One of my favorite things about being in school is learning names for concepts that I am interested in but don’t fully grasp. “Social capital” is the most recent of such terms, with my foray into literature about social capital beginning over a week ago as I read for my HCDE 501 class (Theoretical Foundations of Human-Centered Design & Engineering). While class discussion was illuminating in its own right, it was the articles that were shared by my peers after class that truly piqued my interest. The most interesting of such articles was “Is There Social Capital in a Social Network Site?: Facebook Use and College Students’ Life Satisfaction, Trust and Participation,” which was written by Sebastian Valenzuela, Namsu Park and Kerk F. Kee and appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication in 2009.
The first thing that caught my attention in the article was the quality and quantity of scholarly literature incorporated in the first few sections. The authors cover a significant number of theories and studies about social interaction, civic participation, online participation and psychology, all of which together create an intensely rich beginning to the article. Furthermore, the study that Valenzuela, Park and Kee carry out is also quite fascinating, but much too detailed to explain here.
While I have not summarized the entire article, I have posted a few excerpts below that I found particularly relevant to my experiences online and would strongly encourage anyone interested to give the article a read.
It is important to study the relationship between using a social networking site and developing attitudes and behaviors that promote social capital and democratic citizenship. Social trust facilitates associative behavior, fosters a strong civil society, and Makes political institutions and officials more responsive, all of which translate into a more effective democracy (Putnam, R.D. 2000. Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community).
By using social networking sites, individuals seek to maintain and increase their social networks because engagement in these networks enables individuals to develop norms of trust and reciprocity (877).
“Individuals’ life satisfaction is determined, in part, by their social ties” (877).
These ideas run parallel to my personal belief that humans are social animals, and that social interaction, in multiple and often redundant arenas, helps to create healthier, happier communities. By engaging with others (regardless of medium or tool) we are building and strengthening connections that ultimate create reservoirs of community for us to draw from later. Humans have survived as long as they have because of collective action, and social media and SNSs are allowing us to extend our interpersonal engagement across the world.
“The development of SNSs dedicated to fostering civic and political engagement among users, particularly young people, speaks in a loud voice to the potentialities of social media as a tool for collective action… SNSs do not need to succeed at mobilizing users offline to represent a unique contribution to people’s engagement” (879).
This idea speaks largely in favor of the opposition to Malcolm Gladwell’s recent critique of the weak-ties that SNSs and social media interaction create. In this article, the authors acknowledge the difference between bridging, weak-tie social capital and bonding, strong-tie social capital, though they seem to make claims that generally fall in line with my own beliefs about the power of social media and SNSs to cultivate social capital and engage users in action.
Note: Thanks to Betsy’s group for finding the article.