Strong vs weak ties are the wrong dilemma: the internet’s role in deep relationships

The key contrast was, and remains, between bridge and non-bridge ties; conflating them as weak and strong ties and then contrasting them as if they were direct opposites is conceptually incorrect. In reality, people’s ties range from very strong to very weak. Strong-ties become weak over time and vice-versa. Weak ties and strong ties are not ontological opposites.

Zeynep Tufekci on the Internet as a Key Resource for Tie-Formation:

“Which brings me to my final point; Given the decline of importance of place and family in providing people with strong ties (one’s very close ties used to be immediate family, kin, neighbors, etc), where do you think people will turn to if they are to regenerate robust communities composed of strongly-connected individuals? Their weaker ties. All those Facebook friends that Gladwell and others take turns making fun of? That is exactly where most people can potentially draw stronger ties. Tweets/discussions about lunch and naps and status updates about dates and breakups? Bedrock of sociality and of social networks of stronger and weaker ties. Do we really think that strong communities spend their time discussing the finer points of flexible specialization in the labor process under post-Fordism? Research shows that adding online connectivity to an otherwise face-to-face space like a neighborhood increases the general level of bonding because it increases the channels of communication (See work by Keith Hampton, Barry Wellman or Gustavo Mesch, among others). (Think of a neighborhood mailing list – it lets neighbors connect even though they may hardly have time to get together regularly given long-commutes and other responsibilities – Internet allows asynchronous, rich communication freed from requirements of coordinating time and place).

Consequently, pools of weaker ties, organized around shared affinities and interests, will likely become most people’s source for closer friendships. As we introduce people in our increasingly geographically-dispersed networks to each other, we can recreate the denser, closely-knit communities of mutual-interdependence that do indeed give rise to social movement. Internet and social media will clearly be a key in this process because going back to place-based ties is not only not possible, and more importantly, inadequate, for rising up to meet the global, multi-level, complex problems we as all of humanity face today.

New movements that can bring about global social change will still require people who interact with each other regularly, and trust and depend on each other in somewhat dense networks. Or only hope is if those networks span the globe in a tightly-knit, broad web of activity, interaction, personalization. Real change will come only if we can make friends we care about everywhere and we make bridge ties that cover the world in a web of common humanity that is bigger and more powerful than a handful of corporations and the corrupt, self-perpetuating class of politicians.

So, maybe seeing a tweet about what an war orphan in Afghanistan had for breakfast (nothing), what a worker in a sweatshop in China had for lunch (nothing because there is no lunch break), or where a survivor of one of the increasing numbers of large-scale climate events like massive floods is sleeping tonight (on a wet piece of plastic) interspersed into our daily rhythms of communication with our local friends and communities is exactly what we need to organize us into the “hive mind” that everyone is so afraid of when in reality, what is destroying our opportunities for individuality and creativity, subverting us from realizing our human potential is not that we are tweeting about trivialities, but that the governance of our planet has been taken away from us.”

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