Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Survey looks at how e-mail shrinks world




By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When the sender of the first electronic mail message hit “send,” it shrank the world as we know it. The “global village” became a hot-wired “small world.”

        How small is being examined in a study supported by the National Science Foundation. James Moody, an Ohio State University sociologist, is trying to discover how e-mail has changed — or hasn't changed — the way people interact around the world.

        “What we're trying to do is map the social connections that link people together through e-mail,” says Dr. Moody, leader of the “Electronic Small World Project.”

        “We want to understand how information flows through e-mail, how different people are connected, and how small the social world we live in really is.”

        As part of the study, e-mail users complete an online survey that asks about e-mail use, who they e-mail, how often they communicate and the nature of their e-mail relationships.

        So far, more than 500 people have completed the survey. The study hopes to receive a half-million surveys to get an accurate cross-section.

        Dr. Moody, who has studied the nature of social networks among teens and neighbors, says he is interested in seeing the similarities and differences between electronic and physical relationships.

        “This is all new,” says Dr. Moody. “There have been no other large-scale studies that I know of that looked at global relationships on e-mail. But in off-line relationships, like those in high school, we have found that relationships are dynamic, they change a lot. One goal is to see if that is the same with e-mail relationships.”

        Dr. Moody plans to contact people a year after they have completed the survey to see how their e-mail relationships have grown and changed.


       To participate in The Electronic Small World Project, go to: http://smallworld.sociology.ohio-state.edu/html/homepage.html and click on “Volunteer.”

       



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