The internet flattens the world, they say. But researchers Jacob Goldenberg and Moshe Levy argue the inverse, that the internet makes us more local. The speed and facility of communication driven by technology gives the idea that it “has decreased the importance of geographic proximity in social interactions, transforming our world into a global village with a borderless society,” according to the researchers. “We argue for the opposite: while technology has undoubtedly increased the overall level of communication, this increase has been most pronounced for local social ties,” say the researchers.
Goldenberg and Levy use the theory of chain lengths, made famous by “six degrees of” films and games, which shows that large human networks are connected through small chains of indeterminate relations, to argue that IT has made geographical proximity even stronger.
Basing their findings on a study of 100,000 Facebook users and a study of the spread of baby names, which “tend to diffuse geographically,” the researchers argue that local communication is more important and more voluminous than before the internet revolution.
“We show that the volume of electronic communications is inversely proportional to geographic distance, following a Power Law,” the researchers say. The larger the geographical distance, the smaller the communication output.
It’s an interesting finding, but not necessarily groundbreaking. For many of us, most of our relationships are still formed in the offline world. While the internet makes it infinitely easier to communicate with people across vast distances, you have to know people across those distances first.