Sunday, February 1, 2009

Power of the Internet

Submitted on behalf of Stephanie Feirsen:

It is hard to deny that media, in some way or another, helps to shape each and every one of our lives. Today, there exist numerous forms of media from newspapers to the internet and everything in between. As each new form of media was introduced into society, questions arose as to whether it had the ability to undermine and displace tradition and “higher” cultural values. In chapter 3 of Mass Communication Theory, Baran and Davis write that media has the “power to profoundly shape our perceptions of the social world and to manipulate our actions, often without our conscious awareness” (45). In this same chapter, the authors discuss the ideas of Gemeinschaft, folk communities bound by ties to tradition, family, and rigid social control, and Gesellschaft, modern industrial society in which people are weakly bound by even weaker social institutions instead of tradition. The authors argue that the influx of newer media has caused American society to transition from a relatively Gemeinschaft society to a Gesellschaft society. This was not an overnight change. Instead, much like Laswell’s ideas about propaganda, the media influenced people in gradual ways, eventually creating new norms in society (93). It became a rare occurrence in society when a person joined a bowling club or a book club. People went from attending school board meetings and neighborhood watch meetings to being glued to a form of media.

Recently, the Internet has come under fire as critics have expressed the idea that the World Wide Web does not, in fact, broaden and increase social relationships; instead it has created and will continue to create a society of anti-social individuals with an isolation complex, thus fully transporting us into a Gesellschaft society. Many have argued that the Internet not only created a direct link to information, but also a reason for people to exist as an entity unto themselves.
On September 1, 1998, Science Daily featured an article about a Carnegie Mellon study which revealed that the Internet, a seemingly social technology, actually had very negative and anti-social effects on consistent users. The study declared that teenagers were the most at risk since they seemed to be the most frequent “consumers” of this media.

There are others who celebrate the power of the internet as a social networking tool. During a CNN interview circa March 11, 2008, Alex Steffan (the editor for Worldchanging) expressed the idea that the internet is acutally mending relationships and bringing people back together. He insisted upon the notion that the internet provides an outlet in which people can find others just like them, people with whom they can relate. To be lonesome is a thing of the past; friends are just an internet connection and a computer click away.

What do you think? Is the Internet really mending relationships, or is it breaking interpersonal bonds so badly that we are becoming an anti-social society? Is it a problem that so many people have taken to the Internet and have given chat rooms a priority over face-to-face interactions? Why is it that people are considering the Internet more of a threat to traditional social institutions more than any other form of media? Do you believe that we, as a society, can ever go back to a Gemeinschaft society?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Both articles provide good examples to argue either side. On the one hand the internet is looked at as a way to become lazier when it comes to conversation and talking amongst friends, family, colleagues etc. One could even argue if that truly constitutes ‘conversing’ at all since no words are spoken to get a message across. I thought our generation was becoming more anti-social but nowadays I see more and more tweens texting like it’s their job.

    On the other hand you can not also overlook the advances that current day technology has presented the world. The internet is just another tool that enables us to keep in touch with people like friends and family that maybe on the other side of the globe. Webcams have provided US soldiers stationed in Iraq a first glimpse at their newborns that they may not have otherwise seen. The internet makes it feel as though you’re right there with the other person even though you could be thousands of miles apart.

    So while arguments can clearly be made on both sides I would have to favor new age technology. While the mass media in some ways, “disrupt kinship and direct face-to-face contact” (Baran & Davis, 63) “Certain media can indeed play more important roles during times of social instability or national crisis” (57). One of the few things we can count on is change, especially in the media, “Traditional forms of communication are abandoned, and new messages and the media that carry them are embraced” (68). As something new comes along we welcome these technological chances because in some ways it’s a new way to keep in touch but we also don’t want to fall behind the times.

    The internet as well as Blackberrys and texting are ways that people become less social and there’s no denying that people use these devices to sometimes avoid talking or speaking to someone face to face. But I think even more people are using things such as Facebook and/or AIM as a way to keep in touch even more because you can use this media to set up events, share photos and a variety of other things.

