Friday, May 26, 2006

Does internet connect or separate people?

This is a spin-off from my earlier posting on the Police's "Message in the Bottle." Actually, I wanted to comment on Roby's comment. But since this may be a different subject, I guess it's worth being posted as a new entry.

Roby argued that internet (blog, friendster etc.) might connect people. But at the same time it could also create alienation. This reminds me of a similar but different discussion on whether internet makes people from different groups (professions, political ideology, hometown etc.), or even segregate them more?

In the social capital discussion, Robert Putnam raised the concept of 'bonding' and 'bridging' social capital. Another thing he rasied in "Bowling Alone" (2001) was the declining trend in the of civic and community engagement in the U.S., partly because of TV. But other people challenged his argument by pointing that people may still engage in civic activties by other means. Town meeting, rally, petition may still exists but people now can do it through online petition, email communcation, blogging etc. So internet can be a source for 'bridging' social capital.

But internet can also be a source for 'bonding' social capital that segregate different groups of people. This paper shows how it can happen in science. Suppose A and B is are economists, but live in two geographically separate places. A has two colleagues, C and D, who are non-economists but live in the same area with A. Consider the world when communication was still difficult. A will interact more with C and D, which imply the possibility of a cross-disciplinary collaboration.

But because of the revolution in communication technology, A can now easily interact with his or her fellow economist, B. So economists will be more likely to talk only with economist, reducing the possibility of cross-disciplinary interactions. In the authors' language, internet will "Balkanize science."

Well, we could still argue otherwise. Because of communcation, economists who tend to group together can have more access to their non-economists colleagues. At the end, the conclusion can happen in both ways.


  1. I think it was "technology" that alienated people first [as documented on Pirsig's journey], but I believe Internet has making it reverse.

  2. I was about to comment here, but I thought it's a worth piece of posting. So I moved the comment, on social capital, here

  3. Alienated or not, the right question I think is "Do you like it or not?", or for subtler one: "Are you happy?"

    If you are alienated and (or, "but"?) happy, no problem. There are people who enjoy working alone, including the sweetheart of socialism, Marx (Karl, not Groucho). And there are people who get distracted and annoyed by too much "socialization". Raymond is one.

  4. Aco:
    we researchers are never happy with anything. so regardless people are happy bowling alone or not, we will always make the case on it.. :-)