Still Connected? Has Social Life Declined or Expanded in the Internet Age?


There has been much popular and scientific concern over the past few decades about a possible decline in American civil and social life.  We don’t participate in groups or have as many friends as we used to.  This decline has been blamed on television, social media and the internet, and the increases in women’s labor force participation.  More recently there has been debate and concern about the role of social media in coarsening and polarizing political attitudes.  Finally, we look at the growing role of “Big Data” collected from the internet by Google and others and used to help us and to influence us.   We will look at the various sides of these debates

Weekly Topics

Week 1

  • Network Dictionary

  • “Retirees Turn to Virtual Villlages for Mutual Support,” NYT

  • “Italian Neighbors Build a Social Network, First Online, Then Off,” NYT

  • “New Item on the College Submission Checklist: LinkedIn Profile,” NYT

  • “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life,” NYT

Week 2

  • Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”

  • Miller McPherson et al, “Social Isolation in America: Changes In Core discussion Networks Over Two Decades”

  • Claude S. Fischer, “The 2004 GSS Finding of Shrunken Social Networks: An Artifact?”

Week 3

  • Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties”

  • Mark Zukerberg’s IPO Letter Describing Facebook’s Purpose, Values & Social Mission

Week 4

  • “The Flight from Conversation,” Sherry Turkle 

  • “Alone Together,” Sherry Turkle

Week 5

  • “Smartphones are bad for some adolescents, not all”

  • “The big myth about teenage anxiety”

  • “Have smartphones destroyed a generation?”, The Atlantic

Week 6-7

  • “The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018”

  • “The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency”

Week 8

  • “Facebook helped foment anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka”

  • “Revealed: Facebook hate speech exploded in Myanmar during Rohingya crisis”

  • “Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match”

Week 9

  • “Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online: A Collection of Essays”, Harvard University

Week 10

  • SC, Chapters 1-2

Week 11

  • SC, Chapters 3-4

Week 12

  • SC, Chapters 5-6

Week 13

  • SC, Chapters 7-8

Week 14

  • SC, Chapters 9-10 


The Age of Surveilance Capitalism, Shosshana  Zuboff, 2019

First nine weeks readings will be distributed by email