Imagining the Internet (3): social relations

And here comes the next big dilemma…

Q.3 – Will social relations get better?

A. In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a negative force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

B. In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

[my answer: B]

Please explain your choice and share your view of the internet’s influence on the future of human relationships in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different in human and community relations?

[elaboration]

“The Internet creates a huge range of often novel choices, from which end-users construct their own adaptive behaviors. The important determining factors in personal friendships, marriages and other relationships remain with the individual. Which isn’t to say the Internet makes no difference. It does. The Internet facilitates anti-social behaviors like identity theft, and positive behaviors like keeping in close touch with relatives in faraway places, to such a degree that they become almost unimaginable in the pre-Internet age. My sense is that, once you eliminate outliers and freakish behaviors, the Internet will continue to bestow tremendous opportunities for social growth on most people, in most circumstances.”

[update]

Dec.31 – Is the Internet an unprecedented force in human affairs, unlike any technology ever known before? I’ve long been inclined to say “yes.” That poses a problem when you look at the Internet as the cause of good relations or bad relations among human beings. As much as I think the Internet will be ubiquitous and, well, all-powerful in 2020, I also think technological determinism is very misguided. The idea e.g. that computers “cause” behavior in any uniform way, overriding individual personality traits, strikes me as silly. And silly whether the outcome is good, bad or indifferent. No matter which derivative of Metcalfe’s Law you subscribe to, the addition of more “utility” or other positive network effects still leaves us with a lot of choices to make about how to use that incremental, network utility.

OTOH, I hear echoes in the non-determinist view of “Guns don’t kill people; people do.” Maybe not, but guns make one helluva difference in a quarrel. The one compelling idea that straddles this dilemma is loss of privacy. The Internet has taken away much of our privacy and it will take away a great deal more. That seems likely to lead to more bad outcomes than good ones.

2 thoughts on “Imagining the Internet (3): social relations

  1. You state that, “once you eliminate outliers and freakish behaviors, the Internet will continue to bestow tremendous opportunities for social growth on most people, in most circumstances.” And follow up in your Dec. 31st update with a cautionary post, “the addition of more “utility” or other positive network effects still leaves us with a lot of choices to make about how to use that incremental, network utility.”

    If we disregard for a moment the negative and specious “outliers and freakish behaviors” that exist whether on or offline in social relationships, a further important consideration comes up: in the plethora of choice that the Internet affords us in the realm of social networking, is it detrimental to an individual NOT to use any online social networking utilities? That is to say, are the likes of Facebook, email, IM and Twitter becoming so ubiquitous that, as my generation (I am 25) begins to enter true adulthood, will the ability or the choice to socially network offline become more and more difficult? Does it become increasingly detrimental to the social relationships of the unconnected or under-connected as the Internet becomes more and more ubiquitous in everyday life? Does this consideration even matter or should those who choose to be left behind, get left behind?

    Personally, I think it is important to have a blend of both online and offline social relationships and we should have the ability to work with both. But there is certainly weight to the consideration that new social and generational gaps can and are opening up.

    I, and many of my generation are creatures of both worlds. At a young age we had to forge relationships and communicate the old way – face to face, at school, etc, and the telephone was tightly controlled by our parents (as opposed to kids with mobile phones today) mostly because it was a shared communication access point in the household. When the day was over and we went home we saw our friends and parents and most communication that was not face to face was generally in service of it – calling a friend to arrange a meeting, etc. As we grew older, the Internet, Web and mobile technology developed with us and so we adopted a hybrid style of social communication that blended CMC social networking with good old fashioned face to face interaction.

    However, on either side of my generation exist more extreme groups. I remember, when I was in high school, that everyone a grade or more behind me each had to get their own laptop to facilitate learning along side the development of the Internet and personal computing. The gap that quickly expanded between my grade and above and those grades below us was most evident at recess. In common areas the grade 12’s (my grade) and 13’s would interact, or not, with nothing more than body language and verbal communication. Yet, interspersed between us, seated on benches or on the floor, would be the younger kids, laptops on laps and open. Despite being in the same area and easily within earshot of each other, they were communicating via instant messages. I need not take this anecdote any further to illustrate my point.

    On the other side of my generation are the parents. I think we can see where this is going. I am aware that what I am talking about is subject to generalizations and stereotypes but I think the point is still of value to consider. Where do we draw the lines and how do we reconcile the differences? Especially when the young, the vulnerable and oblivious (to EULAs and online predators), need protection from a generation that is often much removed from social networking on the Internet. And how do we transition such divides as they have to integrate into the workplace? Fortunately I think a lot of these questions are answered quite organically through the sheer flexibility of human “socialness”, if you will.

    The fact still remains, however, that all these questions are important in considering the future 2020 Internet, especially in regard to human social interaction and digital divisions.

  2. David, I “stumbled” upon your blog. I like the answers you have given for the Pew 2009 survey, some of them mirror how I feel.

    Randomly, I met a friend today who I once went to church with, but had never really spoken to or interacted with before – he goes to York, and we talked mostly through Facebook. So yes, once you weed out the creepy/criminal factor – the Internet can be a great positive tool – especially in terms of reconnecting loved ones.

    Also, I like how you said Google will make us smarter, but intellectually lazy. A lot of my professors and TA’s always say, don’t use Google for research! Using Google scholar, I find a lot of good stuff – as well as sources which can only be found in the library @ York. So I think maybe an emphasis on what to use, and what not to use via Google might help students use it properly.

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