On and Off the Internet
August 12, 2011
School of Communication, Coimbatore
She awakens suddenly, pulled from sleep by a nagging feeling reminding her that it’s been hours since she last checked her email or looked at the latest status of her FB friends.
Prone to isolation, feelings of restlessness and irritation, she is among the growing number of Indian youth who suffer from what is being dubbed as techno-anxiety.
Websites, blogs and social networking sites like Facebook are increasingly being utilized by Indian youth as a means for socialization, communication, information access, entertainment, and shopping. The youth form the majority of India’s 52 million active Internet users.
Recognizing the essential need to investigate how the online world affects India’s youth, Dr. S. Kalyani, Amrita School of Communication, Coimbatore, conducted a study to explore the influence of the internet on social relationships.
“With the increasing impact of the Internet on personal relationships between Indian youth within a larger community, it has become important to study how the Internet affects the formation, development and maintenance of new online social relationships, and helps sustain existing relationships offline,” she stated.
Administering questionnaires to 1000 college students in Chennai who were active internet users, Kalyani studied the process by which youth developed a sense of identity and learned norms, values, behaviors and social skills by examining demographic/personality indicators and internet usage.
Kalyani explained the importance of exploring how social capital formed through internet relationships influenced offline relations and the development of pro-social behavior in communities (concern for the welfare of others).
She also measured social capital online and offline using Social Capital Scales.
Social capital (understanding, common values and support) is created when youth connect with youth through social networking sites contributing to the formation of social relationships, which shape how they relate to each other and participate in social activities.
According to Kalyani’s findings, the internet appeared to supplement/complement offline social capital. Furthermore, the most successful online social capital determinants were found to be rooted in offline worlds.
Kalyani described the advantages of the mutually supportive online and offline social interactions.
“When online interactions are combined with offline interactions, the overall relationships are much stronger, closer and intimate,” she noted.
“Online participation of the youth serves to widen contacts and expand social capital as well as reinforce bonding networks of likeminded individuals and interests,” she added.
Finally, she emphasized, “The Internet does not change human nature; it just brings human nature online.”
These findings were presented in a paper titled On and Off the Internet, at the UGC National Seminar on New Media and National Development organized by the Department of Postgraduate Studies and Research in Communication, Bangalore University, during March 18-19.
“The conference focused its attention on the crucial role played by new media in the context of national development,” explained Dr. Kalyani. “It aimed at offering insights into the challenges posed in the new media scenario.”