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Communities In Network Society

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This paper intends to show a positive view on changes occurring in communities and social relationships in the age of the network society. With the emergence of new technologies, the meaning of …

This paper intends to show a positive view on changes occurring in communities and social relationships in the age of the network society. With the emergence of new technologies, the meaning of “community” is changing from the traditional neighborhood community, to a group of people that are more tied together in terms of social networks, connected through various networks including computer networks. The hypothesis is that in such communities there are formations of weak ties that connect people with different social backgrounds or communities and thus bring in useful information and connections into one’s life. The effect of weak ties is also significant in process of innovations, which enables small contributions by a large number of people in order to complete a task or an event. Despite early criticism that network society would fragment social ties and families, this essay will explain the positive side of the changes.

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  • 1. Network Society Final Assignment 22nd October 2008 Remi Otani 1
  • 2. Contents Essay Question ...................................................................................................................................3 Executive Summary ...........................................................................................................................3 Introduction ........................................................................................................................................3 Change in Conceptualization of Communities ...................................................................................4 Virtual communities and weak ties ....................................................................................................4 CMC and Communities ..................................................................................................................5 Facebook Case ...............................................................................................................................5 Weak ties and social relationships ......................................................................................................7 Weak Ties and innovations ................................................................................................................7 Conclusion .........................................................................................................................................9 Bibliography ....................................................................................................................................10 2
  • 3. Essay Question What are the changes or shifts in communities and social relationships that are affected by emerging technologies of the network society? Executive Summary This paper intends to show a positive view on changes occurring in communities and social relationships in the age of the network society. With the emergence of new technologies, the meaning of ―community‖ is changing from the traditional neighborhood community, to a group of people that are more tied together in terms of social networks, connected through various networks including computer networks. The hypothesis is that in such communities there are formations of weak ties that connect people with different social backgrounds or communities and thus bring in useful information and connections into one’s life. The effect of weak ties is also significant in process of innovations, which enables small contributions by a large number of people in order to complete a task or an event. Despite early criticism that network society would fragment social ties and families, this essay will explain the positive side of the changes. Introduction The society we live in today has been called by some, [Castells 1996, Dijk 1999 et al.] a network society. According to Castells [2004, p.3], a network society ―is a society whose social structure is made of networks powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technologies‖. It is these information communication technologies [ICTs] that are promoting the evolving social identities and communities [Chambers, 2006]. Moreover, Castells [as cited in Chambers, 2006, p.114] asserts that Computer Mediated Communication [CMC] is an essential ―symbol of change‖ and it is reconstructing labour and employment, as well as managing ―social relationships and cultural identities‖ . In the early days of these technologies, there has been criticisms that the prevalence of the Internet has lead people into social isolation, diminished social communication and fragmented family ties [Castells, 2001]. This paper examines changes in communities and social relationships in relation to the emerging ICTs and will explore the idea that the network society has positive aspects, namely creating more weak ties in spite of early critisism that focused on the negative side. According to Granovetter [1973], weak ties refer to relationships on which one spends less time, and involving less emotional bonding and intimacy. Paradoxically weak ties are stronger in a sense that it brings more opportunities such as employment and that innovation can be spread to larger number of people than through strong ties [Granovetter, 1973] . 3
