc), Katz' point (and one that is right on the money IMHO) is that technology allows us to place 'blinders' on. Think, the whole image that content providers are trying to sell us is: "Get what you want, when you want." Ironically, not having total control over your environment is what facilitates advertisy, the growth of social skills and values, etc. Essentially, the carrot of technology as it relates to communication is a poison carrot. Most anthropologists will agree that the western technology-driven culture is unique in the history of humanity, and the majority of those will purpot that it is unlikely to be a successful experiement in terms of humanity's social developments. Increasing levels of depression among westerners seems to tip us off to the fact that while we may have more of what we want, when we want, it may not be what's best for us.

      Fortunately, time and evolution will vet these ideas. Whether or not we (consumers, those who buy into technology as progress, control over our environment and situation as progress) will be nailed to the wall by the billions of people in an evolutionary reality check (operating under the assumption that social parterns are simply manifestations of evolutional tendencies, there to facilitate, stop, start certain methods of interacting with our world) remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: it is becoming increasingly difficult for people in this world to understand or comprehend that what seems 'true' in our worlds only flies until you hit another culture or ideology. Those who grasp to their own values as the inherent 'right' way of doing things will likely be first to the wall.

      I've diverged a little from the topic, but I just wanted to point out that comparing shopping vs. IM in terms of their benifits to our existance as social animals is but a tiny, meaningless comparison. You may meet people who share your views over IM, but ultimately, you have too much control over your environment, and can cease communication at any time with anyone who might have new ways of thinking or new ideas that you have a hard time feeling comfortable with. IM isn't the only medium which facilitates self-censorship, but it's certainly one of them. Maybe if you're of an age where your person and opinions have already been formed, this isn't so dangerous. However, as a 23 year old who spends time with many demographics (my friends are the broke bohemian types, while I work in the advertising industry for fortune 500 companies), I can tell you that it is ideological suicide for still-forming minds.
      • You must be joking (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Srin Tuar ( 147269 )

        You may meet people who share your views over IM, but ultimately, you have too much control over your environment, and can cease communication at any time with anyone who might have new ways of thinking or new ideas that you have a hard time feeling comfortable with. IM isn't the only medium which facilitates self-censorship, but it's certainly one of them. Maybe if you're of an age where your person and opinions have already been formed, this isn't so dangerous. However, I can tell you that it is ideological suicide for still-forming minds.


        People have self-censorship built in from the get go. If you really think that you can change someone's mind by ranting at them in person you are sadly mistaken. You have no better or worse chance of doing so than you do online.


        Some people are so tuned into herd think, that they dont even need TV to tell them what to think- their subconscious plucks it out of the air. These people will search for things that agree with what they think online, and they will ignore people who try to change their minds.


        Those who are inquisitive and open minded will gather information, then attempt to discuss it with others before they come to a semi-final opinion. This happen whether they have access to dusty books in a library or broadband. The latter is quicker however.


        One of the main differences is that online you _can_ find someone who wants to talk about what you want to talk about quickly, whereas without it doing so is slow and difficult to impossible.

      • it's really only been in the last 200 years that material gain has been valued over various other social activies such as family, music, art, etc

        Do you seriously think that the average peasant or artisan from 300 years ago cared about music and art? Besides the fact that he was illiterate and that there were no libraries in his village, he was much too busy struggling against starvation and disease. His life was short, brutal and devoid of all intellectual stimulation.

        As for family, I should point out that many, perhaps most of his children died at birth and that the main reason for giving birth to them was to have an extra helping hand at the farm. Marriages were often arranged. The prevailing notion of happiness at that time was simply the absence of death and misery.

        As for today, we have much more time for our family and an unprecedented exposure to culture from all over the world. As for our ancient peasant, he rarely strayed further than a few miles from his village. No, this is a golden age, not a dark age, in humanity's history. Although it's not perfect, we shouldn't let ourselves be blinded by nostalgia for an utopia that never was. We are, in every way -- and even in the third world, where life expectancy has increased by 20 years since 1900 -- better off than our ancestors.

        • > Do you seriously think that the average peasant or artisan from 300 years ago cared about music and art?

          Do you seriously think that the average peasant from 300 years ago cared about gaining as much money/material as possible over music? Art, music was in the form of performing artists .. in fact, allow me to play devil's advocate and point out that the high levels of literacy achieved in industrialized nations could be (not is) in part responsible for the relative demise of the socially benificial activity of storytelling? This is kind of what Katz' article was about. Our technology is allowing us to be more anti-social than ever.

          > struggling against starvation and disease

          Yeah, good thing we eliminated these things 200 years ago. Seriously .. you want to really convince me, I need global statistics for the levels of disease and starvation.

          As for the life expectancy thing, thats you're value, bub. It's another example of technology empowering us to a degree that damages social patters (in this case, people who die of old age are doing so alone at a nursing home, in greater numbers than ever before. Good thing we can keep ourselves alive for so long!)
          • Do you seriously think that the average peasant from 300 years ago cared about gaining as much money/material as possible over music?

            I would assume that three hundred years ago, the average peasant would do anything in his/her power to gain as much wealth as possible in order to better his or her life and to elevate it above abject poverty. Art back then, as I see it, was mostly an outlet for expression during the few periods of free time one had.

            Our technology is allowing us to be more anti-social than ever.

            I disagree, because I don't consider face-to-face interactivity to be the only valid form of socializing. I was a very quiet and withdrawn kid in school. I kept to myself and I didn't bother getting involved with the various groups and cliques on campus. I had three or four very good friends and the rest were aquaintences. I did not grow up stunted, or maladjusted, or socially inept. I can handle idle chit-chat with strangers as easily as discussing politics with my father. I just choose not to socialize as often as everyone else apparently felt compelled to.

            These days, I am still essentially the same. I'd rather stay home and read or browse the Net and post in online forums than go out to a party. My audience is better-suited this way. I can express myself the way I prefer, at my leisure, and in whatever manner I choose. I help moderate an anime forum [animeboards.com] (down for upgrades at the moment) and have discussed hundreds of topics, issues, and events with thousands of people in over a year's time. I would never have gotten that exposure or interaction without the reach of technology and the Net. The discussions I have had are, in my opinion, far more detailed, interesting, and thought-provoking than the mundane "let's spit out a few bland clichès and sound cool" discussions I find myself in while out in the real world. Discussions backed up with credible references, multiple global opinions, and varying insight. It is my opinion that the kinds of people willing to seriously take the time to sit down and verbally knock around an issue are few and far between. That translates into a lot of legwork on my (and his/her) part, which means time wasted while I could be interacting with someone.

