Computer Networks as Tools for Enlarging Social Networks in Western Civilization

Article excerpt

POSITION PAPER

Computer-based social network services are and will remain dominating tools for enlarging social networks thanks to their positive and despite their negative features or impacts.

Key words: social network, social networking service, tools for social networking

Apology

ISCSC apologizes for inadvertently omitting this position paper from the Proceedings of the 2009 conference. It is accordingly presented in the Journal.

1. Introduction

Communication is the essential fabric of social life, and only entities that communicate are able to create societies. Communication is necessary for coordination of all kinds of social activities on many levels, from families up to the level of international organizations.

"A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependencies, such as values, visions, ideas, financial exchange, friendship, sexual relationships, kinship, dislike, conflict or trade" (Social network, 2009). Social networks include nodes - actors within the networks, and ties - the relationships between the actors. There can be many kinds of ties between the nodes, all of them predicated on the underlying communications mechanisms, since communication is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for creating social networks.

Social network services (SNSes) axe services supporting social networking, and advanced SNSes are currently based on computer networks [Social network service, 2009].

We believe that SNSes are dominating tools for enlarging social networks in our civilization, and will be even more indispensable in the future due to development of ever more sophisticated SNSes. They have gained and will maintain this position thanks to their positive and despite their negative features or impacts; both should be well known to users wishing to fully utilize their potential without adverse consequences.

To support these claims, we first present briefly the history and the present day of computer-based support for social networking (emphasizing modern computer-based SNSes). We then analyze positive and negative features and impacts of modern SNSes.

2. Early Technological Support for Social Networking

Interactions within social networks can be facilitated by two kinds of services and technologies: (a) transportation facilities that support face-to-face social interactions - within a limited physical space; and (b) communication facilities that support "virtual" social interactions without an inherent restriction on location of the interacting entities.

In the chronological order of their development, communication facilities include: postal technologies and services (with messenger services known already in ancient civilizations); telephone technologies and services (started in the 1870's but widespread only in the 20th century); computer communication technologies and services (started in the 1970's but widespread only in the 1990's).

The evolution of computer-based networking tools includes many distinct stages such as: the ARPANET in the 1970s; the Internet in the 1980s; email and World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1990s; search engines (e.g., AltaVista, Google), wikis (e.g., Wikipedia), and social network services (e.g., Myspace, Facebook) in the 2000s.

Despite the fact that social network services or SNSes (providing tools for enlarging human/social networks) blossomed only recently, the history of computer-based SNS predecessors can be traced back to 1969 when the ARPANET (a predecessor of the Internet) started its operation, and to 1979 when the Usenet (a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system with a hierarchy of topical categories named newsgroups) became available. From the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, bulletin board services (BBSes) were popular; originally BB Ses were accessed only via a dial-up connection but by the early 1990s some BBSes allowed access via a network connection. …