Talk of the Nation on Social Networking

The always interesting Andy Carvin joined Talk of the Nation this week to talk about Social Networking. You can get the audio (36:55) or leave comments at Blog of the Nation: The Sociology of Online Social Networks.

Unfortunately I missed the original broadcast, but I listed to the audio of it. It’s great to hear Carvin balancing between the “this is all just frivilous fun” and “this is radical revolutionary potential” campes – he manages to acknowledge the activities one might call frivilous but also point to the more significant impact these networks can have:

For a lot of people, social networks are just a place for socializing – catching up with friends, flirting and the like. But that’s just scratching the surface.

Some of the examples he mentions in passing:

While you’re at it, check out Carvin’s blog or follow him on twitter.

Also on the show was Christine Rosen, author of “Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism” which was published in The New Atlantis. (Rosen’s a “fellow” at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which describes itself as having been created “clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues” and which Right Web describes as “a leading player in the early effort to discredit the secular humanist tradition in the United States. The center is one of several institutes and programs established by neoconservatives to promote an increased role of religion in public policy.”)

She focuses on the collecting of friends for status as a problem – that we’ve turned cultivating friends into collecting friends. Carvin nicely handles the discussion, pointing out that this is just one aspect which a certain percentage of users latch onto, but it isn’t the primary goal.

On the topic of online communities undermining offline communities, Carvin also does a solid job – noting the evolution of online communities from some of the more locally oriented early communities (The Well, local BBS’s) into global internet based communities, but with a return visible at the edges in the direction of localism or communities of interest.

He also points out that the culture of narcisissm can hardly be blamed on online communities.

It’s worth a listen, even if some of the callers fall pretty squarely into the stereotypical NPR “these crazy kids today with their interweb tubes” demographic.

In the last segment, Rosen trots out a Brigham Young University study which found folks felt less connected to their communities when they were heavy users of online social networks – she’s careful to point out it was too small a study to be meaningful, but nevertheless draws the conclusion from it as though it were a truth.

Anyone know the study? I couldn’t find a good reference to it in a quick search – in the article cited above Rosen writes:

Researcher Rob Nyland at Brigham Young University recently surveyed 184 users of social networking sites and found that heavy users “feel less socially involved with the community around them.” He also found that “as individuals use social networking more for entertainment, their level of social involvement decreases.”

but there is no citation to the study – the only Rob Nyland I find is a recent graduate – maybe he did this survey while a student? Nothing wrong with a student doing a study, of course, but Rosen makes it sound like a formal study performed and published by the university not something an undergrad did while working on a paper.


  1. It is true that I wrote the paper as a graduate student, and was not expecting it to represent the university. I feel that the study has severe limitations, but I would always love to talk about the research if you wish.

  2. Hello Rob – thanks for the comment. Of course most formal academic university studies are probably run and written by grad students anyway, so not much different than a grad student doing a paper individually.

    I’d love to see a copy of the paper, to be able to put the results in better context – any chance you’ll be publishing it online somewhere? (or offline, for that matter).

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