            Technology just makes that process of finding those people you like to talk to (who you'd be looking for and filtering for anyway in the real world) more efficient. For example, I seriously doubt that I'd ever have a discussion like this one with someone face-to-face and be able to articulate my point like this. I'd get a few sentances in edgewise, and then it'd be the other person's "turn." Our words are set in stone for future reference and we can fully flesh out our thoughts in one communication without having to worry about the physical constraints of face-to-face interaction.

            As for the life expectancy thing, thats you're value, bub. It's another example of technology empowering us to a degree that damages social patters (in this case, people who die of old age are doing so alone at a nursing home, in greater numbers than ever before. Good thing we can keep ourselves alive for so long!)

            The elderly who are dying of old age are probably damn grateful to have lived to see their kids grow up to raise children of their own, and in the most heartening situations, see those children get married and have children. The elderly may suffer disproportionately as they get older, but that's a consequence of their actions they are fully aware of. Would they choose to die at 40? Would they choose to die at 35? I think not. Technology has given us the ability to live longer to enjoy the fruits of our labor and to enjoy the families and friends we have over a longer period of time.

            Damaging social patterns? You spoke earlier about the verbal tradition of story-telling. You must be forgetting that the elderly have a wealth of advice, wisdom, and tips to tell the people they know. The older they get, the more they accumulate. Certainly, after a point, their mental capacities fade, but that is no reason to imply that we should prefer an early death to a longer life.
      • Hell, the idea of shopping at the mall is an idea about, say, 60 years old

        Personally, I don't see that the mall shopping concept is all that different from market-place shopping that has been going on for thousands of years. Though it seems so on the surface, this is not a trite example at all, and in deed could expand into a whole discussion on its own: the evolution of social-dynamics from the marketplace to the suburban mall. Sounds like a sociology dissertation! Hey, if anyone uses it, can you give me a shout out...

        +1 interesting (or insightful) anyway, the gist (and most of the statements) are quite good. (As if my pronouncement of such really means anything. My God I'm arrogant!).

    • by Stiletto ( 12066 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:54AM (#2882567)
      I guess if you count as meaningful:

      [MAnGeEK] A/S/L???
      [HotBabe] What?????
      [MAnGeEK] Uh hi.
      [HotBabe] Hi.
      [MAnGeEK] A/S/L???
      [HotBabe] Huh?
      [MAnGeEK] What's up?
      [HotBabe] Nothin who r u?
      [MAnGeEK] I'm MAnGeEK how old r u?
      [HotBabe] 15
      [MAnGeEK] U sound cute
      [HotBabe] thx
      [MAnGeEK] u like nsync?
      [HotBabe] yah they are sooooooo hot
      [MAnGeEK] cool
      [HotBabe] coooooooooooool
      [MAnGeEK] hold on
      [HotBabe] what??????

      MAnGeEK has signed off.

      Ah yes... The Internet has surely brought about a nightly fountain of interesting conversation....
  • by 3jeff ( 148452 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:21AM (#2882331)
    a lot has happened on this topic since the publication of putnam's original essay and subsequent book. probably the most important rejoinder is robert wuthnow's book, Loose Connections: Coming Together in America's Fragmented Communities, wherein he argues (as you might guess from the title) that americans are still quite involved with the community, but in different ways, with different values framing their involvement, and with quite less stable relationships to specific kinds of community organizations--particularly those that form the backbone of putnam's analysis. everett carll ladd also argues in The Ladd Report that there remains compelling evidence that people are participating in society.

    the question then is, what is the internet/web's role in a changing social/community structure? if anything, i'd be inclined to argue that the internet enables precisely the kind of loose connections wuthnow describes. i would also say (purely impressionistically) that we now have a greater sense of a world community of which we are part, and that is thanks largely to the expansion of the internet and its adoption as a source of news. i have one word, in this regard: nettime.

  • by spamkabuki ( 458468 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:26AM (#2882367) Homepage

    I'm not sure Putnam's description of declining voting applies here. Of course presidential voting has declined. Presidential politics has declined. Why does it deserve participation? Perhaps more people just disregard the whole circus as irrelevant.

    TV and the Net function very differently in this context. TV has fragmented quite a bit as cable proliferated and split into niches. When there were only a few shows on, you could expect your neighbor to have watched a given program with some confidence. Can you expect your neighbor to have read a thread on K5? The Net seems to be even more divisive than TV in this sense.

    However, the Net may allow tighter communities of smaller interest. You can find people of very esoteric interests on the Net, but do you meet them IRL? except for LUGs, I can't say that I have. But when new in town, finding a group is a big help, particularly if the group has a strong social feeling. One of the better user groups I know of meets in a bar and catches a local blues band; meetings are primarily social, lists are technical.

    Connections within an online community can be fragile. Katz describes the failure of the public spaces online. Obnoxiousness may come in many forms. Could be snotty kids, or snooty power-hungry editor/moderators. What happened to The First Troll Post Inv. [slashdot.org] is a perfect example of community forming around an issue online and getting slapped for their trouble. Many users trying improve the quality of communication and community on /. got whacked because of the childish insecurity of some editors.

    How can an online community like /. engender real community when it is censored? Won't happen. Will I get modded down for linking to the forbidden post in a relevant subject? Could be...Burn, Karma, Burn!

    • What happened to The First Troll Post Inv. is a perfect example of community forming around an issue online and getting slapped for their trouble. Many users trying improve the quality of communication and community on /. got whacked because of the childish insecurity of some editors.
      Or maybe...
      What happened to The First Troll Post Inv. is a perfect example of community rallying around an online issue and slapping the people who give them trouble.
      I agree that communiation on /. could use a lot of improvement; I even agree that maybe moderation and M2 is broken. However I also think the forum chosen was inappropriate. Perhaps if you had not been off topic (trolling woes in a forum on Oracle's latest ad campaign)- but then again see my comment in the thread [slashdot.org]. (Fast posters: consider its' format a lesson as to why to use the "Preview" button. That was a rare occasion when I did not.)

      Obnoxiousness may come in many forms.
      Yes, obnoxiousness ranges from the vandal who spray paints grafitti on buildings to the idiot politician who filibusters for hours to stall voting on a bill. Fighting one form of obnoxiousness does not give you licence to yourself become as obnoxious in another form (or the same, for that matter).

      How can an online community like /. engender real community
      I think what is required for that opportunity has been placed in the user's hands. Slashdot now has user journals [slashdot.org] and user made forums [slashdot.org]. By writing in your journal you can allow others a glimpse into your life; by crafting forums you can discuss what you want while remaining on topic. the hurdle is that the community must be proactive about moving together and remaining so; so far I've not seen widespread signs of that. Perhaps a community will form, but I wouldn't expect it to include all of slashdot's readers.
  • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:27AM (#2882369) Homepage
    While it may be argued that the influence of the Internet has reduced the social bonds between people at a local level it has arguably made distant bonds with people even stronger. I routinely communicate with people whom I consider close friends that live nowhere near me anymore. In the "good old days" I might get a letter from them every once in a while, but overall would really be able to have the kind of social interaction that I can thanks to this new fangled technology.