    Finally, as we have already become a society on the go I don’t believe we can ever fully go back to a Gemeinschaft society but that doesn’t mean that the internet or newer forms of technology will erase these practices entirely.

    -Dave Bertagno

  3. The internet is definitely the biggest thing to happen to our generation. Before it was electricity, radio, and television. While that carnegie mellon article may have and i believe that it did apply, it is still 10 years old now. i think that the people that dont use the resources that we have now such as the internet and cell phones with those kind of capabilities are actually the outcasts of society today. When was the last time you met someone with no internet, or what may even be worse, a 56K modem? Every person wants to see the power of the internet and use all of its resources. The main purpose when the internet was created was for the US army and the government. This was to send information and keep it in their own web circle of people to view the documents and contents. Now we mostly use it for social networking and research of some kind, whether its facebook stalking or writing a thesis. I know some people like everyone else that doesnt have a facebook account and doesnt use AIM often if at all. I also know of some people that complain about how relationships are via the web now and they try to change other people and do things to stop it such as sending cards instead of emails. I don't know however a person that is in both of the aforementioned statements. IE the people with facebook are complaining about it, send letters via the post mail, and still use facebook. I dont think we will ever go back to where we were. Everything will keep getting faster and easier for us. The internet and our communication is great for the business world and wanting something instantly but people to people connections do suffer. People will know a lot of people by networking but not really know them as an individual. you almost put on an act when you are on a computer typing instead of talking on the phone, or actually talking with someone. Most people dont act like themselves, they act fake and try to impress others. when you send emails to professors, how are they different from emails to your friends, group members, coworkers, and people that want to hire you for a million dollar job? they would all be the same. would you fix punctuation, and grammer, spell words correctly and always use capitals?

  4. There is no doubt that media has consistently helped shape each of our lives. It is extremely hard to escape media whether it is radio, television, newspapers, or the internet. I agree with the notion that the Internet is mending relationships but I also agree with the notion that it is breaking interpersonal bonds making us an anti-social society. I think our society is constantly looking for whatever is convenient for each individual, especially with our generation. Our generation finds the internet to be a huge convenience, especially with our busy schedules.

    I agree with Laswell’s ideas regarding propaganda and how the media has influenced people but in a gradual way. (93) I think that everyone has at least one television show that they are “glued” to that they simply cannot miss each week. I have at least three or four that I can think of that I try not to miss every week but occasionally I do. However, I feel that watching these shows mends relationships with my friends because we usually watch them together.

    I also feel that the media has helped us stay connected and in touch to those who are in a different country. Such as, my best friend was in Spain all last year and we kept in touch by using Skype, AIM, and Facebook.

    I think that the study that Carnegie Mellon did was also a really good example. In the article it said, “Even though people in the study heavily used electronic mail and other communication services on the Internet, the research found that spending time on the Internet was associated with later declines in talking among family members, reductions in the number of friends and acquaintances they kept up with, and increases in depression and loneliness” (Science Daily, 1). I think that this is definitely true. I have many friends that already talk to their families a lot less because they are constantly in their rooms on Facebook, MySpace, and AIM.

    I do feel that sometimes it is breaking interpersonal bonds making us an anti-social society. I don’t like to talk on the phone at all. I’m not really sure why, but I would much rather email, IM, or write a Facebook or MySpace message to someone than talk to them on the phone. It is definitely more convenient for me to do that because I always multi-task when I am on my computer. I feel that when I talk on the phone and I don’t give my complete attention to the person I’m on the phone with that I miss what they are saying and they start to get aggravated.

