I, too, read the piece on Robert Kraut in the NYTimes. I've always found
the isolation argument counter-intuitive, although I can imagine that an
already introverted, weakly networked (with face to face people) person
might be drawn more deeply into Internet obsession and suffer consequently.
I prefer the "rich get richer" argument mentioned in the article: the
Internet, like any other tool, has the potential for broadening our worlds
(e.g., toggling back and forth between LOC searches, web-surfing, the latest
Washington Post article, E-mail exchanges, and my article-in-progress).
I recently spent a 3-year period organizing an editing a multiauthor book
that had contributors from all over the U.S. and Europe. This book would
have been a vastly different creature 10 years ago because communications
and information-gathering would have been infinitely slower and less
efficient. It's the difference between shooting an E-mail query off to a
colleague in France (and getting a reply later the same day) and
writing/printing a letter, putting it in an envelope, and sending it
(expensively) first-class to France--and maybe (if you are lucky!) getting a
mailed response in 2-3 weeks. For me, E-mail and the Internet have greatly
expanded my social world, including in-person contacts.
The major down-side (and this is not a minor issue) would be that I
sometimes catch myself spending TOO MANY hours per day at the computer;
indeed, it becomes excessively habit-forming. Some days I just have to vow
in the morning that I will not turn the blasted computer on all day long.
So, although my broad network of social and intellectual contacts has grown,
there is always the danger that my immediate, familial network (my wife and
two young daughters) may suffer. I have to learn to get better at limiting
my hours in front of the flickering screen.
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