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..In The Era Of Computer Mediated Communication, Distance No Longer Matters

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The social impact of the Internet has been under close scrutiny for many years. One issue that has generated a great deal of debate among researchers is the effect of Internet use on interpersonal connectivity (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991; Uslaner, 2000).

Three major conflicting findings have been reported:

Internet use decreases social ties,

Internet use increases social ties, and

Internet use neither decreases nor increases social ties (Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001).

The current debate over the impact of Internet use on social ties can be traced back to the publication of Howard Rheingold's (1993) influential book on "virtual community," where the Internet was described as capable of bringing strangers together to form intimate online networks. Rheingold's positive assessment of the Internet conflicted with the negative views expressed by other scholars who regarded online social networks as "the illusion of community" or "categorical identities" that are inferior to the "dense, multiplex, or systematic web of interpersonal relationships" formed in corporeal copresence.

Internet use has been found to be detrimental to offline interpersonal relationships. The "greater use of the Internet was associated with subsequent declines in the size of both the local social circle and, marginally, the size of the distant social circle" (p. 1025). Kraut and his associates dubbed this finding an "Internet paradox" because use of the Internet, a technology for social contact, actually led to the reduction of offline social ties. This paradox argument received further support from Nie, Hillygus, and Erbring's (2002) time diary study that shows "on average, the more time spent on the Internet, the less time spent [offline] with friends, family, and colleagues"

The unique quality of being able to post messages to and from everyone with an electronic address without editorial control or the intervention from the government has the likely potential to become one of the most powerful

democratic tools ever. In this matter the distance between individuals plays a positive role because in a democratic context one is able to go far in conveying their messages. Because one is able to ignore time, space, and physical circumstances, they remove the visual cues that often inhibit or facilitate communication. Furthermore, the marvels of digital communication have erased many of the prejudices that arise from these culturally speicific visual cues. Thus the encounter becomes a true meeting of the minds. This particularly goes to reinforce "freedom of speech" in essence, but with the establishment of the Patriot Act in USA shortly after 911, even that privilege is now in jeopardy.

Another very distinct feature of the CMC profile happens to be anonymity. In the context of debate, the varying perspectives are relatively justified. You see, anonymity can be a great shied when people want to express their ideas fearlessly as they do in "political blogs" OR a risky one when the intentions are purely deceptive.

When computer networks link people they become social networks. However, can relationships between people who never see, hear or smell each other be productive, supportive or intimate? These questions have captured people's imagination. The outlook on the era of CMC remains more enthusiastic than critical despite all the concern. The sociological debate on this technology has been less analytical than expected.

Computer-supported social networks are becoming important bases of virtual communities, paperless offices and telecommunication centres. Computer-mediated communication such as electronic mail and computerized conferencing is usually text-based and asynchronous. It has limited social presence, and on-line communications are often more unrestrained, creative, and blunt than in-person communication. Nevertheless, through CMC people sustain strong, intermediate, and weak ties that provide information and social support in both specialized and broadly based relationships. CMC fosters virtual communities that are usually partial and narrowly focused, although some do become encompassing and broadly based. They accomplish a wide variety of cooperative work, connecting



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