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The Internet is a global network of interconnected computer hardware and software systems, making possible the storage, retrieval, circulation, and processing of information and communication across time and space. A sociological account encompasses the constituent Internet technologies and attends to these as social phenomena. It also includes the information and other content which is produced, transmitted, and received by individuals and organizations using the Internet. Finally, a sociological account of the Internet includes the socially and historically structured contexts and processes in which the production, transmission, and reception of information and communication are embedded.
The Internet deserves the attention of sociologists for three major reasons. First, the Internet facilitates a reorganization of information and social relationships across time and space. Second, in investigating and understanding the complex subject matter of sociology, the Internet is an important tool for collecting data and for accessing information relevant to such an endeavor. Third, the Internet deserves the attention of sociologists because it expands the opportunities for circulating research findings and for supporting critical reflection, learning, and debate. However, in staking out the relevance of the Internet for sociology, we need to be aware that as a social phenomenon, it is an expression of the radical interconnection of people, organizations, different sectors of society, and the problems that we take up for study. In this way, studying the Internet involves shifts and linkages to perspectives that might traditionally have been considered to lie beyond the disciplinary boundaries of sociology. A comprehensive understanding of the Internet can only be developed jointly, from a multidisciplinary approach.
Fundamental to a sociological account of the Internet is that its development and use are not accidental to a set of complex and contradictory changes that are taking place in our world today. As such, the Internet is in the midst of some of our most severe and exciting challenges. The world we live in is becoming increasingly globalized. As a global communication network, the Internet is transforming the complex relationships between local activities and interaction across distance. The world we live in confronts us with new opportunities and dilemmas as the certainties afforded by tradition, authority, and nature no longer direct our lives in the way that they once did. Internet use radicalizes this process by placing ”horizontal forms of communications center stage, by allowing the questioning and blurring over of authority, and by allowing the reordering and expansion of the built environment. The world we live in is increasingly reflexive and saturated with information. As a technology of communication, the Internet transforms our information environments by facilitating global attentiveness, visibility, and questioning. Moreover, as a technology of communication, the Internet does not simply impact on this set of complex and contradictory changes; it contributes to the construction, mediation, and disclosure of what these transformations are.
- Castells, (2001) The Internet Galaxy. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Hamelink, J. (2000) Ethics of Cyberspace. Sage, London.
- Miller, D. & Slater, D. (2000) The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Berg, Oxford and New York.
- Slevin, J. (2000) The Internet and Society. Polity Press, Cambridge.
- Wellman, B. & Haythornthwaite, C. (eds.) (2002) The Internet and Everyday Life. Blackwell, Oxford.
- Woolgar, S. (ed.) (2002) Virtual Society? Technology, Cyberbole, Reality. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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