Monday, July 17, 2006

Social networks and community life in the age of the Internet

Via Smart Mobs comes news of a forthcoming article by Keith Hampton entitled, "e-Neighbors: Neighborhoods in the Network Society" . Here's the abstract:
This study examines in detail the specific contexts where Internet use affords local interactions and facilitates community involvement at the neighborhood level. Studies of Internet and community have found that information and communication technologies provide new opportunities for social interaction, but that it may also increase privatism by isolating people in their homes. This paper argues that while the Internet may encourage both home-centeredness and communication across great distances, it may also facilitate interactions centered near the home. Unlike traditional community networking studies, which focus on bridging the digital divide, this study focuses on bridging the divide between the electronic and parochial realms. Detailed, longitudinal social network surveys were completed with the residents of four contrasting neighborhoods over a period of three years (suburb, apartment building, gated community). Three of the four neighborhoods were provided with a neighborhood email discussion list and a neighborhood website. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to model over time the number of neighbors recognized, emailed, met in-person, and talked to on the telephone. The neighborhood email lists were also analyzed for content. The results suggest that the Internet use has already been adopted into the maintenance of neighborhood social networks. However, neighborhood effects reduce the influence of everyday Internet use, as well as the experimental intervention, in communities that lack the context to support local tie formation. Early adopters of the Internet and active users of the neighborhood email list built larger weak tie networks over time.
The paper's not been published yet, but SmartMobs assures us that Hampton will send reprints upon request.


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