The Internet: Bringing People Closer Together

 To many around the world, the internet has proven to be a powerful tool to not only share information with others, but also as a way to communicate with others. In the last few years, this form of communication has revolutionized within itself through the creation of social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, as well as online communities, such as Cybercity, which, in a way, seem to be taking over other electronic ways of communication such as e-mail. Through these sites, people are able to meet new people as well as maintain old friendships that have been split apart due to distance. The internet has not only helped with friendships but rather it has also dug deeper into the realm of more intimate relationships through dating sites. Through these sites, it is possible to see that the internet has helped bring people closer together by facilitating the way in which people meet as well as in the way they maintain their relationships with others. As many college students know, staying friends with people from high school can be difficult once everyone goes their separate ways. This may be one of the reasons why many people have a Facebook and probably begin to use it more in college. In fact, in the study by Ellison, Steinfeld, and Lampe (2007), 94% of students were Facebook users, showing that it is a very prominent site among college students. Furthermore, they also found that 96% of people mentioned their high school’s name on their page, implying that the site is used to maintain bonds with high school friends. As shown by these findings, social networking sites can be used to maintain close ties with friends that are not seen very often, something referred to by the researchers as maintaining bonding social capital. But this maintenance of close ties is not only limited to long-distance friendships but rather it can also be applied to local friendships as well. Findings from Ellison et al.’s study show that people also communicate with those people they see on a regular basis. By doing so, people can transform temporary acquaintances into friendships. As is shown by this study, social networking sites help people facilitate the maintenance of friendships by providing a venue in which one can communicate with friends that cannot regularly be seen as well as to increase communication with an offline friend that is regularly seen. Social networking sites can also help learn more about friends through pictures and information written on the page about the self, as was seen in Experiment number seven. Although it can be seen as an invasion of privacy to some, amongst friends, it can be seen as a way to gather information of a friend which can then lead to a greater understanding of the person and, thus, a greater feeling of closeness, especially if that information is later shared in person. The internet not only helps with the maintenance of friendships but rather it can also help with the formation of new ones. Although we can see this occurring through social networking sites, one of the greatest examples we saw in class comes from a paper by Carter (2005) on virtual communities. More specifically, we saw the way people form friendships online which can then lead to meeting offline. What is most interesting about the people on this site is that, although most people had never met their online friends before, they still felt a strong sense of connection. Some felt the connection so much that, as said before, it led them to want to meet in person. What is seen in these people is that simply knowing characteristics of a person in the community can lead to a feeling of having what Carter identified as Gidden’s “pure relationship” (2005). They felt that what brought them close together was actually not being able to see the physical attributes of the person to whom they were talking. Instead, they explained, they were able to focus on the person’s qualities and on the person within. Through this example, we can see that the internet can provide a way for people to meet new people and to form close relationships by simply disclosing information even in the absence of physical contact. The internet does not end with helping to create and maintain friendships bur rather it goes on to help with the formation of more intimate relationships. As we saw in the study by Sautter, Tippett, and Morgan (2010), when people find themselves unable to meet people in the traditional way, they turn to online dating sites for help. Through the experiment on online dating (Experiment # 8), I found that sites, such as Match.com, really try to match a person to someone else according to similarities in characteristics all with the purpose of finding a person that will be ideal for one. After one is matched, I assume, one tries to communicate with them more, eventually finding out more information about the person. What online dating sites are ultimately designed to do is to bring two people with similar characteristics together to form a relationship. In essence, online dating sites help identify people that would want to be close together and guide them toward being close together. Though there have been many debates about the effects of the internet on social lives, whether it isolates or socializes people more, much of the literature and the experiences of others has shown that the internet can bring people closer together. Though there may be instances in which it may do the opposite, there are definitely instances in which people find themselves communicating more with people and staying close to those they love through the internet. We also see that the internet has the potential to help create bonds between people that can last a lifetime but it may depend on the experience that one has had with the internet as well. Though there may not be a right or wrong answer, there has been evidence in favor of the internet as a facilitator to closer friendships. As the years progress and the internet continues to change, different venues for social networking may replace the present ones and may bring with them even easier ways to bring people closer together.

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