    Marlaina Luciano <3

  5. When looking at the Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft society, it is hard to see how our society would even function today under the Gemeinschaft model. When I think of traditional social institutions and people being bound together by family ties, I think of how our country was years ago, as I read it in history books where the only form of entertainment was telling stories to each other or spending time with your neighbors. But as I think more about this concept, I feel like an older generation, such as my father’s , could relate more to the Gemienschaft society and that goes back to the 1960’s and 70’s which is not that far back. When he was young he lived in a small village and before there were such things as television sets in every house hold and way before the internet was known, everyone was friends and people would spend their evenings around the village with each other.
    Looking at life now, that type of society wouldn’t really fit into how things are today. The family ties that bound people together have been replaced by weaker institutions and more impersonal relationships. Jobs have changed tremendously since the 1960’s with the rise of the internet and other technology. These new jobs make it difficult for the average worker to come home after a long day and want to go out to talk to their neighbors. Instead that person comes home and watches television or goes online before going to bed to do it all over the next day.
    I don’t think that this new type of society is a bad thing though. Take education as a social institution. One might say that it has become weakened because there are not just the traditional studies and the internet and media are important to the way education is today. It is now possible to get a degree by only taking online classes.
    It is true that people are not being as personal with other people as much as they were in previous years. With the rise of websites such as Facebook and Myspace that connect people to one another, the need for in person contact is eliminated to a certain degree. In Baran and Davis, “when people are stripped of the protective cocoon provided by the traditional community, they necessarily turn to media for the guidance and reassurance previously provided by their communities” (56) and I can see this online. No matter what your problem is or no matter how alone you might feel on a subject, if you go online there is always someone else who you could relate to about the same thing. I don’t think having this option is ruining our social structures. If anything, it is helping people connect with others when they need it most. I think people consider the internet more of a threat to society then other media outlets because people can connect to one another through the internet, something they cannot do through the television or movie screen.

  6. These days, people are constantly on-the-go. Our busy schedules sometimes prevent us from keeping in touch with family and friends. We sometimes innocently forget to call to catch up with that friend we haven’t spoken to in awhile. Fortunately, social networking sites like Facebook unquestionably help keep busy people connected. Even with a packed schedule, it is easy to find time to shoot a friend a Facebook message to find out what he or she has been up to recently.

    Also, the use of webcams and programs like Skype unquestionably keep people connected and are beneficial in maintaining strong relationships. These programs allow people to talk to friends and family all over the globe face-to-face with the click of a mouse. Instant messaging can also be used to talk to people who are out of the country. One of my roommates is studying abroad in Australia this semester. Without instant messaging or Skype, remaining in contact with her would be much more difficult, and I think the internet has overall been beneficial to our friendship.

    However, when people choose to chat online all day instead of having face-to-face interactions, this is when problems do arise. People who allow the internet to consume too much of their time are unquestionably putting themselves at a disadvantage socially. It is important to choose to go out with friends rather than talk to strangers online. A student who spends time in between classes chatting with friends online and then goes out with friends later that evening is not jeopardizing his or her relationships in any way. Janna Malamud Smith writes in the “Online but Not Antisocial” article from the New York Times about how her son chats with friends online after finishing his homework. She explains how it would be ideal if her son and his friends lived in the same neighborhood and could get together after his homework was completed, but that talking in a chat room is not a bad alternative. I would agree with her because her son is simply trying to stay connected with his friends when he is not able to hang out with them face-to-face. In this case, Smith’s son is also not jeopardizing his relationships with his friends.

    It is the person who chooses to sit online for most of the day and night attempting to develop friendships with strangers in online chat rooms who would most likely begin to feel lonely and depressed, as the Carnegie Mellon article describes. As human beings, we have a need to develop real emotional and loving connections with people, and I do not think that strictly online relationships can provide this connection for us. It is being on the internet constantly and allowing it to consume social interaction that will cause a person to feel lonely and become anti-social.

    Overall, I believe it is important to remember to balance the amount of time spent online and the amount of time spent with friends. The internet is an extraordinarily beneficial way to stay in contact with loved ones, and I think that in this way it does help to maintain solid relationships and bring us together. However, spending too much time on social networking sites, attempting to form strictly online relationships with other people, or choosing to stay indoors online all day and night can jeopardize relationships with others and is the cause of the loneliness and depression that the researchers at Carnegie Mellon described.

