Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman write glowingly about the power of virtual communities and online networks to provide today's modern “networked individuals” with various forms of support. They argue that the internet does not necessarily keep people apart, rather, it encourages us to form meaningful human relationships across time and distance. Is this true? Are virtual communities and online networks just as good, or better, at providing us with human connection as in-person communities?
Your goal is to thoroughly examine Rainie & Wellman's claim by performing independent scholarly research (finding out what other credible authors argue about this topic) and by conducting observations of your own.
This topic works best if it is narrowed. Instead of focusing on virtual communities at large, find one virtual or online community online and study it. You could choose a community devoted to a particular chronic illness, a particular pass-time or hobby, or a particular cause. Plan on discussing 1-2 scholarly sources in addition to Networked, and plan on spending 1-2 hours closely examining your chosen community's website (this should include discussion boards, comment sections, or other features that allow members of this community to talk with each other). You will craft this research into an essay in which you give background on what other scholars have written, and then show how evidence from your own observations confirms, undermines, questions, or advances the claims these other scholars have made.
Based on your evidence, what have other scholars gotten right? What have they gotten wrong? And what do your observations show—do virtual communities offer spaces for true human connection? See the Sample Outline at the end of this handout for more guidance!