    To add to this, I have seen numerous people find communities on-line that they would never have found otherwise. These people can become as close to these on-line friends as they would with people nearby, and some of these relationships may evolve to being an in-person relationship when distance constraints fade.

    Basically the internet eliminates a lot of the geographic constraints on socializing. This has positives and negatives. It means that an in the closet gay person in a backwater intolerant town can find supportive peers. It also means that people don't need to talk to the people next door very much. At least with the Internet as opposed to television, socializing is one of it's biggest facets. Rather than being hypnotized by the magic box, you are out there seeing what people think and frequently interacting with them.
    • Which is exactly what Jon is ranting about.

      The part that's disappearing is not social bonds, but social bridges.

      Sure, the gay person manages to get support from other gays outside his community, and so doesn't even need to get involved with the community. At the same time however, the gay pulling out of community is thus allowing the community to not have to deal with the idea that their might be gays in their midst.

      Nobody's arguing that the net allows you to communicate with people of like interests and thoughts - but what it also does is make it so that you don't have to deal with those who don't have like interests or thoughts if you don't want.

      At least, not until you walk outside and get strung up to a fence and stoned to death by those who haven't learned how to deal with differences.
  • by Bluesee ( 173416 ) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .ynnekkcirtapleahcim.> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:28AM (#2882380)
    ...it's cultural grazing. The herd, with the herd mentality, goes where it will, driven by forces that perhaps sociologists understand, perhaps not (inasmuch as they can't accurately predict trends). There isn't much that can be done about it, really; we are transitioning from an age in which our lifestyle was largely insular and the joining of the community was a 'big deal' to a time when the community is in constant touch and solitude becomes the big deal. We have created something of what we want; people often complain about the stark barren intellectual landscape of TV-land. This is due IMO to the fact that the bandwidth was limited to a handful of channels and tightly controlled by a dozen or so media moguls. Now information is largely free, but the battle over content and information has somewhat skewed the internet landscape to again degrade the experience (spam, DMCA issues, pop-up ads). Still, we prefer to put our energy, attention, and time into this thing, and not the other things, because it has something that we want.

    One might lament the changing scenery, one might struggle to understand it, or one might try to resist being captured and carried away by it, but one thing is certain: it is here, it is where life is teeming right now, and you are either in or you are out.

    Does the fish know that it's wet? That is, do we really care enough what the effect all these devices and the media they contain have on us that we are aware, that we take time to notice how we've changed? Or do we just swim with all the rest of the fish, changing direction here and darting there, avoiding the pitfalls and grabbing the scraps that float in front of us, unaware of what it is we are becoming because we are too busy becoming it?

    Since we are sentient creatures, of course we have knowledge of what we are becoming, how we have changed. But the thrill of the new overtakes us. This is what's happening, and its human nature to join in the fray. There isn't really a problem here; it's just change.
  • by flufffy ( 192294 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:29AM (#2882383)
    interestingly this idea - that new information technologies cause people to become less social - has been a topic of conversation for 2 to 3 thousand years ... plato talked about the damage that the introduction of writing did to social relationships, and of the difference between hearing someone speak in person and reading (second-hand) something that they have written (see the 'phaedrus' [upenn.edu] and also the 'cratylus' [mit.edu]). you can read histories of the printing press that make the same argument, and it has also been made of the telephone, radio, tv., etc.

    there's a mile of similar commentary on the internet (such as neil postman, clifford stoll, etc.). robert kraut carried out the 'internet paradox' surveys [cmu.edu] that became the sociological proof of this effect, although the earlier findings were later recast.

    i'm not saying that there are not social changes caused by the introduction of new information technologies. we are information driven beings, after all. however, we have to be wary of assigning values to them that are either ultimately 'good' or 'bad,' as despite all these changes, we somehow seem to be able to cope with them ...

    • there's a mile of similar commentary on the internet (such as neil postman, clifford stoll, etc.). robert kraut carried out the 'internet paradox' surveys [cmu.edu] that became the sociological proof of this effect, although the earlier findings were later recast.

      I want to make sure this last point gets emphasized, because it's received so little publicity compared to the initial report (which gets misrepresented all the time anyway).

      If you click on the link, you'll see that the first article is called "Internet Paradox Revisited," and in it Kraut et al. report a followup of the same participants from the original study, showing that the statistically significant but small relationship between Internet use and depression reported in the original paper disappeared over time. Kraut and his colleagues are responsible scientists: they never represented their first study as "sociological proof" (social science is probabilistic rather than deterministic, and most good social scientists are allergic to using the word "proof" in discussing their work), and they should be applauded for publishing data that contradict what they said earlier. In fact, Internet users look pretty well adjusted in the followup. As the original poster pointed out, maybe the people in this study are getting better at coping with new technology and integrating it into their social lives.

      • you're right. 'internet paradox' was taken as 'proof' of asocialisation not by kraut et al., but by others, including the media, most of whom had probably not read the paper. i remember quite a lot of self-satisfied, 'i told you so, the internet makes you depressed' hooey/fud from around that time ...
  • Lets say that before technology X is invented, the set of cataloged human interaction is M. Technology X creates new modes of interaction (call the new modes set N). If the ones in set N are more efficient communication mechanisms in some circumstances, one would expect that people would naturally tend to use those in places, where before they were using a less efficient mechanism M.

    The result is more efficient total communication, but a bean counter measuring it who doesn't adapt to the change and include the modes from N in his calculations will will conclude that there is less human interaction. In truth, there is less in set M, but that loss is more than offset by gains in N, because the only time someone swithches from M to N is when it benefits them.

    For example, I happened to run into somebody who lives in Seatle two weeks ago on IRC. I travelled there last week from Texas, so it was a valueable conversation. I had absolutely no chance to meet someone like this before the internet.

    Is this guy in my "community"? The internet has removed the correlation between the set of people I'm likely to converse with and those geographically close to me, and accordingly the meaning of the word community has to decide between two concepts that used to be equivalent.
    • Re:I don't buy it (Score:4, Interesting)

      by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:45AM (#2882509) Homepage
      You're missing the point. Sure, you have more opportunities to meet different people, but you're completely ignoring the tendancy for people to seek out comfortable situations. In being able to have more control over who you meet, and when, and how, and being able to meet lots more people (no one is arguing that that isn't true) you're participating in a form of self-censorship that anthropologists and psychologists tend to point out is the mental equivilent of pigging out on chocolate.

      When you have too much of what you want, and are not forced into social situations where you have to deal with social situations that you are not comfortable with or enjoy, you are unable to develop the neccessary skills to deal with adversity, diametric ideologies, different thinking, etc ... You become ideologically fat and lazy, and when push comes to shove, will protect your ideologies to the very end, even if it turns out that they are not suitable or compatiable with the broader scope of the human condition.

