Tag Archives: relationships

“A Hunger for Community” (Rheingold, 1993)

4 May

Last night I read chapter ten of Yochai Benkler‘s Wealth of Networks – a great read that responds to the early concerns by certain groups or researchers that the introduction of the internet was the beginning of the end of relationships among family and friends. Reports such as the Internet Paradox by Robert Kraut and the “preliminary report” from the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society inject a sense of fear in the literature. Basically, they claim that the greater the use of the internet, the less people connect meaningfully with their family and friends, and therefore the looser the ties they have with those they already know.

Benkler was incredibly smart in how he addressed these reports. My sense is that he knew that if he objectively revealed the findings in these reports as a basis for his response to the concerns, explaining why the concerns were sensationalist would require little energy. Both the questionable methodology of these reports, and the assumptions made within, are aptly pointed out by Benkler.

Rather than displacing “real” contact with family and friends, Benkler suggest that the internet can supplement existing relationships while also meeting new people. He also cites Howard Rheingold who explains that when “technology becomes available to people anywhere, they inevitably build virtual communities with it, just as microorganisms inevitably create colonies” – speaking to this almost instinctive need or impulse of humans. Rheingold also intimates that the internet is on par with other revolutionary communications technologies, such as the printing press or the telegraph.

For my work in international education, relationships would be extremely challenging (not to mention expensive and time consuming) without the internet. I can’t imagine doing my job without it. Conversely, when I am overseas for work, my online connections with home supplement my existing relationships, rather than supplant them as argued by Benkler.