several hypotheses about the relative advantages of weak and strong-tie networks and of the intensity of any differences due to the amount of time spent online. Haythornthwaite 188
suggested that the online world is particularly well-suited for maintaining weak tie networks, and possibly not as good for maintaining strong ones. The latter is consistent with critics who, without seeing any potential benefits from online networks, decry Internet use as isolating. Functionally, this has appeal in that the entry and exit costs online tend to be lower than their offline counterparts, and so the relationships that develop may not be as bonding. Therefore: H 1 : Bridging (weak-tie) social capital will be larger online than offline. It follows that this effect should increase as time online increases, so: H 2 : Effects found in H 1 will be stronger for heavier users than lighter users. A related question explores the functional form of the expected effects, i.e. do they take on some kind of curvilinear form? Turkle’s work with gamers suggests that those users who spend large amounts of time online may eventually experience problems. Do light users experience moderate weak-tie gains and heavy users strong ones, but very, very heavy users see a decrease at some point? So: R 2 : What is the functional form of bridging effects as time online increases? If the Internet is better at generating weak-tie, bridging social capital than offline life because of its lower entry and exit costs, the offline world should be better at generating strong-tie bonding social capital because of its relatively higher entry and exit costs. With more to gain and more to lose from them, offline communities and relationships should generate more emotional support than the online world. Also, as noted in Chapter 5, the “translucence” of online social encounters is weaker than offline, 189
and so should make it harder to transmit the social cues and to establish the mechanisms of accountability that strong networks are thought to require (Erickson et al., 2002). So: H 3 : Bonding (strong-tie) social capital will be larger offline than online. But what of the fears about offline effects due to Internet activity? Kraut et al’s first series of experiments suggested that there might be initial losses in strong social networks offline after the introduction of the Internet into people’s lives (R. Kraut et al., 1996). However, the second wave of studies showed that this effect had gone away (Robert Kraut et al., 2002). Still, the time displacement approach favored by Nie suggests strongly that time online must eat into “real world” strong network effects (Nie, 2001).
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