Culture of the Internet

Culture of the Internet

Culture of the Internet

Culture of the Internet


As we begin a new century, the astonishing spread of nationally and internationally accessible computer-based communication networks has touched the imagination of people everywhere. Suddenly, the Internet is in everyday parlance, featured in talk shows, in special business "technology" sections of major newspapers, and on the covers of national magazines. If the Internet is a new world of social behavior it is also a new world for those who study social behavior. This volume is a compendium of essays and research reports representing how researchers are thinking about the social processes of electronic communication and its effects in society. Taken together, the chapters comprise a first gathering of social psychological research on electronic communication and the Internet.

The authors of these chapters work in different disciplines and have different goals, research methods, and styles. For some, the emergence and use of new technologies represent a new perspective on social and behavioral processes of longstanding interest in their disciplines. Others want to draw on social science theories to understand technology. A third group holds to a more activist program, seeking guidance through research to improve social interventions using technology in domains such as education, mental health, and work productivity. Each of these goals has influenced the research questions, methods, and inferences of the authors and the "look and feel" of the chapters in this book.

Intended primarily for researchers who seek exposure to diverse approaches to studying the human side of electronic communication and the Internet, this volume has three purposes:

• to illustrate how scientists are thinking about the social processes and effects of electronic communication;

• to encourage research-based contributions to current debates on electronic communication design, applications, and policies; and

• to suggest, by example, how studies of electronic communication can contribute to social science itself.


Sara Kiesler Carnegie Mellon University

As we end this century and begin a new one, technological change has dealt another big surprise. Today's surprise is the incredible spread of computer networks in society. Initially designed to help scientists and engineers connect to remote computers, networks spread through universities and technical organizations, then to the business community, and then to the public. the Internet has entered everyday parlance. It is featured in talk shows, in special business "technology" sections of major newspapers, and on the covers of national magazines. Companies offering Internet services that go public, such as Lycos and Yahoo, have seen their stock soar. How-to books on Internet programming are best sellers. Yet at this writing, only a minority of U.S. families are connected to the Internet, and just a tiny percentage of the world's population has been online even once. the Internet lives in imagination more than in reality.

What is so special about this innovation that so few have used? Most observers agree it isn't the technology alone, the devices and machinery that connect computers and run communication applications. It isn't the ready availability of the technology either. Electronic communication (a more general term encompassing all computer networks, including the Internet) can be expensive, time consuming, hard to learn, and difficult for the layperson to understand. Millions of people accessing networks . . .

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