  • 4. The argument will proceed from explaining changes in the conceptualiztion of communities, followed by an analysis on the shifts in communities in regards of the significance of weak ties. Change in Conceptualization of Communities With the emergence of online communities, the term ―community‖ has expanded from its original meaning which focused on local neighborhood to the virtual world, and thus the importance of weak ties is growing. Within recent community studies, ―neighborhood communities‖ and ―networked communities‖ are the main classifications [Kayahara, 2006]. Neighborhood communities are locally based and the members’ relationships are densely knit [Kayahara, 2006]. According to Granovetter’s [1973] definition, strong ties engage more commitment of time and intimacy, and therefore, it can be speculated that neighborhood communities have more strong ties than weak ties. On the other hand, network communities focus on type of social relationships and are not geographically restricted. Another similar term used in this field is ―virtual community‖, which Rheingold [1993, p.5] defined as ―social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace‖. This definition seems to be more specific than what Kayahara [2006] refers to as network communities, however for convenience sake, these terms will be used as synonyms in this paper including ―online community‖, ―electronic community‖ and ―internet-based community‖. In contrast to strong ties in neighborhood communities, the way weak ties are formulated in these communities is to be explored in the following section. Virtual communities and weak ties Unlike neighborhood communities, virtual communities do not require any physical evidence, locality or full commitment. This can be interpreted from Doheny-Farina’s description of local communities which is, ―you can’t subscribe to a community as you subscribe to a discussion group on the net. It must be lived. It is entwined, contradictory, and involves all our senses‖ [Doheny- Farina, as cited in Baym, 1998, p.37]. Contrary to this description, virtual communities are ―un- subscribable‖, and one does not need to ―live‖ the community, nor involve all his senses. One can join a virtual community very easily and it is equally easy to separate from them. Wellman and Gulia [1999] explain that in online environment there is less hassle escaping from troubles because it only requires one to ―exit‖ the discussion by a click, than in real life situations. That is to say, in 4
  • 5. virtual communities people have greater control over their level of commitment which would give more flexibility in terms of switching and moving among different communities. Moreover, it is easier to join a number of different communities simultaneously because of that increased control. Consequently, analysis reveals that the nature of this fluidity and simultaneity in virtual communities enabled by CMC may lead to the formation of many weak ties, rather than strong ties. To conclude, researches show that internet usage would increase the amount of weak ties in communities [Kavanaugh et al., 2005]. CMC and Communities Having discussed the formation of weak ties in virtual communities, the way computer networks affect social relationships will now be examined in order to clarify the role of CMC in that context. Among twelve points that Wellman and Hampton [1999] have summarized as characteristics and functions of CMC, the following four points are the most important. 1. CMC allows one to stay in contact with different communities, because it is easy to communicate messages to many people at the same time. 2. CMC plays an important role in keeping weak ties, which allows one to have access to variety of environment and thus, access to broader types of information. 3. CMC supports both types of communities; ―specialized communities of interest and broadly-supportive communities of intimacy‖ [Wellman & Hampton, 1999, p. 5]. 4. CMC maintains communities consisting of only online interaction and also those that operate both online and offline. It can be speculated that the way people communicate and interact may be changing, while CMC is lessening previous barriers that bound a user to a limited number of communities [3, 4] with little variety of ties [1,2]. In other words, CMC appears to be encouraging social relationships in its variety and sustainability and not to mention that CMC plays an important role in terms of supporting interactions in communities. Facebook Case One of the most common virtual communities in recent years is Facebook. It is reported that they have accumulated more than 21million members by 2007 [Ellison et al., 2007]. The following case 5
  • 6. study explains how virtual communities are building weak ties and what implication it has for social relationships. According to the research, it was found that the use of these social network services [SNSs] has a strong correlation with building bridging social capital, which is closely associated with weak ties [Ellison et al., 2007]. Social capital refers to ―resources accumulated through the relationships among people‖ [Coleman as cited in Ellison et al., 2007, p.1145]. The research has been conducted among 286 undergraduate students at Michigan State University [MSU] in April 2006 in order to examine how online tools can build offline social capital. Since when the research was conducted, only those who had specific host institution e-mail addresses could join Facebook, the type of community resembles a neighborhood community in terms of its geographical restriction to the MSU campus. The bridging social capital was measured in terms of how much the participants were integrated in the community, the desire for supporting the community, and the level of the impact the community had in terms of widening one’s social perspectives. The results showed that the use of Facebook helps the users increase and keep their bridging social capital. The social capital which has its basis on weak ties appears to be compatible with the nature of SNSs, which allows economical and simple ways of communication [Ellison et al., 2007]. Other findings include the relationship between satisfaction towards their university lives and the intensity