has Internet use changed the number of friends you have?

A forthcoming study by Hua Wang (USC Annenberg School for Communication) and Barry Wellman (University of Toronto) “Social Connectivity in America” has looked at how social networks of friendship have been changing from 2002 and 2007 and how this is related to different levels of Internet use.

The study was prompted by fears that Americans have been becoming increasingly disengaged from public life and disconnected from their peers as exemplified by the work of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s on social capital “Bowling Alone” (2000), who blamed television as the main culprit for the breaking up of the texture of American social and political life.

What Wang and Wellman find – via an analysis of two American national surveys of Internet adoption and use, from the World Internet Project – is that networks of friendship amongst adult Americans aged 25-74 remain abundant and in fact they have been growing between 2002 and 2007. In addition, they found that this trend was similar amongst non-users of the Internet, light-users, moderate users and heavy users – dispelling the initial idea that the more time you spend online the more likely you are to become socially isolated and even develop depression. In fact, the study also found that heavy users of the Internet were particularly socially active, having the highest number of friends both online and offline. Continue reading “has Internet use changed the number of friends you have?”

Beyond Objectivity: Global Voices and the Future of Journalism

[live blogging] My friend and colleague Lokman Tsui (@lokmant) is talking today at the Berkman Center about his current research:  Beyond Objectivity: Global Voices and the Future of Journalism.

Global Voices is “a community of more than 200 bloggers around the world who work together to bring you translations and reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media”. Why does this matter? The title of Lokman’s personal blog says it all: “Global Voices, One World”. Strangers can gather and discuss (the news) and form a public. Now with the Internet you have strangers you can connect to potentially everywhere. Habermas’ public sphere of coffee houses, Anderson’s notion of ‘imagined communities’ capture well this agora formed by online communities. Looking at how the Internet is destroying journalism is a one sided interpretation. The Internet offers new opportunities, a globalisation of culture. Continue reading “Beyond Objectivity: Global Voices and the Future of Journalism”

Italy as seen by the Italian blogosphere

Vittorio Zambardino writes today in La Repubblica about a recent research study carried out on the Italian blogosphere: what are Italian bloggers writing about? The article presents very interesting graphs, which show the top tags used in 2009 and the topics Italian bloggers write about.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top tag in 2009 was Silvio Berlusconi, which is followed by two current affairs related tags: the economic crisis and the Abruzzo earthquake – which are followed by Facebook in fourth place. In the top 15 most used tags we also find two football teams, Inter Milan and AC Milan, president Obama and the Pope.

Amongst the most discussed topics we find: 1) current affairs 2) soccer 3) the Internet 4) sport 5) politics. These are followed by a rather detailed list of less discussed topics from cinema, to art, to cooking, to music and so on. Finding current affairs at first place and politics at 5th place was indeed rather reassuring, supporting the idea that the Internet is indeed used as a virtual agora for discussion or a virtual civil society, rather than merely a tool for entertainment purposes. It should be noticed, however, that Maria de Filippi (TV presenter of Mediaset reality TV shows) was the top tag in the ‘entertainment category’, where we can find blogger Beppe Grillo at 4th place, and journalists Marco Travaglio and Michele Santoro further down in the list. Finally, finding the Internet as third most discussed topic, was also unsurprising – this is a common finding from research of different country/language blogospheres, where a big proportion of bloggers is made up by IT/media enthusiasts who blog about the medium they are using for communication (see for example our research on different language blogospheres from the Berkman’s Internet and Democracy project).

While the methodology used for this study is not illustrated in this article, it certainly provides a really good snapshot of what the online community and bloggers are talking about: this is very informative of what is going on in Italian society – and should be compared to the news agenda of mainstream media, in order to establish the role of the Internet in public discourse.

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