But Is It a Society? A society is a large, enduring network of social interaction that survives by accomplishing five main tasks: Bearing this definition in mind, does the Internet form a society? We believe it does.
Internet society accomplishes many of the same tasks as other societies. For example, although control of members is much less centralized and extensive than in other societies, Internet society has established governing structures, such as those that regulate conventions in the use of HTML code, the allocation of domain names, and user behaviour on specific sites.
Similarly, although e-commerce is still only a fraction of economic activity in the world of bricks and mortar, it is growing much more quickly than the economy as a whole. Meanwhile, distance education is becoming increasingly popular some universities already offer entire degrees online and the Internet has become an important agent of informal socialization.
Thus, the first three tasks of an enduring society — preserving order, producing and distributing goods and services, and teaching new members — are all performed by Internet society. More precisely, Internet society provides its members with many senses of purpose by enabling social interaction in a wide variety of contexts.
Today, Internet users interact socially by exchanging text, images, and sound via e-mail, Internet phone, video conferencing, computer-assisted work groups, mailing lists, and chat groups. Some forms of computer-assisted interaction operate in delayed time. Some of these discussion groups focus on particle physics.
Others are devoted to banjos, lawyer jokes, Russian politics, Francophone culture, sadomasochism, and just about every other human activity imaginable. Each discussion group is composed of tens, hundreds or thousands of individuals. Most have small memberships. Others are very large, commercial operations. Membership in virtual communities is fluid but the communities endure. These programs define the aims and rules of the virtual community and the objects and spaces it contains.
Users log on to the MUD from their PCs around the world and define their character — their identity — any way they wish.
MUD users form social relationships. They exchange confidences, give advice, share resources, get emotionally involved, and talk sex.
Although their true identities are usually concealed, they sometimes decide to meet and interact in real life. The fact is, however, that a large and growing number of people are finding that virtual communities affect their identities in profound ways Dibbell, Specifically, because virtual communities allow people to interact using concealed identities, MUD users are free to assume new identities and are encouraged to discover parts of themselves they were formerly unaware of.
In virtual communities, shy people can become bold, normally assertive people can become voyeurs, old people can become young, straight people can become gay, men can become women. Doug plays four characters distributed across three different MUDs: This allows him, in his own words, to split my mind.
I can see myself as being two or three or more. And I just turn on one part of my mind and then another when I go from window to window. RL is just one more window. The self is no longer simply playing different roles in different settings at different times, something that a person experiences when, for example, she wakes up as a lover, makes breakfast as a mother, and drives to work as a lawyer.
The life practice of windows is that of a decentered self that exists in many worlds and plays many roles at the same time. In the s, most observers believed that social interaction by means of computer would be restricted to the exchange of information for a review and critique of this literature, see Wellman et al. It turns out these observers were wrong.
As MUDs illustrate, Internet society can provide its members with a sense of purpose, giving them new freedom to shape their selves as they choose. The Rise of Online Dating The fifth task of any enduring society involves replacing old members.
That is, people ensure the survival of their society by dating, courting, forming long-term offline relationships, and reproducing. With respect to this task, too, Internet society is now beginning to measure up to other societies.
Online dating is a growth industry, and cases of online relationships resulting in long-term relationships are increasingly common. Online dating services are only about five years old. Wherever the Internet extends, people now use these services. The Canadian site, Webpersonals, and its associated Womanline.
How does an online dating site work? Typically, any Internet user may browse the ads free of charge. However, to place an ad and interact with others, one must pay to become a site member. Some sites charge a monthly fee while others operate on a fee-per-use basis. Ads include text and an optional photograph and sound recording of the member. Members may correspond by e-mail or instant messaging.
Members create a public identity — a name by which others may identify them and a user profile by which others may determine their level of interest in specific individuals. The online dating service also categorizes this information and allows members to search for other members with specific characteristics. For example, one may search for heterosexual single Christian men between the ages of 35 and 44 living within a 50 km.
Some smaller sites are devoted exclusively to Christians, blacks, Jews, gay men, and so forth Briscoe, ; Crary, Four main social forces appear to be driving the rapid growth of online dating: Statistics Canada divides the Canadian population into four categories by marital status: Between and , the number of married Canadians grew by 3. The number of single, widowed, and divorced Canadians grew by 4. With more single, widowed, and divorced people in the population, the dating and marriage markets have grown apace Statistics Canada, d.
Instead, people are working longer hours Schor, Increased pressure from work makes it more difficult to find the time to engage in conventional dating methods, such as meeting eligible partners in athletic clubs and bars. People are looking for more efficient ways of meeting. Online dating has emerged as a credible alternative.