Digital Sociology : Perspectives and Inmplications
Sociology of the Internet: An Historical Overview
In the late 1990s, the sociology of the internet took shape as a subfield. The sudden widespread diffusion and adoption of the internet in the U.S. and other Western nations drew the attention of sociologists because the early platforms enabled by this technology–email, list-serves, discussion boards and forums, online news and writing, and early forms of chat programs–were seen as having significant impacts on communication and social interaction. Internet technology allowed for new forms of communication, new sources of information, and new ways of disseminating it, and sociologists wanted to understand how these would impact people’s lives, cultural patterns, and social trends, as well as larger social structures, like the economy and politics.
Sociologists who first studied internet-based forms of communication took interest in impacts on identity and social networks that online discussion forums and chat rooms might have, especially for people experiencing social marginalization because of their identity. They came to understand these as “online communities” that might become important in a person’s life, as either a replacement or a supplement to existing forms of community in their immediate surroundings.