      I always thought it was kinda funny how, when I was a child, the worse the cough medicine tasted, the better it was for you. Now adays, people expect technology to make the medicine not only work, but taste better, store your contact information, and start your car on winter mornings. In other words, just because you enjoy or interpret the technology around you as 'good for you', doesn't mean that it is. Capiche?
      • Re:I don't buy it (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bwt ( 68845 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @01:54PM (#2883257) Homepage
        You're missing the point. Sure, you have more opportunities to meet different people, but you're completely ignoring the tendancy for people to seek out comfortable situations. In being able to have more control over who you meet, and when, and how, and being able to meet lots more people (no one is arguing that that isn't true) you're participating in a form of self-censorship that anthropologists and psychologists tend to point out is the mental equivilent of pigging out on chocolate.

        No YOU are missing the point. Technology increases freedom. Freedom always pisses off elitists who think that they know whats best for everybody else. Do you think I give a rats ass if "anthropologists and psychologists" are alarmed if my behavior isn't to their liking?

        It's not like pigging out on chocolate, it's like being able to shop at a grocery store instead of eating at the dorm caffeteria. Some people may use that freedom to pig out on chocolate. So what. Others will become chefs.

        develop the neccessary skills to deal with adversity, diametric ideologies, different thinking, etc ...
        It seems to me that it is actually the technologically inept that seem to have these problems worse.

        In other words, just because you enjoy or interpret the technology around you as 'good for you', doesn't mean that it is.
        The world is what it is. Trying to imposes some sort of value judgement on how others exercise their freedom on activities that affect only themselves is an act of elitism that bothers me a lot more than people who eat too much chocolate or don't talk to their next door neighbor because they'd rather chat on the internet with somebody they have more common interests with.

        Frankly, I've learn quite a bit about alternate world-views on the internet. For an American like me, I come in contact with many people from other countries, whose opinions I might not ever be exposed to otherwise.
        • > Do you think I give a rats ass if "anthropologists and psychologists" are alarmed if my behavior isn't to their liking?

          Of course not. This doesn't change the matter tho. They can say it all they want .. they're not seeking your approval of their observations, in the same way that people who wish to ignore the doctor may do so. Just as long as if the shit hits the fan, they are comfortable holding themselves accountable for their situation. It's all good man, do what ya wanna! :)

          > Technology increases freedom

          Ah ah. Here's the big lie. Technology increases the freedom of those who have significant resources to aquire it. Technology actally introduces disparities in freedom. As soon as A exists, and only some people have access to A, you've limited the freedom of those who can't have it, if you claim that it increases your freedom. For all you've learned, you havn't learned that 'freedom' is not really freedom until everyone has it. Otherwise, I'd call it a priviledge. If you feel its worth increasing your array of priviledges at the cost of others (we won't go into that), hell, go for it. I'm an elitest, but I'm not about making other people do something they don't want to. I trust in social patters and evolution to make the right cheques and balances.

          I just think that saying that saying that the world "Is what it is" is a vast oversimplification. The trends we are commenting on are relegated to a select percentage of the population of this planet. Your world may be what it is, but this doesn't change the fact that 'your world', ie the branch of social and technological changes that you actively participate in (as well as myself), is quite likely worse off for humanity than good. No use arguing that, as time will tell. :)
  • Thanks for bringing up a very timely and important topic (or group of topics). The corporatized media in this country has done its best to take over as much of the internet as possible; if they can just make the internet more like TV, where content is absolutely controlled and people are constantly bombarded with "the correct messages" (consume, be silent) then that media machine will be a little less nervous about the internet in general. Forget about television; it has already been bought and paid for by that same insane machine. Take a look at the big Internet providers. What do they offer in the way of content? CNBC, CNN, TBS, all big players in the big machine of the media. But the internet has something TV does not; there are still some alternative sites out there on the net that give a less filtered view of reality. My wife and I do not own a television. Not because we are poor (not that poor anyway), but because there is nothing to the TV except frontal lobe occupation. We made a decision to spend what would have been our "TV money" (cable, etc) on high speed Internet. This has caused a problem that you touched on in your essay; we are out of touch with the TV culture. People that we sort of know sometimes make allusions and references to some popular TV show or another and we just don't "get it." Or we will hear people repeating what we find out to be advertisement slogans as a substitute for conversation. We find, as you pointed out, that we do not spend time talking face-to-face with people because people have largely forgotten how to talk. The TV has turned this whole country into the land of platitudes: "united we stand, pledge allegiance to the corporations that own this land, in god we trust, cleansing crystals," and a plethora of other silly and mostly meaningless slogans that are supposed to stand in the place of reason and discourse. You wonder why people don't have conversations? I believe it is because people don't have anything to say and cannot remember how to say it. I believe TV has taken away most people's ability to think. Will the Internet be next to be seized and "tamed?" If we allow it to be completely absorbed by the machine of corporatization, yes, it will become as useless of a medium as television. If, on the other hand, we (the users of the internet) can see past empty promises and hype and vote (with our $$$) we can keep the net around in a renegade, untamed, and fun iteration that will remain dynamic and useful.
  • I've been browsing now for 72 hours continuously here in my darkened upstairs bedroom and I can tell you for a fact, Mister, that I am not alone.

    Harvey is sitting right here beside me, commenting continuously about what he likes and dislikes.

  • I think Jon's lonely [slashdot.org]. Poor guy [slashdot.org].
  • While your observation that Americans are anti-social couch potatoes is probably fairly accurate, your extension of this premise to include 'all things internet' is not only silly, it's so 1996.

    Some people sit and home and watch TV all the time. Some people now sit at home, watch TV, and buy the things they see on commercials off the internet. Other people go outside and do things. Now, these other people can check the balance of their checking account before they buy their friends a beer at the bar.

    My point is, the "internet" has little, if anything, to do with the dominant social trends that make the consumerist American culture lazy, fat, and content.
  • Though not nearly as egregious a manipulation of statistics as, say, Herrnstein & Murray's The Bell Curve, 3 weeks of intense and draining examination of the book chapter by chapter in a political science class (sigh) led me to the conclusion that Putnam's lines from cause to effect are a little sketchy. The worst part was that his model of a society with high social capital is 1950s America. Maybe whites had high social capital, but there were an awful lot of other people who were excluded -- not to mention that a society based on forced conformity isn't too healthy for a whole other set of reasons. Basically, this decline in communal activity may not be nearly as severe as he claims it to be, or as meaningful. And very much like The Bell Curve, the book ends with a chapter where statistics are forgotten and the author's motives and underlying prejudices are finally revealed. To sum it up, Putnam thinks television is the downfall of civilization. His conclusion is that if we would just all turn off our TVs and find other things to do, our "social capital" would magically reappear.