of the usage of Facebook. Those who were dissatisfied with their university lives and who had lower self esteem had lower bridging social capital. This implies that weak ties created through Facebook may have brought more information and opportunities to intensive users, helping them to overcome hurdles that lead to low satisfaction or low self-esteem, and therefore enabling them to make the most out of their university life [Ellison et al., 2007]. This research suggest that the use of SNSs leads to building bridging social capitals that are based on weak ties, which could have positive influence on level of life satisfaction and self-esteem. However, the limitations of this research are that it was conducted on only one virtual community which has a strong bond with the real life MSU community and as university students are in the stage of developing social relations, it may be difficult to generalize the results to other kinds of communities [Ellison et al., 2007]. Nevertheless, as Wellman and Gulia [1999, p. 182] assert, ―…people do not neatly divide their worlds into two discrete sets: people seen in-person and people contacted online. Rather, many community ties connect offline as well as online‖, as long as the relationship stemmed from the virtual community does not stay solely online, 6
  • 7. it can be interpreted that the results of this Facebook case study could be valid for other virtual communities to a certain extent. Weak ties and social relationships Another positive view regarding weak ties formation in communities is the way in which weak ties may affect social interactions in neighborhood communities. Granovetter’s [1973] theory of ―strength of weak ties‖ states that different types of information is likely to reach through weak ties, that have access to different and wider social groups. According to a research [to note, community in this context refers to neighborhood community] done by Kavanaugh, Reese, Carroll, and Rosson [2005], …people with weak [bridging] ties across groups have higher levels of community involvement, civic interest, and collective efficacy than people without bridging ties among groups. Moreover, heavy Internet users with bridging ties have higher social engagement, use the Internet for social purposes, and have been attending more local meetings and events since going online than heavy Internet users with no bridging ties. These findings may suggest that the Internet—in the hands of bridging individuals— is a tool for enhancing social relations and information exchange, and for increasing face-to- face interaction, all of which help to build both bonding and bridging social capital in communities. In brief, the emergence of virtual communities has lead to shifts in variety of social relationships, creating many weak ties via CMC. These weak ties are not only useful in exchanging information in the virtual world, but also influential to offline social relationships. Weak Ties and innovations Another aspect of the significance of weak ties in regards to virtual communities is the changes in the process of innovation. Aguiton and Cardon [2007] argue that the use of Web 2.0 services such as blogs, social media and user generated contents demonstrates the strength of weak cooperation. By making a personal production open to the public, people will encounter cooperative opportunities. Thus, use of these services leads to an increase in public interactive relationships in mediated communities and creation of new weak ties [Aguiton & Cardon, 2007]. To note, Aguiton 7
  • 8. and Cardon [2007] do not necessarily apply the word ―virtual community‖, however going back to the definition by Reingold [1993], characteristics of many Web 2.0 services do apply to that definition. Therefore, the term ―Web 2.0 services/ spaces‖ in this section would refer to a similar concept as virtual communities. Aguiton and Cardon [2007] introduce an example of a new online space in Web 2.0 where people cooperate on the basis of weak ties, which is the BarCamp. Weak ties in this context, refers to the ―weaker‖ cooperation dedicated to a project of BarCamp than cooperation required to projects in specific companies. BarCamp was a type of a conference that was held in response to FooCamp, which was an annual conference held by Tim O’ Reilly that only allowed participants who were invited. As Web 2.0 was a growing trend, there were a lot of people in the IT sector who had wished to have attended the conference but was not permitted. As a result, some young professionals decided to hold another conference that was open to all, the BarCamp, which gathered around 200 people. Whoever volunteered to share their ideas gave presentations regarding Web 2.0 applications and new ideas of services, and all participants were free to enter their topics in a timetable showing the place and time of their presentations. There were also group work activities on web application building which participants could choose an application to contribute to, and join the group in finalizing the production. The visibility of this conference was expanded thanks to numerous postings by the participants on blogs, photos uploaded onto Flickr, videos on YouTube and so forth after the event. The existence of BarCamp was to be known to many other countries, such as Canada, France, Germany, Australia, India and also in the USA [Aguiton & Cardon, 2007]. The significance of this event is that although there are hosts and organizers of the event, the contents are produced by the participants [Aguiton & Cardon, 2007]. It is an accumulation of weak cooperation by the participants, which as a result, creates a lot of new contacts and stimulates exchange of new ideas. Aguiton and Cardon [2005, p.57] refer to Benkler who describes this weak cooperation as ―a new context of innovation‖, which is possible where a large number of people gather making small but quality contribution. Analysing this event from the perspective of communities, considering the nature of the organizers being professionals in the IT sector, it can be speculated that participants of BarCamp initially gathered in the virtual world, discussing the concept of the event and process of event management for the actual conference day. The participants meet in person at the conference, encountering 8
