The director of NetLab at the University of Toronto, Barry Wellman has a reputation for being a pragmatic, rigurous, and coherent researcher having studied extensively networked communication and having helped internet research overcome its early-days “Real Life vs. Virtual Reality” divide. Wellman’s intellectual approach is social network analysis and his main contribution boils down to showing that computer networks are actually social networks. He was saying that as early as 2001, several years before Facebook made it obvious. Wellman heralded the idea the online communications are immanent to our lives – i.e. that they are not located on some transcendent digital Great Beyond. According to his results, we tend to reproduce online the same social networks that we have in our family and work life.
In this lecture delivered at the Clinton School of Public Service (University of Arkansas) he explores the dimensions of networked individualism and buries the cyber-pessimist argument linking Internet to social isolation (as discussed also in this post).
Just a couple of references, in case you wanted to have a taste of his production:
B Wellman 2001 Computer Networks as Social Networks. Science 293 (September 14, 2001): 2031-2034
B Wellman & C Haythornthweait (eds) (2002) The Internet in Everyday Life. Oxford: Blackwell.
B Wellman & B Hogan (2004). The Immanent Internet. In J McKay (ed.) Netting Citizens: Exploring Citizenship in a Digital Age. Edinburgh, St. Andrew Press: 54-80.