    Maybe. American society is awfully different than it was 50 years ago when Putnam thought everything was so great. But either way, Katz seems to underrate or ignore how some people are indeed using the Internet to connect and unite. It's not just a television substitute. Exactly the kinds of organizations Putnam saw as creating "bridging" social capital are extending their reach around the country or even around the world. People interested in a particular social issue are creating vast lobbying networks online. Minority opinions have a greater chance of being included in public debate. Television can't do this, but the Internet is creating social capital every day. Whether it is a solid replacement for the bowling league remains to be seen.

    Anyway, for those of you intrigued by Katz' article who want to read the book, take it with a serious grain of salt. The "social capital" concept is a good one, but Putnam's measures of it and his ideas for how to get it back are not conclusive.

  • It's only natural. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:46AM (#2882514) Homepage
    The explosion in weblogs, specialized mailing lists, instant messaging and other so-called p2p media means that people online increasingly talk only to one another, not to people who are different or unfamiliar.

    This is normal human behavior. How many people join clubs IRL whose goals they disagree with? If the Democratic party is giving a fundraiser, will a Republican go there just to open himself to a different point of view? Will a logger attend a Greenpeace meeting? People tend to congregate in groups based on their interests.

    The Internet is just another way of doing that. And by no means is visiting a weblog or subscribing to a newsletter exclusionary. For example, /. is only one of many sites I visit. The subjects vary wildly (Computers, Internet Security, Futurama, Farscape, Movie Rumors, etc). You wouldn't catch me subscribed to a mailing list if I wasn't interested in the subject. (Spam mailing lists aside of course.

    Yet I'm still exposed to differing opinions. On one computer forum I frequent, people come together based on a shared love of computers (and desire to help each other out with computer problems), but apart from that we're very different. Some people are conservatives, some are liberals. Some are hawks, some are doves. Some love Windows and some prefer Linux. And religious beliefs vary across the scale. So while we will talk about computers, it doesn't mean we're agreeing all the time and shutting out anyone who disagrees with us.
  • by ferreth ( 182847 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:47AM (#2882519) Homepage Journal

    TV is very differnet from the 'net. Using the 'net is NOT a 'universal experience' like TV was in the single digit channel days.

    IMHO, anything that gets people away from TV or other passive medium is a good thing. Sure, people are filtering what they see on the 'net but that's also due to there being *so much* communication to be had.

    The 'net has given us a new way of talking to each other, by providing a way to publish one's ideas for next to nothing, and to communicate to anywhere in the world for next to nothing. OF COURSE there are is going to be less 'face time' communication - if only because the 'net allows us to talk more efficiently to each other. No co-ordinating times. No traveling. No cleaning the house to entertain.

    Grandma, who gets the digital pictures, might get a few more visits in a 'pre net world, but it would not be enough to develop anymore meaningful relationship. On the 'net Grandma would have a better chance of learning about the kid's day in school, because it's easy to email, or for that matter cc Grandma when you email your friends/family, including Grandma 'in the loop'.

    My family is separated by the Atlantic ocean - the 'net has increased communication hugely because it's quick and cheap.

    Try that with TV.

  • Other factors? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Larne ( 9283 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:48AM (#2882527)
    The other thing that has changed over the same time frame is the average length of the work day, at least within certain sectors of society. I suspect reduced participation in communities has much more to do with this than with TV per se. People are exhausted when they eventually get home - I know collapsing in front of the TV or a web browser is about all I can muster after a 12 hour day.
  • Reversal Effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Amigori ( 177092 ) <eefranklin718&yahoo,com> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:49AM (#2882534) Homepage
    So what if I've been a computer geek for 16 years? So what if most of my friends were because we all like computers or video games? So what if most, probably all, of them are male?


    So?!? I'm bored with it. I thought that it would never come to this, but I'm actually bored with computers. I've lost my passion for programming, gaming, and just tinkering with computers. While my friends look at me as a computer geek still, they see that I am much easier to talk to and am invited to other events, like going to the bar with a big group. While not all people will agree, being more social in the "real world" has made me much happier.


    Ok, so you say you can't become more social. Girls don't like you and the only thing you can talk about is computers, video games, or technology. Do not fear! You can change if you want to, but I must say that it is not easy and requires lots of time and effort on your part. The first step is to become involved in something that you may have never considered as fun or entertaining before. Join a book club at the library, hang out at the student union, go to a (Gasp!) sports event like a basketball or volleyball game. And don't sell yourself short by telling yourself "I won't fit in," or "They'll make fun of me." Just be yourself and attempt to make conversation. It is a long process of trial and error, but I think the payoff is worth it. Instead of sitting around having a Q3, HL, or UT LAN party 12-hour marathon on Saturday, which is still very fun, you could take that same group and go bowling or watch a volleyball game or hang out where there are many other people of the same age. And when you return, you can still play the game(s) for a few hours.


    Good Luck,

    Amigori

  • by e1en0r ( 529063 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:53AM (#2882554) Homepage
    I've noticed that my already retarded social skills have become worse since I've been talking to my friends on AIM, ICQ, IRC, etc. I've always been shy and bad at talking to people, but since I've been using the Internet it's been getting noticeably worse. I spend much more time talking to friends online than I do in real life. And these are real life friends I'm talking about here, not people that I met online. It seems that after chatting online for several years I've become accustomed to having a while to reply and the ability to read and re-read what they've written. So now in the real world I "um" and "ahh" for a little while or just don't say anything at all.

    Go ahead and flame me now.
  • I'm a biologist, but I also have a degree in comp stat, by the way.

    I'd like to see (and I have not) numbers comparing heavy net users with the rest of the population in terms of civic involvement, do you vote, and so forth. Now, of course, heavy net use corrolates with wealth, and wealth corrolates with voting, showering on a daily basis, going to church, not being addicted to drugs, etc. etc. However, with a large enough sample to control for that, I'd like to see how heavy net users measure up.

    If heavy net users vote more often and are more likely to be members of community organisations - and I don't pretend the know whether or not that is true - that pretty much kills Jon's argument. You can argue that they voted even more and were in even more community associations before the net became popular, but that is pretty weak.

    I also want to see how net use affects your social life, dependent on age. To a certain extent, people in our age bracket (20-somethings; I have a university address b/c I'm a grad student. IANA Teenager!) use the net heavily because we are nerds. Not joiners, I might say. That's more true of people ten years older than I am, and less true of my little brother's generation.

    Remember the UCLA 2001 Internet Census [ucla.edu]? We had a story about it back in early december; and it is worth a second read if you're interested in this topic. In particular, scroll past all the marketing bullcrap down to page 55. Buried in the middle of the document you find a lot of fascinating stuff about how people feel the Internet impacts their social lives - positively, if not overwhelmingly so.