  7. As many scholars and professionals have pointed out the internet has many negative effects. I feel however the positives of the internet outweigh the negative. The second article makes very valid points; yes we do not have to go to the market to pick up something and have a pleasant conversation, but we also don’t have to fight to the death for Christmas presents. How much could one really get out of a quick chat that the market anyway? I actually think the internet has made us much more social.
    When it comes to interacting, a lot of people especially college-aged individuals don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone, especially to acquaintances. The internet allows everyone to interact without having to call anyone. Therefore increasing the amount of people a single person is able to contact. Which is in fact the opposite of which the first article suggests. It also allows us to form other social contacts by making it easy to connect with people with similar interests.
    As for the concept of the shift from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft I don’t think we will ever go back to the former but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As the book states average people started depending less on the traditional wielders of power. People in the modern society rely more on rules and laws. Now because of the internet people can rely less on experts and leaders, as the internet can provide people with their own gateway to information. Everyone can learn to rely on themselves more, and in some aspects become an expert in their own right.

  8. I believe that the internet is absolutely a powerful tool in the fast paced world we live in today. The internet has put such industries as radio and newspapers (practically) out of business. We no longer need a newspaper to read the tragedies of the previous day when we have up to the minute news feeds on CNN or even our Yahoo/MSN homepages. With this tool, we can click to whichever article appeals most to us, instead of sitting through what the producers of news stations want us to hear.

    I believe the internet has brought society a long way. I personally can keep in contact with my grandparents and family in Ireland without too much effort (which was not so years ago). With the likes of e-mail especially, mail carriers are even becoming more and more obsolete.

    I believe websites such as Myspace and Facebook have drastically changed the way people can socialize. When it first began, Facebook was geared towards college students who were interested in keeping in contact with people they graduated high school with. Facebook has ran with this idea, and now anyone who wants an account can have one. I believe that social networking sites on the internet such as this is good for socialization, not harmful.

    Baran and Davis discuss something similar when they state, "...we expect that young adults can and should seek new places where they can "find themselves" and develop new views of the social world. When individuals face these types of changes in their lives, they usually deal with them through various forms of communication" (57). The chapter continues to discuss college students using online social networks to develop their "personal identity". I believe that a tool like the internet can hurt (at times) when abused, but mostly is just that, a tool. It is what we make it and with the fast paced society that we live in, the internet will have to keep up if it doesn't want to become obsolete like many other forms of media over the centuries.

  9. I think that both articles by Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft have two very compelling arguments, however I am in favor of the thought that the media has helped bring our society together moreover the argument of it tearing us apart.
    I can see how Gemeinschaft sees society as breaking away from the tradtionalism that at one point represented what America was about. However, I think that Americans still have their traditions, but have simply moved forward with the times which is important in keeping up with the rest of the world.
    On the other hand Gesellschaft’s idea of a modern industrial society is strong but I do not see the media as the thing to blame for making us a broken society.
    From my own personal experience I feel that the internet has helped bring us together in so many ways. It helps us connect on a level we had no access to prior to this age. I believe that the internet is helping us become a more social society, in helping us branch out and finding old friends, connecting distant relatives…this connection is a click away. I don’t think we can ever really go back to an extreme Gemeinschaft society, however I think we can keep our traditions and adjust them to the times now so that we always have them with us.
    My last thoughts were in response to does the internet keep us from having face-to-face interactions? I think if anything it sets us up to have these face-to-face interactions, for example dating websites, chat rooms where people can schedule in-person meetings. In my mind, the internet serves as a medium in bringing us closer to one-another.

  10. It is true that both of the articles have compelling arguments, however I am also in favor of the fact that media has helped bring our society together. By having more access to media, the world is more knowledgeable about what is going on in other countries and they are more apt to pay attention to what is really happening in those parts of the world.
    Even as Americans, we are learning more and more about the societies, governments and issues in other countries around the world. That is not something which we have been very open to in the past. With the internet news media literally at our fingertips, we are able to connect to countries many of us could never even dream about visiting and learn how current events are effecting them. It is a great thing because there are so many societies to learn about and by using the media, the world is really beginning to feel like one society instead of many different ones. We are all able to relate to one another and make sure that we are no longer ignorant to the issues of the world.
    As Davis states, the internet has the “power to profoundly shape our perceptions of the social world and to manipulate our actions, often without our conscious awareness” (45). It is great because by doing so, we are able to become more compassionate about what is really going on in the world.

