Social networks: Where we go to connect, interact, keep in touch. They are a wonderful resource, allowing people to maintain relationships across time and space without in-person interaction. Valenzuela, Park and Kee (2009) say that online interactions encourage individuals to expand and diversify their social circles, thereby increasing their social capital. It leads me to wonder though, is all social capital created equal?
Researchers remain divided on the true impact social networking sites have on users. Our course readings suggest that the impacts are largely positive but others, including author Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone, 2000), worry that decreased in-person interaction actually leads to a decrease in social capital because opting into online communities allows people to become less engaged in physical communities.
Both online and in-person communication offer reciprocity, but it is how these relationships are perceived by SNS users that interests me. When individuals are able to interact with the media they may feel a higher level of closeness to a source, but in reality the relationships formed online can be very one-sided (Hash & McCutcheon, 2001), which is where para-social relationships come into play. Following Conan O’Brien on Twitter gives me a view into his life and the sense that we are closer than we truly are, but what does Conan O’Brien know about me? By expanding my social circle online to include people I will never meet in person, am I really increasing my social capital, or is it just my perception? What am I giving up by staying online?