    On page 59 is the most interesting single result in the whole report. People around the age of 17 are about 33% likely to say that it is easier to meet people online than in person (compared to about 10% of older people.) That is a strange, and a little bit disturbing, trend, but it points to increasing socialisation on the net, whatever you may think of p2p and filterware.
  • Re: Browsing Alone (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Binary Tree ( 73189 )
    The big open spaces of the Net have either been corporatized, flamed to death or shut down, and communications steadily turned to exclusive p2p "me media," the fragmented, often self-censored, personalized and specialized weblogs, IM programs and mailing lists that dominate much of online communications.

    (Emphasis mine)

    You mean like this [slashdot.org] one?

  • +1 Insightful. I wanted to disagree at several points in this editorial, but upon reflection realized that I couldn't. In my 7 years of wired existence, I've seen this idealism in talk (and occasionally in deed), and I've seen initiative after initiative fall flat in their pursuit of building a lasting bridge between disparate people.

    -1 Overrated? Despite my basic agreement with many of the observations, I feel that there are missing elements here...

    Re: aging membership of organizations. I was a student and (low-key) activist at The University of Texas at Austin for 5 years and at the University of North Texas for 2. In that time, I saw a great deal of idealism (naturally), and, as various books and commentators have mentioned, a real lack of follow-through in activism. Somehow, we were just unable to really inspire people, not in the ways we expected and had heard about from, say, the '60s. The students seemed laconic, with very little motivation. Well, at least when it came to doing anything outside of classwork or hanging out with friends. And in most causes this was not related to time spent on the 'net or even on TV. Granted, all of my friends were of the geek-persuasion (through representing a cross-section of academic pursuits). But these were the very people that you would expect to be idealist activists. Instead of participating in organizations, we were all focused on our grades (notice I'm including myself here...). And this reflects the increasing importance of not just going to college, but excelling there. No longer does a college degree automagically reward you with a job--you have to learn something now, and, increasingly, if you want a good job you need a master's degree at least. And that means spending more time on homework and less on outside activities. Unless that activity is stress-relieving... I hope you all see how this relates to the topic at hand.

    Re: Internet as a bridge. The idealistic concept of using the Internet as a bridge certainly has seemed to fail thus far. But from my experience, this seems to be due as much to technological problems as to social ones. People receive too much e-mail, and don't know how to filter their spam or just generally coordinate all of their mailing lists and such. So many non computer geeks are still getting used to the computer, and thus even more so getting used to using all the tools available to them on the 'net. I am finding, however, that people are warming up to the ability to use the Internet as a communication tool for accomplishing diverse goals through diverse peoples. It just takes time and the ironing-out of bugs. As technologies such as voice recognition software become more prominent, folks will begin to integrate themselves into the net in more communal ways than they are now. (It is a simple fact that most people cannot type more than, say, 20 words per minute, which makes communication through the keyboard extremely slow for them...).

  • Americans? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ubi_UK ( 451829 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:57AM (#2882589)
    This will definitely get modded down but...

    If you start a discussion that is solely meant for americans, the thing should be filed under america, instead of hardware or anything else.
  • An Old Trend (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bayers ( 155001 )
    On hot summer nights people used to sit on their front porches and chat with their neighbors. With the advent of airconditioning, people don't need to sit outside. Now, houses are built without front porches.

    When your house burnt down, the community would come together and help you out. Insurance came along and now, when your house burns, some company takes care of you. With insurance covering your risks instead of the community, you no longer depend on the community for your survival.

    Kids used to play outside. Everyone knew everyone else. Now with TV, video games, etc, they mostly just sit in their rooms.

    It's an old trend that shows no sign of slowing.
  • Wasnt there a Seaquest DSV show on thi, something like all interaction was through the net, giant robots figthing, and "adam" and "eve" of this world had never met ?

    But on a serious note, it depends entirley on the persons dispositon. My predeseccor here at work wanted an office away from all, I have a beautiful executive office that wsa built for him at the REAR of our facility, people would see him when he came in went to lunch and left, all other interaction was via IM, mail, etc.

    I am the oppisite, why bother to send a 20 minute typed email, when I can explain in in person in 2 minutes including fielding any unkown questions ?

    I will call clients back 9 times out of 10 in response to their email, something Ive found , they like it BIG time, all clients that know me well call me direct, I am ALWAYS accesable.

    In my case no it doesnt apply, it may perhaps be the oppisite, I GET more correspondence than previous I choose to respond in person, more communication=happier customers, and I get my raises an bonuses on schedule PLUS a loyal client following that even when times are tight will pay a premium for our services, we are much more expensive than our competiors, but our client base is growing, one main reason, we get refferals from clients that are pleased, they are pleased because there is always a liver cheerfull person on the onter end not a cold email.

    In summary, I think it has entirley to do with your personality BEFORE the tech consumed your life, and EXACTLY how MUCH you ALLOW it to. My family is all geeks, on one side, it hasnt altered our personal or face to face communication in any sense, OTHER than it may have INCREASED the amount we communicate.
  • In many ways, the intensely connective Net is helping people become more disconnected all the time

    I don't know about that. It depends on where on the Net you hang out. There are some tight-knit groups out there. My own example: next month I'm flying to London from the US for the annual Discworld MUDmeet. This year it's a little extra-special because it's the 10th anniversary of the starting of the MUD. Last year I think there were over 100 people in attendance. We have people come from all over the British isles, Scandinavia, the rest of Europe and the US. This year we might have a few Australians show up. So -- there are people paying hundred of dollars and flying thousands of miles for no other reason than to meet other people who play the same silly online game as themselves. Is that "disconnected"?

    And does 'socializing' only count if you have people over for dinner? Oh sure, I don't know the names of the people who live next door, but I know details about people who live on the other side of the planet.

    You get out of the Net what you put in. Logging onto a random chatroom and expecting it to instantly become a 'community' is like standing in the middle of Grand Central Station waiting for people to strike up a conversation. You have to give some effort.
  • by Quarters ( 18322 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:04PM (#2882620)
    In 1992 I started playing an online game, Air Warrior. it was the first graphical massively multiplayer game available on a commercial service (GEnie).

    It's now 2002. I've been an Air Warrior for ten years. Just recently, though, Electronic Arts shut down Air Warrior for good. I've been a member of the community, an employee of the company that made Air Warrior, and a friend to litterally hundreds of people that I met on line in that game. The community and game move to different platforms, it moved to different online services, it eventually moved to the internet. But the community always went with it. Air Warrior is a touchstone that brought together thousands upon thousands of people who would probably never have met one another in meat-space.

