Is a Digital Neighbor as Good as the Real Thing?

Can Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace replace the neighborhood bar, cafe, or hangout? Mary Newsom says no.

"This is a defense of the value of real places where real people meet, and the little-heeded but significant role they play in the life of our cities and towns.

Online networks can, of course, create social and business relationships. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter let people meet and keep in touch, and occasionally in-person friendships flower from Facebook 'friending.' Indeed, their popularity may well be fed by the lack of true Third Places in our lives.

Still, as Third Places they're mere metaphors for the real thing."

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A Digital Neighbor IS the Real Thing

Whether social media is bad or good in terms of facilitating real community is a moot point. The reality is that social media IS the real thing at the moment. And may I add that live events such as Tweetups are actually preventing many "third-places" from coming "third world" places. This "Tweetup" link provides an excellent example of how real time person-to-person connections are being facilitated by social media

Not a Substitute

The author is absolutely right. The internet is not a substitute for face-to-face contact. One of the great values of the internet though is that it can bring people together and foster in-person relationships. Many people initially get involved in campaigns or community groups online and then eventually meet up in person. A growing number of people are meeting their future spouses online. The internet and social media provide great opportunities to begin or initiate social interaction, but not to develop and continue it, that can only be done to its fullest in person. There was a lot of talk about the importance of twitter and social media during the Iranian elections last summer. What made social media important in that context though, was that it resulted in real action on the ground and not merely a stream of web chatter. I doubt there would have been much news coverage of the event had Iranians merely stayed home and twittered about their discontent.

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