Sorry to be stuck in the past…I have much catching up to do.
Thanks for you comment, Anna, that was exactly where I was going. I too feel that people who might be disadvantaged technologically, can in many ways be better enabled socially. But the fact remains that there may be some important techno-social groups that a disadvantaged person might be locked out of by not having access (like quick medical information in Rheingold’s case, or perhaps important job or government information). This gets back to both the Bowling Alone issue (from the other John): On some level, weak social ties can be a benefit…but I would argue only to a limited extent. Weak social ties IRL might widen your social network helping you find some kind of employment or a babysitter, but strong ties are usually the kind that offer more traditional readily available benefits. Similarly, weak online ties are largely interest-based with not much social benefit (just socializing), but a strong online relationship might be more likely to turn into some real-life benefit. Perhaps I am arguing more that the strength of a relationship matters more than the medium it is carried out in.
I was also captivated by the (long since passed?) discussion about the social utility of online communication. Abhiyan proposed the Marxist perspective that the language of letter-writing was a tool of the elite forced upon the people, which is true at some level. However, structured letter writing has in the past had such utility in the exchange of well-thought-out, structured ideas which have greatly benefited society (I think of Jefferson’s letters). In some ways I would think that all of this online writing might have some of the same benefit, but the conversational tone like the one I’m writing in right now must limit that to some degree. Sure we’re all being social online, but how much real thought goes into what’s written? Is there anything that is benefiting society as a whole, or is it a lot of psychological purging?
Threading might have been much more organized and easy to follow, but in retrospect it seems this long list of posts has helped people comment to one another instead of just one thread. More later, -john