A recent article by the economist Jan Brueckner found that people in suburbia talk with their neighbors more than those in urban areas. This got me to thinking about how computer is reforming social ties, and that any analysis of social ties, such as Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, would have to take into account virtual ties.
This raises the question an interesting question: How does blogging (and other web-based communication, such as instant messaging) change the nature of social relations?
One way that comes to mind has to do with the selection of whom we interact with. With blogging I can spend my time interacting with whomever interests me, and they usually end up being people with similar activities and backgrounds as I have. In addition, if I tire of interacting with someone, I just stop, so I have almost full control of who is in my virtual social circle.
Compare this with social ties of previous generations which were necessarily more geographically bound. In them people were "stuck" with the others in the group, regardless of similarity or liking.
Being able to choose one's friends and acquaintances from such a large pool as the blogosphere certainly makes social ties easier, but lost in it is the moral skills developed by having to make functional relationships with difficult people as well as the joyful opportunity to discover differences found in people we're put together with, apart from our choosing.
How else might this changing form of communication change our social ties?