The Impact of our Online Interactions on Offline Relationships (and vice-versa)

I was intrigued by the discussion surrounding our relationships on community networks online versus offline in Computer Networks as Social Networks and The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. In particular, I’m interested in how do we interact with friends online versus offline, how do our online interactions affect our offline interactions (and vice-versa), and where is this all headed?

Ellison et al. brings up interesting discussion on how the Internet can provide people with an alternative way to connecting with others who share their interests or relational goals, and how computer-mediated communication can lower barriers to interaction and encourage more self-disclosure – enabling connections and interactions where that would not otherwise occur. I feel that that the impact of the Internet and computer-mediated communication on our offline relationships will only increase, as we become increasingly connected. It is interesting to see how the rise of cell-phones and smart-phones have completely changed the way we interact with each other over the past decade. This is particularly evident in film. Most horror-movie plots can be easily avoided with the simple use of a cell-phone. Today, horror-movie writers have to accommodate that fact by coming up with an explanation as to why the protagonists can’t just call for help (usually with the explanation – “no signal”):

Pro-tip: If you find yourself with low cell-phone coverage – you may have a killer after you.

Wellman brings up an interesting point in how many e-mail and chat messages can be used to arrange face-to-face meetings. I believe computing can be used more than to arrange face-to-face meetings, but also augment them. I think the changes in the way we interact with one another will continue to evolve as computing becomes even more ubiquitous. Personally, I see a lot of potential in wearable computing and augmented reality.

Imagine how interaction with people you haven’t met before could change. One could bring up a fairly complete profile of a stranger without ever having to interact with them – simply by looking up their facebook, linked-in, personal websites, etc. Let’s take this a step further, in which we imagine that we can interact with the wearable computer in real-time with our offline interaction – perhaps by bringing up a user’s profile via facial recognition or detecting speech (i.e. “Hello, my name is Bob”).

We could see the end of arguments with networked wearable computers. It becomes harder to argue when every assertions you make can be fact checked with hard numbers instantaneously online. Imagine how this could impact politics – such as presidential debates.

Would wearable computing allow us to engage in face-to-face relationships more effectively? Or help our ability to meet others with common interests – bringing about the concept of the “long-tail” to relationships?

It’s also fun to think about all the new problems surfacing around the rise of social networks. Will our expectations surrounding privacy change? We can already see a bit of this from the amount of self-disclosure on virtual social networks like facebook, Friendster, and Linked-in. What about the increasing amount of loggable data we generate (e-mail logs, call logs, location-based-services logs, etc.). How will our behaviors in interaction change as our offline identities become increasingly tied to our online lives (through facebook login, etc.)?