Is the level (or direction) of social capital in a given society in inverse proportion to its propensity to engage in online social networking? Where levels of social capital are seen to be low or decreasing (e.g. US, UK), are people more likely to reach out online? Similarly, where levels of social capital are much higher (e.g. China, more “traditional” societies) do people want or need to make new friends online? In most of the world, peoples communities, “tribes”, etc are given by birth rather than developed by mobility.
I replied in comments:
What a wonderful question. Says’ Law applies: the market flocks to scarcity. Similar to how bandwidth is like a vacume. Networks are markets. Beyond the very human need to be social, in the absence of connections — nodes are state attractors. With a dearth of connections and an abundance of options to connect, what’s new is the search and transaction cost for forming connections plummets with these services. But that’s just one theory.
What I am not certain of is if more traditional societal structures represent a more heirarchical form with untapped latent potential for the informal network.
Cultural norms provide barriers, such as arrangement or patriarchy, for non-traditional friendship and dating. But the backchannel of connecting online provides ample opportunity to arbitrage and circumvent, at least virtually.
A business network in a more traditional society would be more driven by preferential attachment to existing nodes of power. However, there are even stonger incentives to arbitrage.
You have got me thinking. Boundaries are self-selective. But even in the most traditional society boundaries are transcended from the bottom-up.
The theory of political integration that I subscribe to is neofunctionalism. You can’t force large political institutions and societies to merge. But smaller localized decisions to cooperate eventually result in a e-mergent pattern.
Take the EU. First their was the Marshall Plan and former enemies had the technocratic task of distributing aid. These technocrats formed connections across boundaries, felt accomplishment and wanted more. Functional spillover occured from technocratic to social to economic to political and perhaps military realms (e.g. EMU->EU). Never underestimate the power of initial connections, of early adopters, of technocrats. Even overcoming culture or nationalism.
I'm posting this because I don't have all the answers to this very big question. Interested to know the opinions of expats and members of other global tribes.