Is Making Real Friends and Relationships on the Internet Good

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The latest digital revolution has affects how community connecting themselves with their kin, acquaintances and friends as well as providing information resources on a wide variety of topics and engaging various groups such as in organizational participation (Howard, Rainie and Jones, 2002). Online engagement has greatly affected both increasing or decreasing sociability that is significant for maintaining and creating new the social capital. The relationship between the internet and social capital has raised some questions on whether the Internet complementing and reinforcing social capital or is it diminishing and isolating their social capital. This paper will examine the relationship between online engagement and social capital as well as discussing on how the online engagement could affects on an individual's social capital

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Relationship Between Social Capital and Internet

In general, according to Coleman, 1988 social capital can be defined as the resources that are embedded in one's social ties. In offline context, building social capital can be showed through such example, for instance, sharing meals with friends, spending time talking with neighbors, volunteering on community projects or participating in religious gatherings. Social capital can be divided into two which is bridging and bonding social capital. Bonding social capital refers to resources that are accessible from one’s closest most homogeneous relationships which is family and friends. While bridging social capital includes those resources most likely to come from weaker ties. Weak ties tend to come from participation in diverse loosely connected networks.

Nonetheless, social capital in online context can be defined as the resources that encompasses network people that you know online or offline including family, friends and other acquaintances through the internet and digital technology. The internet is important to maintain social ties because our social capital provide social support such as advice, companionship and tangible aid, deliver valuable information such as a lead on a new job or health information (Hampton, 2011).

In terms of bonding social capital, user of the internet in particular tend to have a higher levels of bonding social capital as they overall provide social support and specifically more emotional support and companionship especially for people who have a long-distance relationship with their kin or significant others (Hampton, 2011). Meanwhile in terms of bridging social capital, the relationship between social media use and social capital are mostly in indirect form. Many social media activities such as blogging and photo sharing are indirectly to knowing more people diversely. Even though people did not interact with one another, being connected or being in an anonymous friend list could provide a bridging social capital through their updates. These points will be further elaborated in the next section to.

Positive Impact of Internet on Individual Social Capital

As mentioned above, through online relationship and engagement, an individual can provide and substitute social capital by means of supporting current social relations with others. People who engage on the online world are more likely to have a larger network of close ties than non-Internet users. These internet users are more likely to receive help from core network members than the non-users (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006).

Nevertheless, by engaging through the internet, an individual is also facilitating a creation of new ties through sharing the same interests and relation goals (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006). These new connections on the virtual world may lead to an increase in social capital although in loose ties, such as joining a group of “online community” that an individual interested in. For instance, joining online communities through video games, Facebook groups and blogs via social networking sites, chat rooms, forums, and discussion boards.

Moreover, new forms of social capital and relationship building can occur in online social network sites through digital technologies for instance by updating status on social networking sites, blogging and photo sharing. Hence it is possible that Bridging social capital might be augmented by such sites, which support loose social ties, allowing users to create and maintain larger, diffuse networks of relationships from which they could potentially draw resources (Donath & boyd, 2004). Donath and boyd (2004) also hypothesize that social media platform could greatly increase the weak ties one could form and maintain, because the technology is well-suited to maintaining such ties cheaply and easily.

Drawbacks of Internet on Individual Social Capital

The Internet has also been linked to decreases in social capital. For example, Putnam (2000) argued that Internet use could weakens face-to-face time as well as offline interactions with others, which might diminish an individual’s social capital. He further suggests that the Internet is quite time consuming and will eventually comes at the loss of social capital and civic participation offline. Although one might be involved in online community and online interactions, it tends to replace authentic human relationships with virtual solitary recreation or anonymous communication.

Interaction through the internet is also believed to be even more anti-social than watching TV, as people tend to sit alone in front of the computer and often engage in solitary virtual activities such as browsing for information, chatting and playing computer games (Hampton, 2011). He further believes that such activity may increase the feeling of solitude in an individual and could lead to social isolation. Some authors also note that communication technologies lower the probability of having face-to-face contacts with family, friends or neighbor which could decreases one’s social capital (Boase et al., 2006; Gershuny, 2003).

To conclude, although engaging through the internet can reduce social capital by depriving face to face communications, online interactions do not necessarily remove people from their offline world but may indeed be used to support relationships and keep people in contact, even when life changes move them away from each other. In addition, the use of technology could support a variety of populations especially the migrants, community members, employees of companies, or others who benefit from maintained ties. Thus, in my opinion, interactions on the online world such as social networking sites may help in facilitating an individual's social capital even though in most cases people nowadays only indirectly stay connected by updating photos and videos, such connections could still have strong payoffs in terms of companionship, jobs, and other opportunities.

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