THE INTERNET AS SOCIAL
The growing impact that the Internet has on our lives is increasingly difficult to ignore. Even those who might claim to be “computer illiterate” are likely to encounter the direct or indirect effects that the Internet has had on the society in which we live. For example, pick up The Wall Street Journal and you are likely to see that the stock market has risen or fallen in correspondence with the successes and failures of Internet-based companies. Begin a term project by doing some research, and you are likely to find that the campus library has all but abandoned card catalogs in favor of a quicker, more space-efficient electronic system, one that is probably accessible from your dorm room or home. Turn to your classmates and ask if they or someone they know has ever made friends or had a date with someone they met online, and they will probably cite an acquaintance or two. Without having to look much farther than the world around you, you are likely to find the ever-increasing influence of the Internet in the realms of economics, academics, and personal relationships, among many others.
Despite its pervasiveness in our lives, however, how well do you really understand the Internet? Here, we are not asking about your knowledge of the programming languages and hardware configurations that make the Internet function. Our colleagues in computer science best explain those technical matters. Rather, we are asking about your understanding of the human uses (and misuses) of that technology in social terms. This first part of the book provides some insights for addressing this question. In the next two chapters, you will read about the social character of the Internet, that is, how people have conceptualized and used the various Internet technologies in accord with or in consideration of one another. The communicative, historical, and linguistic concepts that we introduce in this part of the book form a foundation for the discussions we build on in subsequent chapters. Furthermore, they testify to the growing breadth and depth of the technology's effects on human thought and action.