(summary Web Culture conference – February the 10th – Lyon)
Antonio A. Casili concentrated particularly on the effect of the web on our networks : does the web change the size and shape of humans groups, does it create new links ?
At the beginning of internet, it was considered as potentially risky ; cutting people from others, bringing isolation. Some studies spread this idea, especially one led by Robert Krauf (Internet Paradox, 1998), which noticed that “greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in participants’communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness“. Offline and online life would be directly related, increase of online relationships would cause a decrease of offline relatitionships. But this conclusion was disproved by another survey by Kraut himself (Internet Paradox Revisited, 2001), which deduced that this increase wasn’t relevant and possibily caused by a transition / adaptation time.
Then the speaker quoted Barry Wellman, who thinks that our relationships become a “glocal” (global + local) network. To a first network of close relations (locals : family, friends, neighbours, co-workers) we add long-distance relationships. So A. Casili highlights two ideas : the “bonding” and the “bridging”. Bonding means tightening current strong links while bridging is making new entries, opening inactive links. For instance when we are looking for an answer not known by a close friend, we could search for new (far-flung) people on a forum.
So comes the question of the (real) size of networks. In 1992 the anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that a limit is imposed by the size of our neocortex and so he calculated it to 148 (“number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained”). In 1998 Peter Killworth (anthropologist) found 290 relationships, and in 2010 Matthew Salgalik (sociologist) 610. But does the social group really grow, does the social environment become better ? It seems that online social networks are ancestral continuation of our willingness to bound with others, but internet enables to tighten old strong links and keep activatable links with people of the our network outskirts.