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"Reconfiguring Friendships: Social Relationships and the Internet" / "Open Documents and Democracy"

Corinna di Gennaro, Berkman Fellow, and Laura DeNardis, ISP Fellow

"Reconfiguring Friendships: Social Relationships and the Internet" - Corinna di Gennaro, Berkman Fellow


Debate on the social role of the Internet has centred on whether its use will tend to isolate or connect individuals, undermining or reinforcing social ties. This study moves away from this focus on more or less connectivity to explore the degree to which people use the Internet to make new friends and, thereby, reconfigure their social networks. The analysis identifies those who create new ties through the Internet and investigates under what conditions these online ties migrate to face to face settings. The analysis is based on data from the 2005 Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS), a national probability sample survey of individuals aged 14 and over in Britain. The findings indicate that about 20 percent of Internet users have met new friends online, and about half of these individuals go on to meet one or more of these virtual friends in person. Sociodemographic characteristics, such as being single, shape patterns of Internet use, and are related to the greater propensity of some individuals to make online social relationships. However, experience with the Internet and the ways people choose to use the Internet, such as for chatting or communicating more generally, are most directly associated with who makes new connections over the Internet and who does not. These findings suggest that the Internet plays an important role in reconfiguring the social networks of many users. Also, multivariate analyses indicate that the dynamics of online friendships are driven more by the idiosyncratic digital choices made by users of the Internet than by any mechanistic social or technological determinism.

About Corinna

Corinna di Gennaro is a sociologist working on civic and politica engagement and new media. She is a Research Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Prior to joining the Berkman Center, Corinna was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2006-2007) at the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and Survey Research Officer (2004 - 2006) at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford. At the OII, she worked on the design and analysis of the 2005 Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS) and the World Internet Project (WIP), exploring the social implications of Internet adoption and use in everyday life with a particular focus on online political engagement and online sociability. Corinna holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Oxford, where she explored the links between social capital, civic engagement and political participation in Britain in the postwar years.

"Open Documents and Democracy: Democracy: A Political Basis for Open Document Standards " - Laura DeNardis, ISP Fellow


Heterogeneous information and communication technology (ICT) devices can exchange information only if they adhere to common technical standards. Increasingly, governments are developing policies specifying the use of
more "open" ICT standards within federal or local agencies. Academic analyses of open standards usually address economic and technical concerns. But technological design is also political. Technologies both embody values and, once developed, have political onsequences. This paper employs democratic theory as a method of political and ethical inquiry into the political implications of openness in ICT standards development and adoption. Our account describes four ways in which standards can raise political implications: standards can have implications for other democratic processes; standards can affect the broader social conditions relevant to democracy; the content and
material implications of standards can themselves constitute substantive political issues; and lastly, the internal processes of standards-setting can be viewed politically. We then describe various conceptions of openness in standards and describe a maximal definition of openness as a conceptual pole that anchors one end of the spectrum of potential standards policy options. We develop some guidelines as to the contexts in which democratic values require a greater degree of openness in both the substance of technical standards and their development, and
consider these imperatives in the particular context of government documents.

About Laura

Laura DeNardis is a Resident Fellow at the Yale Information Society Project and the author of "Information Technology in Theory" (Thomson, 2007), co-written with Pelin Aksoy. Her research addresses the political
and legal implications of information and communication technologies with a concentration in digital media interoperability, Internet governance, and information security. She has a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech, a Master of Engineering degree from Cornell, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth.

Past Event
Oct 3, 2007
8:54 PM - 8:54 PM