A nation of strangers?

... of friendship and community involvement among Internet users. A Nation of Strangers? JAMES E. KATZ AND PHILIP ASPDEN ... Chi square = 20.5, sig. = 0.008 (with 8 df) None 1 2+ None 1 2+ None 1 2+ Religious Leisure Community Internet Status of
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  See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: A Nation of Strangers?  Article   in  Communications of the ACM · December 1997 DOI: 10.1145/265563.265575 · Source: DBLP CITATIONS 207 READS 12 2 authors , including:James KatzBoston University 96   PUBLICATIONS   3,231   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate,letting you access and read them immediately.Available from: James KatzRetrieved on: 15 August 2016  COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACM December 1997/Vol. 40, No. 12 81 Stories of friendships found and forged on the Internet appear in headlines every day. These stories may not always have happy endings,but as a recent survey illustrates, there are definite patterns of friendship and community involvement among Internet users. A Nation ofStrangers? J AMES  E. K ATZ AND  P HILIP  A SPDEN R eaders of New York tabloid newspapersmay have been shocked earlier this year bya front-page photograph showing a localcomputer expert being led away in hand-cuffs, having been arrested on charges of raping a woman he had met via the Internet. Buttroubles with Internet acquaintances are by nomeans unique. Stories appear in the news media withdisturbing frequency about young boys or girls run-ning away from their homes with adults they metthrough computer bulletin boards or chat groups. Inone of the more bizarre events in America’s experi-ence with cyberspace, a Virginia woman met a manthrough the Internet, and after several dates and vis-its decided to get married. Only later did the Vir-ginia woman discover that she had actually marriedanother woman who through various ruses hadtricked her into believing that she was a he. Conse-quently she is suing the former “husband” for a vari-ety of harms. As similar stories arise about Internetfriendships going awry, or even of these “friendships”being malicious cons in the first place, concerns overthe Internet’s social impact will increase. Of coursethe concern is by no means limited to the one-on-onelevel of interpersonal friendships. National andinternational bodies are grappling with questionsabout what to do about various extremist political orreligious groups who are aiming to suborn or recruitlarge groups of people. The mass suicide of theHeaven’s Gate cult, which had a presence on theInternet, was a ready target for those who fear theway the Internet is changing society. But the Internet situation is not unique. Every newtechnology finds dour critics (as well as ebullient pro-ponents). Communication technologies in particularcan be seen as opening the doors to all varieties of social ills. When the telegraph, telephone and theautomobile were in their infancy, each of these threeearlier “communication” technologies found vitrioliccritics who said these “instruments of the devil”would drastically alter society (which they did) withdisastrous consequences for the quality of life and themoral order (readers may judge for themselves aboutthis point) [ 1, 3, 5 ] . The Internet is no exception tothis rule. Indeed, it has stimulated so many commen-tators that not even the most indefatigable reader canstay abreast of the flood of speculation and opinion.Yet, as might be expected in light of the conflicts, dif-  ficulties, and tragedies associated with the Internetmentioned previously, one area in particular has beensingled out for comment: the way the Internet affectssocial relationships generally and participation incommunity life in particular [ 11 ] . Among those whohave criticized the Internet are MIT’s Sherry Turkle [ 10 ] , who claims that it leads to the destruction of meaningful community and social integration, andBerkeley’s Cliff Stoll [ 9 ] , who says it reduces people’scommitment to and enjoyment of real friendships. Inaddition, the Internet is accused of being a dangerousmedium, replete with pedophiles and seducers,exploiters and pornographers, who can lead the vul-nerable, particularly young people, astray [ 8 ] . Thesecritical views of the Internet have converged with amuch older debate over the seeming decline in civicparticipation by Americans. Although concerns overdeclining participation are not new—BenjaminFranklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adamsall spoke about it two hundred years ago—the inten-sity of the debate has recently escalated, most notablyvia the work of Harvard’s R.D. Putnam [ 6 ] , who hasidentified computer-supported entertainment asamong the culprits. By contrast, optimists argue that genuinely mean-ingful communities can be established in cyberspace,and indeed even fostered via online communications.Rheingold [ 7 ] holds that since virtual interfacingobscures social categories we ordinarily use to sift ourrelationships (race, sex, age, location), the possibilityof new relationships and hence new communities ismultiplied. An even more utopian argument is thatnew, powerful communities will arise in cyberspace,supplanting physi-cal ones of the past,and becoming toan unprecedentedextent cohesive,democratic, andmeaningful for itsmembers. Indeed,Internet pioneerand Lotus Corpo-ration cofounderMitch Kapor seesvirtual communi-ties