A survey by Pew and Elon found that 85 percent of 895 "technology stakeholders" and pundits agreed that the Internet has mostly been a positive force in peoples' social lives. Social benefits of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Apps will outweigh the negatives over the next decade because e-mail, social networks, and other Web services offer low friction ways to forge and rediscover social ties that make a difference in people's lives.
Much has been penned about how Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social
networking tools hinder and help productivity in the enterprise.
Some users spend too much time on these Websites; others leverage them for
sales and networking opportunities that boost the corporate bottom line. But
what about the impact of social software and the Internet at large on users'
It's actually quite fine, according to new research from the Pew
Internet & American Life Project and Elon
University's Imagining the Internet
Center. Pew and Elon found that 85
percent of 895 "technology stakeholders" and pundits agreed with the premise:
"In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal
friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly
been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in
Social benefits of Internet use will far outstrip the negatives over the
next decade because e-mail, social networks and other Web services offer low-friction
ways to forge and rediscover social ties that make a difference in people's
While this may smack of new-age truism, the Web can lower the communications
constraints of cost, geography and time while allowing people to share
tremendous amounts of data.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are free, as are Google's many socially infused
applications, such as Google Docs, YouTube, Google Buzz and Google Latitude.
Google and Yahoo proved that such Internet companies can pair content and
services with online advertising to offer their services gratis for users.
In short, the barrier to entry is low while the personal satisfaction
derived from using the Web services is high. If this wasn't the case, people
wouldn't go there.
Case in point: MySpace. Once the largest social network in the world, the
Website has lost relevance while Facebook's membership has soared to 500
Of course, there are cons to the many pros. Obvious arguments against social
tools are that spending too much time on the Web decreases the number of
face-to-face relationships, stymies exposure to new ideas (the walled garden
within the network idea) and threatens to erode privacy.
To reach their conclusions, Pew and Elon didn't just pick people off of the
street. The think tanks recruited through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter Internet
culture experts and authors Clay Shirky, Esther Dyson, Nicholas Carr and
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, among other luminaries in the high-tech
Newmark noted: "The Net is about people connecting online, for
commerce, politics and personally, and we already see that enhances real-life
relationships. Location-based social networking, in particular, will be a big
part of our lives."
"There's no escaping people anymore, and I believe that will yield
better relationships," said Jeff Jarvis, author of "What Would Google
Do?" and associate professor and director of the interactive journalism
program at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism.
Moreover, many of these thought leaders said they expect technological
advances to continue to change social relations online.
For example, experts believe holographic displays, secure and trusted
quantum/biometric security, collaborative visualization tools, unlimited cloud
storage, open networks fueled by semantic Web tools, and instant thought
transmission in a telepathic format are on tap.
The latter technology sounds like something out of the "X-Files,"
but it gives one an idea of what people envision for the intersection of where
social meets Web.
Ultimately, what this means is that when Facebook and other Internet
companies get called to the carpet in front of Congress over transgressions
against consumer privacy, they will have some ammunition to argue for the
benefits of social networking and related Web services.