The Internet is redefining our relationships, reputations: Pew study says
Sure, most people agree that the Internet has and will continue to be positive for social relations. But it’s also presented many more challenges and perhaps opportunities for how reputations are made, tarnished and remade, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
In its annual future of social relations survey, the Pew Internet & American Life Project asked 895 experts how e-mail, social networking sites and video conferencing among other applications are redefining the way we think of relationships. The most interesting part of the report, I thought, was the feedback on how users are only beginning to address how to deal with online reputations.
“As information shrinks our world, it will become easier for one’s misdeeds to return to them or for outbursts of regrettable behavior to be reported and shared,” said Stuart Schechter, a researcher for Microsoft and former staff member of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. “For better or worse, technology makes the citizenry its own Big Brother. Some will welcome this as transparency; others will feel oppressed.”
Bernie Hogan, a research fellow at the University of Oxford Internet Institute, said a key to developing mature and nuanced relationships on the Internet is to somehow incorporate the context of how we present ourselves in the real world with our relationships on the Internet. In other words, how do we keep from building online identities in 140-character snippets, select photos and information about ourselves dug up by others?
“This will involve the hybrid of sociological and psychological insights alongside traditional design,” Hogan said. “How do we present ourselves to co-workers and high school friends without pandering to the lame lowest common denominator?”
Privacy and security experts tell me users need to be as concerned about how their repuations online are being translated to peers and employers. They need to tell youth that exaggerations online are online records and can be easily taken out of context.
In an interview earlier this year, the CEO of Reputation Defender said it is important for users to regularly search for themselves and see what results come up.
Some of the experts had big hopes for how social networks could change workplace and social patterns.
Patrick Tucker, communications director for The World Future Society, said that within a decade people will figure out the best uses for social networks so that they can spend less time in offices and more time with clients or the people they love. "There is no reason why social networks can't replace offices, but a Twitter feed will never replace family, a neighbor, a real community," Tucker said.
And social networking will redefine the value of some of those relationships, said Dave Levy, a senior account executive at Edelman, a public relations firm.
Years ago, our social circles were finite offline, and therefore had a high opportunity cost. In other words, sacrifices had to be made to invest in one relationship over another.
"Now the social grid gives us the luxury to keep low-involvement relationships -- past contacts, former classmates, etc. -- together. But the serious friendships, spouses, those can continue at their high involvement," Levy said.
The survey asked how respondents predicted social relationships would be affected by the Internet in 10 years. And, not surprisingly, 85 percent said they thought the Internet has been positive for social relations and will continue to be.
July 6, 2010; 11:44 AM ET
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