ringing in atlast the Jefferson-ian ideal of com-munity. “Life incyberspace seemsto be shaping upexactly likeThomas Jeffersonwould have wanted: founded on the primacy of indi-vidual liberty and a commitment to pluralism, diver-sity, and community” [ 2 ] .But all these theories have been based on personalimpressions, anecdotal evidence or case studies ratherthan systematic investigation. We wanted to get abroader, more objective picture of what is going on interms of friendship formation and communityinvolvement for the denizens of the Internet. (We usethe term Internet to encompass such aspects of cyber-space as networked computers, computer bulletinboards, and email.) Hence in late 1995 we carried outa national random telephone survey which had amongits objectives to: compare “real-world” participationfor Internet users and non-users, and to examinefriendship creation via the Internet.Our approach was to consider the perspectives of five different Internet awareness/usage groups:• Those not aware of the Internet, • Non-users who were aware of the Internet, • Former users, • Recent users—those who started using the Inter-net in 1995, • Longtime users—those who started using theInternet prior to 1995.By comparing those who were on the Internet ver-sus those who were not, and controlling statisticallyfor demonstrable demographic differences among usercategories [ 4 ] , we would be in a position to see if, onaverage, Internet users were less likely to belong tovarious voluntary organizations, thus strengthening 82 December 1997/Vol. 40, No. 12 COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACM Non-usernot awareNon-userawareFormeruserRecentcurrent userLongtimecurrent user33364440335756495364 1 0977475605 1 5 1 47 11 2 1 2 1 2424 1 3 1 9282529726362695 11 62324 1 927 1 2 1 4 1 4 1 222(355,322,323)( 1 570, 1 494, 1 493)( 1 74, 1 73, 1 73)( 1 02, 1 02,99)(85,86,85)Chi square = 1 0.9,sig. = 0.2(with 8 df )Chi square = 5 1 .8,sig. <0.00 1 (with 8 df )Chi square = 20.5,sig. = 0.008(with 8 df )None  1 2+None  1 2+None  1 2+ReligiousLeisureCommunityInternetStatus of Respondent(Number of respondents) Percent belonging to group by type of group Table 1. Membership in organizations by type and frequency  COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACM December 1997/Vol. 40, No. 12 83 the hand of those who see the Internet as socially per-nicious. Of course if they belonged to more organiza-tions than their non-Internet-using counterparts, thecelebrationists would be supported. Likewise, by get-ting a representative sample of Internet users to speakabout their experiences with friendship formation, wewould also have some more reliable views of what thetypical or majority experiences have been in thisregard, without having our understanding biased by afew extraordinary reports.Our October 1995 survey yielded 2,500 respon-dents—8% reported being Internet users, 8%reported being former Internet users, 68% reportedbeing aware of the Internet but not being users, and16% reported not being aware of the Internet. Thesample of Internet users was augmented by a nationalrandom telephone sample of 400 Internet users. Of the total of 600 Internet users, 49% reported beinglongtime Internet users. As a whole, our survey of 2,500 respondents closely matches socioeconomicpatterns of the U.S. population on key variables: com-pared to 1990/91 U.S. Census data, our samplereflects national averages in gender, ethnic mix, andage, and is slightly wealthier and better educated. No Evidence of Internet Users DroppingOut of Real Life We explored respondents’ community involvementin the real world by asking them how many reli-gious, leisure, and community organizations theybelonged to.  Religious organizations: Our survey showed nostatistically significant differences across the fiveawareness/usage categories in membership rates of religious organizations. Fifty-six percent of respon-dents reported belonging to one religious organiza-tion, while a further 8% reported belonging to two ormore religious organizations. Statistically controllingfor demographic differences, such as age, education,gender, race and income, still showed no differences inreligious organization membership rates amongawareness/usage groups. Leisure organizations: Here we found that non-users reported belonging to fewer organizations thanusers, both former and current. Non-users who werenot aware of the Internet reported being members of fewest leisure organizations—11% reported belongingto one leisure organization and a further 13% belongedto two or more leisure organizations. Non-users whowere aware of the Internet reported belonging to sig-nificantly more leisure organizations—21% reportedbelonging to one leisure organization and a further19% belonged to two or more leisure organizations.Reported membership rates for former and currentusers were much higher—21% of former users re-ported belonging to one leisure organization and 28%to two or more; 24% of recent users reported belong-ing to one leisure organization and 25% to two ormore; and 24% of longtime users reported belongingto one leisure organization and 29% to two or more.However when we statistically controlled for demo-graphic variables, these differences disappeared. Community organizations: The aggregateresponses to the question about membership of com-munity organizations did not appear to display a pat-tern relating to the awareness/usage categories. Those InterceptEducation* Hh. Income* Age* Order* Race* Internet Usage* Likelihood Ratio –0.750. 