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Oakland, CA

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The Internet and Interpersonal Relationships. Posted on 07/25/2002.

One of my (too) many side projects is writing an essay on "e-relationships"--how technologies, particularly the internet, affect how people relate to one another. After years of sensationalist speculation about depression, cybersex, preying on teenagers, and the like, in the last couple of years, there's actually been some solid social science research in this area, and the findings were simple -- e-relationships are pretty much like any other relationship, only moreso. Which is a glib way of saying, that the technology doesn't have much of an effect, and what effect it does have seems to be to heighten existing tendencies--extraverts get more extraverted, introverts more introverted.

In my research, I stumbled across a bunch of resources... Here are a few which I liked most.

"The Social Net". This article from Science News might be the single best overview of what's currently known about e-relationships right now.

The HomeNet Project. Out of Carnegie-Mellon, this research progress probably has attracted the most notice, first for it's 1998 study which claimed heavy internet use lead to maladjusted social tendencies, and then it's 2002 study which was something of a retraction.

Computing for the People. This older Fast Company article actually doesn't suck.

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know: Work in the Information Age. This First Monday article by peterme fave Bonnie Nardi, and her colleagues Steve Whittaker and Heinrich Schwarz, discusses how the issues of e-relationships at work.

Follow the Money -- Online Personals: Viagra for Content's Bottom Line?. How online personals is proving to be a profitable business for content providers. (This gets back to the whole, "it's communication, not content, that is king." This piece is interesting because it shows that while people won't pay for content on, say,, they'll pay for the ability to communicate with its readers. Suggesting an evolution of publications into community spaces.)

Pew's Internet and American Life Reports. There are many. Many are good.

Barry Wellman's publications. A researcher in social capital and social networks. Lots of good stuff here.

Of course, Clay has written about this. And, naturally, it's worth reading.

5 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "Catch me, I'm falling..."
Next entry: "Interview with Internet Relationship Researcher Katelyn McKenna."


My first encounter with research on what internet could do with interpersonal relationships was by Judith Donath at the MIT Medialab. She was the first to make e-cards.
Now she runs the Sociable Media Group working on chat circles, analyzing signatures in newsgroups and even fashion and trends in homepage design.
Is this something you stumbled on as well?
Posted by Ianus Keller @ 07/26/2002 02:28 AM PST [link to this comment]

Here are some more links to ethnographic research of internet use:

One thing I'm really interested in is cultural influences on web use, but I haven't found much work so far. (apart from the usual suspects like Hofstede that are not specific to internet use), any pointers anyone?
Posted by PeterV @ 07/26/2002 04:47 AM PST [link to this comment]

Now that I'm browsing that old wiki of mine (haven't visited it for months), here are more yummie links:
Posted by PeterV @ 07/26/2002 04:54 AM PST [link to this comment]

While I admire the work done my the Media Lab, I find it too technologically-obsessed for my tastes. There seems to be little social science research, and lots of "Hey, this would be cool!" And, well, much of what comes out of there *is* cool, but rarely useful.
Posted by peterme @ 07/26/2002 09:53 AM PST [link to this comment]

You should have a look at "The Psychology of Cyberspace" - written quite some time back, but some very good insights:

(A review of it by your truly lies here:
Posted by Stephanie @ 07/27/2002 12:33 PM PST [link to this comment]

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