    The one thing that will endure long after the demise of Air Warrior the game is Air Warrior the community. I have friends that I met online a decade ago that I know better than my next door neighbor. Is that a bad thing? In my completely honest opinion, no. Meeting online removed *all* of the social prejudices normally exhibited in making and keeping friendships. I've been to Air Warrior conventions(held every year, religously) where I've seen investment bankers embracing car mechanics as if they were long lost brothers. In normal circles such things wouldn't happen. In an online space, though, the friendship was made because of a shared passion (Air Warrior) and by getting to know the person and not the outward appearance of the person. Those are the friendships that will endure.

    I know more people online, because of this one game, that I would bend over backward for than I do in a two mile radius around my house. I'm comfortable with that. It's not where you know people that matters. It's the people you really know that matter.
  • Don't worry, everything is going according to plan. You see, those of us who have a hard time at social gatherings are bringing the rest of the world down with us. We can't enjoy life outside, so we come up with all these fun things to do inside - games, porn, file sharing, etc. The corporations bought on because there was money in it, and once enough people were hooked, the outside world stopped being interesting. Outside businesses have to cut corners to keep going, reducing all stores to Wal-Mart or Home Depot style shopping centers where socialization is impossible. With nothing left outside, people are forced online for their entertainment, to meet people, or just to get a cheap thrill. Now those of us who have been stuck there all along have the advantage - we might not be able to speak to a person, but we can communicate electronically; we can't find a specific item in a store, but we can find it at half price online; we couldn't make a girl notice us outside, but we can sweep them off their feet from across a wire. It's our world now, and it's only just beginning. [Cue evil laughter.]

    Or maybe that's what they want you to think...

  • by SnowDog_2112 ( 23900 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:07PM (#2882639) Homepage
    I've introduced two people to the net who never used it before.

    They've joined "virtual communities." They now swap quilting stories, and actual physical artifacts of the quilting hobby, with dozens of friends around the world.

    Tell me how this is isolating them? Please. TV isolates you -- sits you on your couch with nobody to talk to and no reason to move. The net makes you branch out. It's reversing what the TV has done to us for decades.

    People who once would have been happy to pursue their hobby in the privacy of their own home now branch out to others who share their hobby around the world. People who are too shy to go to a RL meeting of their peers will lurk on a message board and eventually get up the courage to join in the conversation.

    Not every online community is filled with flames and hatred. Many are quite civilized and happily exist within their corner of the net.
    • I agree with parts of what you said, and see an occasional point of agreement in some of the other threads attached to this article. for example, I agree that the BBS days had more of a local feel than USENET or web communities (because DUH! they were usually local, with the exception of the Illuminati BBS.)

      however, I've always had problems with the theory that TV is an isolating force. sure, if someone chooses TV in preference to other activities (and never watches TV with others, or at least never talks while watching TV,) then that person becomes isolated. but even in that case, it's not that TV is an isolating force, but that the couch potato chooses isolation. it would be better to ask why more people are choosing isolation.

      I remember reading commentary once about how in the early days of TV and in the radio days before, most of the people you met on the street had seen the same TV show or heard the same radio program you had, so people tended to share a common culture of television and radio; they could talk about what Uncle Milty did last week or about the last episode of Lights Out. it seems that society is fragmenting not because of TV or the internet, but because of increased choice -- you can't count on people having as many shared experiences.

      add to that the increased pressures of socializing. believe it or not, people in the '50s or earlier didn't talk to that many more people than today; family, friends, their neighbors, and certain people they did business with regularly (the grocer, the barber, the mailman, the milkman, and so on.) plus, the population was smaller then than now. what is truly different is that we today are forced to talk to more people, either on the phone or when dealing with the government or crowds at the mall or clerks at the various specialty stores we have to visit (compared to one or two stores someone in the '50s would visit.)

      and don't forget how many people you have to socialize with if you work for a large company, or if you do any kind of phone support.

      so technology is not the isolating factor, really. it's a combination of increased individualization and increased social pressures. TV became more important as an escape valve from having to deal with more and more people every day; its successor, the internet, is also an escape valve, but it allows some buffered socialization that allows you to maintain relationships without constant face-to-face interaction. true, it allows you to maintain relationships with people you may never meet face to face, but it also allows you to meet people face to face that you never would have met otherwise ... and this isn't even new; once the postal system was invented, people began corresponding through the mail, leading to famous examples like robert browning's courtship of elizabeth barrett through the mail, or lovecraft's national network of penpals.

      it may seem ludicrous to offer annecdotal evidence to contradict a (supposed) social trend, but really that "social trend" is itself based on annecdotal evidence: the examples of geeks who never leave their homes, or of people in big cities who don't know the name of the clerk at the grocery store. for every one of those examples, you could cite a counterexample: geeks who go to visit people met online, or hundreds of small towns that still have that local feel that Jon Katz craves. plus, wasn't there a study released a few months ago (even mentioned here) that proved people were not decreasing their social time to use the internet more, but were rather decreasing their television time?

  • by ralphb ( 15998 )
    The 'net has tremendous, unprecedented power to bring people with extremely narrow special interests together. My daughter has a very rare disease [ralphb.net] - so rare that there are no local support groups for it because there are so few patients in any one place. The internet provides the only real-time (chat) and semi-real-time (email, BBs, etc) support for families dealing with this. As little as 4 years ago (when my daughter was diagnosed), there was literally nothing on the web that could be called a support group. Today, I know several people I call friends who I have never met f2f who I would likely never have known if it weren't for these places on the internet.

    Can the internet create situations that cause anti-social behavior? Sure. But there's no substitute for it in some cases, like narrow-focus, widely-disbursed interest groups.
  • I make an effort to talk with room mates and friends often, and to go out and do something frivolous and social at least once a week. I still don't think people get together often enough, but then I'd easily blow half my time socializing if I could.

    The Web, while nourishing in the sense of information gathering and widening of one's knowledge base, (if you make the effort), and while it provides useful forum to send your ideas through the crucible of debate and argument and whatnot. . , the web is definitely NOT nourishing in a social sense.

    I know people whose only friends are on-line ones. How sad! My heart aches for people like that!

    While email can be pleasant in the same way that letter writing is pleasant, it's a far, far cry from being in the physical presence of people you care about and who resonate well with your energy, personality and ideas. There are so many things about humanity you can only learn in the physical presence of others. You can't hug, or laugh with or spar with or make love to an email.

    Cabin fever happens for a reason. Being social is like drinking water. And virtual water just doesn't cut it.

    I generally tend to agree with Katz's sentiments. The dangers of the web are just one more thing we must be aware of in order live healthy, full lives.


    -Fantastic Lad

  • "Reading Katz On Slashdot" is an activity meant to pull people further into the net and out of more social activities and family interataction, which makes this article darned ironic.

    However, "Reading Katz On Slashdot", if anything, is yet another reason for me to realize that I've got better things to waste my time on that reading drivel from an unaccomplished writer who know little about the "community" he writes for. In fact, right now I think I'll help my two year old perfect her drawing skills.
  • Dude... I rarely watch any television. In fact, the only times I find myself in front of that box is when I'm watching a movie on video cassette, and even that is rare.