11 0.030.2 1  –0. 1 50. 1 7 –0.020. 11 111 1 111 4944.863. 1 60. 1 7 1 5. 1 37.834.860.0652.320.00000.07530.67660.000 1 0.005 1 0.02750.8 1 0 1 0.3465EstDFProb0.320. 1 80.26 –0. 1 30.05 –0. 1 90.090. 11 1111111 508.578.28 1 7.585.36 1 .0 1 5.350.8970.480.00340.00400.00000.02060.3 1 500.02070.34440.0297EstDFProb0.390.340. 1 80.22 –0.03 –0.040.030. 11 1111111 50 11 .9230.497.65 1 6.2 1 0.3 1 0.240.0862. 1 40.00060.00000.00570.000 1 0.57740.62580.77990. 11 63EstDFProbStanErrorChi-SquareStanErrorChi-SquareStanErrorChi-SquareEffect Membership of Community OrganizationsMembership of Religious OrganizationsMembership of Leisure Organizations Populations = 56Observations = 1 649Populations = 57Observations = 1 572Populations = 57Observations = 1 568 *Definition of independent variables: (i) Education – up to college (level 1 ) and college degree or better (level 2); (ii) Household income – up to $49,000 (level 1 ) and above $50,000 (level 2); (iii) Age – up to 39 (level 1 ) and above 40 (level 2); (iv) Gender – female (level 1 ) and male (level 2);(v) Race – White/Asian (level 1 ) and Black/Hispanic (level 2); and (vi) Internet usage – non-user (level 1 ) and user (level 2). Table 2. Multivariate logit models of organization membership  who were not aware of the Internet and recent usersappeared to belong to the fewest community organiza-tions. Of the first group, 16% reported belonging to onecommunity organization and a further 12% belonged totwo or more community organizations; of recent users,19% reported belonging to one community organiza-tion and 12% to two or more organizations.Non-users who were aware of the Internet and for-mer users belonged to more community organiza-tions. Of the non-users who were aware of the Internetgroup, 23% reported belonging to one communityorganization and 14% belonged to two or more com-munity organizations; of former users, 24% reportedbelonging to one community organization and 14%to two or more organizations.Longtime Internet users reported belonging tomost community organizations—27% reportedbelonging to one organi-zation and a further 22%to two or more. Overall,the survey results provideno evidence that Internetusers belong to fewercommunity organizations(see Table 1). Controlling for demo- graphic effects: Membership rates of religious, leisure and community orga-nizations are known to relate to demo-graphic factors such as age, householdincome and educational level, and soour reported membership rates need tobe interpreted in the light of the differ-ences in demographic characteristics of the five awareness/usage groups [ 4 ] (seeTable 2). Using statistical (logit) mod-els to control for the important demo-graphic effects and excluding formerusers, we found that there was no dif-ference in the membership rates of reli-gious, leisure and communityorganizations by users and non-users of the Internet at the 0.05 level. (UsingSAS’s categorical model program, wedid find that longtime users wereslightly more likely to belong to “real-world” community organizations thanrecent users, but only at the 0.08 levelof significance.) The Internet is AugmentingInvolvement in Existing Communities Our survey of social involvement askedcurrent users about the extent they used the Internetto contact family members, their participation inInternet communities, and the impact of Internetusage on the time they spent with friends and fam-ily either face-to-face or by phone. Contact with family members: An area where theInternet appeared to have a significant impact onsocial involvement was communications with familymembers where just under half the users reported con-tacting family members at least once or twice. Long-time users reported contacting family members moreoften than recent members. Thirty-five percent of longtime users reported contacting family membersat least several times a month, twice the proportion of recent users (see Table 3). Participation in Internet communities: We alsoasked users the extent they participated in Internet 84 December 1997/Vol. 40, No. 12 COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACM Recent Internet userLongtime Internet userChi square = 50.8, sig. <0.00 1  (with 4 df )6 1 6 111 95 1 3 1 086944 1 00 (308) 1 00 (293) Have you ever contacted familymembers over theInternet (in percent)?Severaltimes/week or moreSeveraltimes/monthSeveraltimes/year Onceor twiceonlyNever (Number of respondents)Table 3. Amount of contact with family members via InternetYesNoNumber of respondentsChi square = 1 6. 1 , sig. = 0.00 1  (with 3 df )99 11 387   2278 1 00 ( 87  ) 2773 1 00 ( 44 ) Self-assessed expertise levelPercent who knowpeople only through Internet that are considered friends (number of respondents) NoviceAverageAboveaverageExcellent 1 00 ( 248 )  1 00 ( 222 ) Table 4. Proportion of people known only through Internet by expertise level 1  – 56 or moreSubtotal of respondentsmaking friendsPercent of respondentsmaking friendships  Total number of respondents in sample 4 1 59 1 00 (  1 7  ) 2 1 ( 82 ) 2773 1 00 (  11  ) 1 4 ( 78 ) 7327 1 00 ( 22 ) 1 7 (  1 32 ) 6139 1 00 (3 1  ) 1 0 (  308   ) Chi square = 8.0, sig. = 0.05 (with 3 df) Number of Internetfriendships made (number of respondents) Pre- 1 993 1 993 1 994 1 995Table 5. Number of Internet friendships made by time first joined Internet
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