Bowling Online: Examining Social Capital and the Impact of Internet-Generated Interactions
Ian S. Lustick
Communication Technology and New Media
Models and Methods
Other Political Science
Politics and Social Change
Social Influence and Political Communication
Part of who we are is whom we communicate with. That basic premise, that our family and friends affect our own personality, is accepted even in academic treatises that promote nature over nurture as determinants of personality (McCrae & Costa Jr. et al., 2000). Social capital, as a theory, is directly tied to that notion; we build a fund based on friendship and trust and favors – a trust fund, figuratively – and we “invest” in jobs or other relationships for the sake of personal benefit. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam’s 1995 Journal of Democracy paper and the follow-up book, Bowling Alone, hypothesize that America has declining social capital. Putnam believes in the power of local relationships: "The challenge the country faces today is to do the equivalent of reinventing the boyscouts or the Rotary Club," and he believes that the Internet is incapable of this reinvention (Putnam 2000,17). Has Putnam has misjudged the efficacy of aspects of Internet-generated relationships? Recent Internet-aided phenomena like the 2011 Arab Spring suggest that the Internet can contribute to social activism, and to a large degree. Through a series of experiments utilizing agent-based modeling (ABM), the effect of non-local interactions – those connections that are not predicated on being face-to-face, such as the types of interactions generated by the Internet – is examined.