Round table: The Upside of the Internet

A conversation between four “digital immigrants”

Welcome to our first round table discussion! This is the first of what we hope will be many conversations between a group of Women’s Therapy Referral Service members (Anne, Peggy, Chris, and Sam), where we share our thoughts and ideas about topics that affect us all. This month, we talked about ways the Internet fosters connection and community. There’s been so much talk about the negative impacts of the Internet on society; here the four of us share what we see to be the upside of the Internet.

In the early days of the Internet, people began using listservs and online bulletin boards to reach out to others with similar interests. Anne remembered the internal network at her corporate job, which in addition to being a convenient way to schedule meetings and discuss product-related issues, was also a way for employees to share recommendations for anything from finding a good roofer to deciding where to go for lunch.

Fast-forward to the present day, and consider all the ways social media and the Internet create connections between people. Sam’s neighborhood has a Facebook page, where neighbors can connect with each other to organize get-togethers and share ideas. It’s a great resource for people new to the community because they can look through previous posts to start to get to know their new neighbors—it’s so much less intimidating than going around knocking on doors—and with people so busy with work and other activities, it can be a challenge to catch someone at home. Other ways the Internet fosters connection is through neighborhood tool- share and free-cycle sites, as well as school parent groups and professional groups, which all four of us use to share ideas and announcements with our colleagues.

Chris talked about her positive experiences using airbnb to book lodging when she travels, and we all noted how much we rely on guest reviews to tell us if a hotel or vacation rental is a good place to stay. When online reviews were new, some of us had trouble relying on recommendations from strangers, and now we almost always consider them when deciding on a purchase or making travel arrangements.

Anne remembers the lament in the 70s that people weren’t reading and writing like they used to. With the advent of email and other online communication, people are writing again. Peggy mentioned blogs she enjoys reading, and Chris talked about ways musicians and artists use the Internet to make their music available to others, as well as to collaborate with each other.

We also talked about ways the Internet makes it easier for home-bound or anxious people to reach out to others. Many who experience anxiety are intimidated by talking on the phone. Email and text message are much less daunting, and one doesn’t have to worry about interrupting someone with a phone call. For these folks, the Internet can decrease their isolation from others.