  11. Science Daily featured an article about a Carnegie Mellon study which revealed that the Internet, a seemingly social technology, actually had very negative and anti-social effects on consistent users.” Later, Stephanie offered a counterargument stating that, “. During a CNN interview circa March 11, 2008, Alex Steffan (the editor for Worldchanging) expressed the idea that the internet is actually mending relationships and bringing people back together. He insisted upon the notion that the internet provides an outlet in which people can find others just like them, people with whom they can relate. To be lonesome is a thing of the past; friends are just an internet connection and a computer click away.” These are two completely different arguments, but I think that looking at the time that they were released is their most important aspect.
    The first study, released on September 1, 1998, by Science Daily stated that the Internet actually had negative and anti-social effects on consistent users, which are teenagers. The most important aspect of this study is that it was conducted in 1998. In 1998, the Internet was relatively a new social medium of communication. The Internet had only really been widely available for a short amount of time, just a few years, and many of the powerful socialization networks such as Facebook and Myspace did not exist at the time. I believe the Internet was widely criticized for its possible anti-social effects it had on teenagers. I believe this was just an outcry to a small issue of the Internet of its time, and really, I believe that the article is very passive about the optimistic opportunities the Internet can bring to people. I believe the article only focused on these negative effects, which is understandable to criticizing the communication medium that they really did not understand.
    On the contrary, just about 10 years later, Alex Steffan (the editor for Worldchanging), stated that the internet is actually mending relationships and bringing people back together. I believe that this article was written much more open-minded. Steffan had 10 more years of information to present in his argument. By this time, Facebook and Myspace had been established, and these networks are currently widely used by teenagers; the same group heavily criticized by the first study. Even with these gigantic social networks, Steffan did not believe today’s teenagers were actually experiencing a very negative and anti-social effects as consistent users, but believed the opposite, that the Internet created a means to mend relationships and bring people together.
    I believe that the Internet mends relationships. I believe that the Internet is past its initial criticized introduction to the world; people have seen what it is capable of, and they have seen the effects it can have on people. I believe that people have the ability to choose whether or not to become engulfed in social networks. I believe some use it much more than others; I believe some people get addicted to social networks such as Facebook and Myspace; that it becomes a part of their everyday life; but I believe that going as far as saying that the Internet has a very negative and anti-social effects on consistent users is ignorant, and is a very broad statement made 10 years ago, when the Internet was new and easier to criticize because it was not understood as much as it is today.
    People consider the Internet more of a threat to traditional social institutions more than any other form of media because it is so interactive, so new, and so misunderstood. Traditional social institutions of media have been around for many decades. Print such as newspapers and magazines, radio broadcasting such as the news and television have all been around for a very long time. The only power that the user has is to turn a page or change a channel to receive certain information that is really unexpected but heavily controlled and widely understood by society in general. The Internet is much different. First of all, it is very interactive. Users must acknowledge the information before they access it, endless amounts of information is available at the click of a mouse. Second, it is very new. The Internet is such a powerful communications medium, and most people are only now getting familiar with it. Lastly, it is misunderstood. It is very easy for an older person to criticize a teenager for spending an hour a day on Facebook, but then again, that older person never grew up with the Internet, or with Facebook to socially connect and stay in touch with friends.
    I think that the Internet is widely criticized in society because it is relatively new and misunderstood. Many people have seen problems that the Internet can create, Identity Theft, heavy use of Social Networking, children accessing pornography, and theft. I think few look to its advantages, such as instant shopping, managing bank accounts, getting information on just about anything by searching, e-mail, games… the list goes on forever. The Internet can be looked at as socially harmful, or socially uplifting. I what a person deems socially acceptable is the most important element to look at when dealing with the Internet. I believe the Internet is innovative, creative, useful, and I believe it definitely mends social relationships; the Internet does not have negative and anti-social effects on consistent users.