Communities in Cyberspace has filled me with a new appreciation for the speed at which internet communication has advanced. Although published less than a decade ago, some of the Chapter 7’s issues now have added dimensions when its concepts are applied to technologies and platforms that have since emerged, like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Social media has indeed made a great leap forward to breach differences between online and offline communication. This has especially evolved the discussion on the fourth of seven analytical questions posed by Messrs Smith and Kollock, discerning if online communication has progressed or regressed community interaction: are strong, intimate ties possible online?
A key enhancement with modern social media is visual communication. Facebook Live, Snapchat stories and Instagram photos and videos have taken online communication to the next level. Users can record multiple aspects of their lives and show, rather than tell, their followers about events around them. These media advancements have also helped to increase the frequency and volume of informational exchange by providing the added dimensions of almost-instantaneous response. An online friend on Facebook Live could respond to your comments on his stream in realtime (not to be confused with real time – but close enough!).
I would also submit that because of the different interaction styles fostered through each type of content on each platform, following someone online through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and being exposed to the different forms and nuances of content on all three different mediums constitutes interacting with that person on multiple social contexts – one of the nine characteristics of a strong tie. Thus, interacting with the same person on multiple platforms may actually strengthen their ties and enhance their shared emotional connections!
Smith and Kollock constantly remind us that online communication is just one aspect of communication that cannot be isolated from our offline representations. If anything, these advancements have accentuated this by making communication more personable, further bridging the gap between the online and offline sphere.