    The reason I don't watch television is simple: It's annoying. So many advertisements and so many idiotic, mindless shows have made it unbearable for me. I'm amazed that so many Americans subject themselves to this activity; what a waste of perfectly good time. You could be working on your car, or hanging out with some hot chick.

    The Internet, on the other hand, is not a medium for wasting time, as with the television: It's simply not an entertainment medium. It is a medium for communication, education and, more recently, commerce. That there are ways to waste hours on IM is another story altogether.

    xxxxx O xxxxx H xxxxx xxxxx W xxxxx E xxxxx L xxxxx L xxxxx

  • TV shows like "Seinfeld" transcend the sit at home alone experience.
    Many shows do not, however. When Seinfeld was at its peak, I remember
    everyone was talking about it, at least everyone that I knew.
    X-Files, had the same effect.

    Browsing, OTOH, rarely does this. I forward URLs to friends, but
    that's via email, and rarely discussed "live". Browsing is a loner
    sport, IMO.
  • America was founded partly on the notion of common civic spaces -- taverns, greens.

    Free exchange of ideas, perhaps, but not necessarily the infrastructure to support them.

    A lot of cyber-idealists thought the Net was becoming our new common space. That hasn't happened. Nasty teenagers, spammers and greedy corporatists have made common turf on the Net either too expensive, hostile or annoying for most people to spend much time on.

    I disagree. People who would never have connected before are connecting to discuss and share the issues that were important to them before the Net became the commercial entity that it is. Granted there are a few potholes in the InfoSupHiway, but if the Net was as hostile as described, the multitude of IRC nets, portal-provided interest groups, LiveJournal groups, etc. would not be growing as they are now. All it takes is moderation (as in moderated newsgroups) and active administration by those who provide the service.

  • I haven't read the book, but it seems to me that it's coming from an American perspective, which may not be enough. I agree with his basic precept - that using the net takes attention away from interacting in the real world - but that is but one way to use the net. Here in America we use email and the web extensively since our digital lifestyle is based around a non-portable computer, but in Europe and Japan the digital lifestyle is centered around the mobile phone and text messaging. I'll wager this actually helps people interact, and while it's not strictly the internet (iMode notwithstanding) it is and can be the same sort of thing. The simple fact is, if you are dealing within a "global village" paradigm, you may have the option of different lifestyles but you probably won't use them and you'll rarely meet anyone you interact with online... but if your network is community based you'll have no problem meeting people but you won't find people outside of it.
  • People need to visit one another for a good game of chess on a real chessboard every now and then.

    That's what I did as a kid, and just started again recently. It's amazing how society has changed since nobody is required to be face-to-face or even on the phone to communicate anymore.

    Well, I'd write more, but I'm off to teach my g/f and her children some more about the game.

  • Have you ever sat in a public chat room? I did, yesterday. The conversation consisted of one guy posting ascii art, line by line, of a hand flipping you off, and of a butt witha steaming pile of feces underneath.

    Gee, wonder why I don't want to talk to just random anyone.

    If there is one thing that cheap and easy computers has done, it has given the immature and the ignorant a way to express themselves.

    Not that I'm saying I disapprove of the ascii art, but there is a time and a place for everything...with your friends, cool. with random people online, probably not.
  • by CrazyBrett ( 233858 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @01:35PM (#2883152)
    Yeeeaaah, with nobody else,
    You know when I browse alone,
    I prefer to be by myself"
  • Putman defines social capital [bsu.edu] as "features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit."

    Well dang, he just described the Internet. I participate in listservs and web forums every day for cooperation and mutual benefit. I apologize if Putman prefers in-person contact (which for me would only happen at an expensive conference, because there just aren't many like-minded folk who live near me).

    Masons, Elks Lodges, and other social organizations were hugely popular in the late 1800s. Now they operate in obscurity because people fill their time with other activities. Is that bad? It is out of elitism or fear that people blindly tell us the status quo is better than change.

    This /. article was entitled "Browsing Alone." The last thing I feel on the Internet is alone. Maybe Putman should stop being a lurking grue and start communicating.
  • I think Katz and Putnam are confusing a concrete example for a primary anticedent. They assume that TV and the net is the reason for social community decline. They are symptoms, not causes.

    Between 1900-1930's US labor was more or less at war with US industry. The war culminated in the depression. This is when the Captains of Industry were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, not unlike what we are seeing with Enron today and it's miriad offshore partnerships to hide debt, only on an even larger scale.

    Anyway, that war was fueled by some of the most backward labor practices in the western world. Ask your 90 year olds out there what "woking for a living" was like in those days if you can find any. They worked and lived like dogs and fought for every crumb they could get. This was the ingredients of organized labor before Industry got smart about it.

    The depression and the following world war set the stage for an social mileu that was heavily invested in diverting attention from an organized labor force of the rank and file. And people were tired: WWII was the costliest war in the history of the world. The rank and file went into a meat grinder. They came out the other end content with less and having GI bill to help them forget the bad old days of organized labor. It was around this point that the Public Relations Industry was born. PR was initially conceived as a way for Industry to control labor from within. There's a whole history of it.

    Madge: "You're soaking in it!".

    Finally, here's a quote defending electronic community:

    "If you still feel that physical communities must always be superior to electronically linked communities, let me ask you to ponder three words: junior high school.

    Junior high school throws people together who have nothing in common besides parents who chose to locate in a particular neighborhood. Unless you're very adaptable, it is tough to find good friends. High school is more or less the same idea, but the pool of people is usually larger so it is more probable that kids with uncommon interests will find soulmates. In college, not only is the pool larger but there can be a concentration by personality type. Nerds find each other at Caltech and MIT; hippies find each other at Bard and Reed; snobs find each other at Harvard and Princeton; skiers find each other at state schools in Colorado and Vermont. When students graduate and go to work, they usually don't make as many friends. They aren't meeting as many people and the common thread of "do not want to starve in street" doesn't tie them very tightly to other workers."

    Quoted From:

    http://www.arsdigita.com/books/panda/community
  • Certainly, there was a time when the internet wasn't a primary aspect of my life, but I still played with computers. I went out to see movies.... alone. I don't communicate much with my family, I don't know any of my neighbors and some of them I've never so much as said hello to.

    If anything, the internet has made me MORE social. Its just that I'm social with a lot of people I've never met in person. Has it held me back from TRYING to get out there? Probably not. I've made that effort. And I've been largely disappointed. So I quit bothering. I'm happy as I am, as things are. What do I care if social norms clash with my way of life.

    -Restil

"If you want to eat hippopatomus, you've got to pay the freight." -- attributed to an IBM guy, about why IBM software uses so much memory

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