Sociology made easy

A researcher in Chicago is making novel use of the Internet, according to this article in the Tribune. (Registration may be required, but it's free.) Emily Noelle Ignacio, a professor at Loyola University, studies the way people interact and form communities on-line. She focused her attention on the Filipino-American community.

Over 21 months, while working on her doctoral dissertation, Ignacio printed out and analyzed about 2,000 of the best postings from about 20,000 members of that Internet newsgroup, a forum of interest to Filipinos with a yearning for news and talk of their homeland.

"People really wanted to make it a virtual home, to go online, to hear what's going on, to talk with other Filipinos around the world," she said.

Unlike others in her trade who have gone to Samoa or the forests of Borneo to glean insights from those they were studying, Ignacio turned to her computer to show how Filipinos "have used subtle, cyber, but very real social connections to construct and reinforce a sense of ... identity with distant others."

The Internet certainly makes it easier to find people with common interests. (That's what we're trying to do here with Science Buzz—connect people who are interested in science and how if affects life today.) But, because the interaction isn't face-to-face, one might argue that social connections over the Web aren't the same as ones in real life. After all, they call it virtual reality for a reason.

What do you think? Is the Web a substitute for personal interaction, or just a supplement?

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