  • 9. numerous new people that lead to generation of weak ties. After the conference, the weak ties are spread even more widely into the virtual world by having the participants share their experiences of BarCamp in virtual communities such as YouTube, Flickr, blogs or other SNSs. In this context, personal ties in virtual communities expanded to real social relationships, creating more weak ties in both real life and virtual world. Cameron [2008, p.B3] describes how this is beneficial as, ―…it is not through our friends but rather through our acquaintances that we accomplish the business of our lives‖. BarCamp is planned to be held in more than 30 different countries across Asia, Europe and Africa in 2008 [BarCamp, n.d.]. Considering that the first BarCamp was held in August 2005, it appears that the effect of weak cooperation in the virtual world is significant. Conclusion In conclusion, through exploration of several case studies, it appears that the prevalence of computer networks and emergence of internet-based communities produce a number of weak ties. These weak ties are important because they may promote more real life interaction, exchange of information, and a potentially higher level of life satisfaction and self-esteem. Moreover, weak ties are important foundations to create cooperation based around weak ties that would involve a large number of people for the process of innovation [Aguiton & Cardon, 2007]. The network society today enables communities to foster and enhance social relationships by creating a number of weak ties because computer networks provide the basis for CMC. CMC provides a speedy, simple and economical way of connecting to one another [Wellman & Hampton, 1999], and promotes active interactions among community members. Therefore, the emergence of network society and its technologies provide enormous potential for boosting interaction and involvement of community members through weak ties, and thus providing members with a range of additional social benefits. That is to say, this is an example of a positive aspect of the emergence of the network society. 9
  • 10. Bibliography Aguiton, C., & Cardon, D. [2007]. The Strength of Weak Cooperation: an Attempt to Understand the Meaning of Web 2.0. Communications & Strategies , 65 [1], 51-65. Retrieved October 13, 2008, from http://www.idate.fr/fic/revue_telech/696/CS65_AGUITON_CARDON.pdf BarCamp. [n.d.]. BarCamp Front Page. Retrieved October 13, 2008, from BarCamp: http://barcamp.org/ Baym, N. K. [1998]. The Emergence of On-Line Community. In S. G. Jones [Ed.], Cybersociety 2.0 Revisiting Computer-Mediated Communication and Community [pp. 35-68]. Thousand Oaks, California, U.S.A: Sage Publications, Inc. Cameron, D. [2008, September 21]. WEAKEST LINKS MAKE LIFE POSSIBLE. Times Union, B3. Retrieved October 13, 2008, from Factiva database. Castells, M. [2004]. Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint. In M. Castells, The network society: a cross-cultural perspective [pp. 3-45]. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Castells, M. [2001]. Virtual communities or network society? In M. Castells, The Internet Galaxy [pp. 116-136]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chambers, D. [2006]. New Social Ties Contemporary connections in a fragmented society. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Day, P., & Schuler, D. [2006]. Community Practice in the Network Society: Pathways Towards Civic Intelligence. In P. Purcell, Networked Neighbourhoods [pp. 19-45]. London: Springer-Verlag London Limited. Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. [2007]. The benefits of Facebook quot;Friends:quot; Social Capital and College Students' Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer- Mediated Communication , 12 [4], 1143 - 1168. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from Wiley Inter Science database. Granovetter, M. S. [1973]. The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology , 1360-1380. Hampton, K. N. [2007]. Neighborhoods in the Network Society the e-Neighbors study. Information, Communication & Society , 10 [5], 714-748. Retrieved October 1, 2008, from Informaworld database. Hampton, K. N. [2004]. Networked sociability online, off-line. In M. Castells, The network society: a cross-cultural perspective [pp. 217-232]. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. 10
  • 11. Kavanaugh, A. L., Reese, D. D., Carroll, J. M., & Rosson, M. B. [2005]. Weak Ties in Networked Communities. The Information Society , 21, 119–131. Retrieved October 1, 2008, from Business Source Premier database. Kayahara, J. [2006]. Community and Communication: A Rounded Perspective. In P. Purcell [Ed.], Networked Neighbourhoods The connected Community in Context [pp. 127-155]. London: Springer. Smith, M. A., & Kollock, P. [1999]. Communities in Cyberspace. In M. A. Smith, & P. Kollock [Eds.], Communities in Cyberspace [pp. 3-25]. London: Routledge. Wellman, B., & Gulia, M. [1999]. Virtual communities as communities. In M. A. Smith, & P. Kollock [Eds.], Communities in Cyberspace [pp. 167-194]. London: Routledge. Wellman, B., & Hampton, K. [1999]. Living Networked On and Off Line*. Contemporary Sociology , 28 [6], 648-654. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from http://mysocialnetwork.net/downloads/onandoff.pdf Wellman, B., Salaff, J., Dimitrova, D., Garton, L., Gulia, M., & Haythornthwaite, C. [1996]. COMPUTER NETWORKS AS SOCIAL. Annual Review of Sociology , 22, 213-238. 11

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