Promise and power of the Internet in global communication

The Internet offers great promise, allowing us to be more connected than ever in our towns, our state and across the globe.

Impact of the Internet. Example: Activists in China used the Internet to pressure authorities to do something about a police chief’s son who allegedly killed a woman while driving drunk. See video.

Another example: Netville

  • It’s a Toronto suburb where you could buy a home and get free broadband Internet access, a videophone and other online services
  • Sociologists Keith Hampton and Barry Welman studied the community from 1997 to 1999

Wired vs. non-wired residents in Netville

  • Wired residents had deeper and broader connections to other residents
  • Knew more people by name
    Talked more
  • Visited neighbors more often

Unexpected result
Wired residents joined together to complain about the developers of Netville. They:

  • Protested construction defects
  • Pressured developer to fix problems
  • Developer said he’d never build in a wired community again

Connectivity and social networks
Networks can help people take on challenges and solve problems
Example: Earthquake in Haiti. Hundreds of millions of dollars raised for victims.

Networks also help us meet people and share information across national and international borders. Examples:, Boring Home Utopics.

Downsides to connectivity:

  • Information overload
  • Hard to sort it out
  • Crowd opinion becomes more important than historical fact


“A reality where, if enough people agree on a notion, it becomes the truth.” Example: Fans of Stephen Colbert changed Wikipedia entries to claim, falsely, that the world population of elephants no longer needed protection


  • Much easier now to get reinforcement for negative behavior. Example: Matthew Riskin Bean
  • More than 400 message boards on Internet dedicated to “cutting”
  • Bumfights
  • White supremacy

We’re sometimes selfish about the way we use networks, something like the story of Babylon

  • Residents built the Tower of Babel. God didn’t like their intent so he destroyed the tower. He scattered people across the earth and gave them different languages.
  • But perhaps the worst part of the punishment was that they were disconnected from one another

But connected people are more powerful than disconnected ones. They can build towers and much more.

  • As some see it, networks have lives of their own
  • A kind of human superorganism
  • New kind of intelligence
  • Network can be intelligent even if many individuals are not

Pay it forward

  • Purpose of networks – usually to transmit positive things
  • Spreading of good will
  • Person-to-person
  • Example: The Colbert Nation’s support of the Winter Olympics
  • So these digital networks can be wonderful, powerful things

On the positive side: The Internet and virtual networks can help address pressing global problems

  • War
  • Hunger
  • Poverty
  • Global warming
  • Sexual exploitation of women
  • Child labor

But we don’t always take advantage of what we have

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