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And what *has* the Internet done to community?

The change in plans that took me to Albany on Tuesday was well worth it. I got to see Nelson Rockfeller’s extraordinary monumental additions to the city (talk about an edifice complex), which include something that looks like a toilet, and a collection of state buildings that look like Stalinesque dominos standing in a row. Lewis Mumford is perhaps best known for his decades as the architectural and art critic for the New Yorker, but these buildings are from the ’60s, so we don’t have his comments, but I amused myself by imagining them.

Barry Wellman and Karen Christensen, at the 8th Annual Lewis Mumford LectureI had never met Barry Wellman, though we’ve worked together on two projects and corresponded about others, and I think we were both a bit nervous. What a delight to find that we hit it off even better in person than online. He sweetly told the audience that I was the only person he considers a friend whom he had not met before. What a perfect occasion to meet at last, given that his subject was the Internet’s effects on human relationships! I will write about his presentation, because there were some facts from his team’s research that I found particularly enlightening, and observations and questions that are so obvious, once you think about it, that I felt a bit chagrined not to have wondered before. (For example, how many of the millions of accounts on MySpace are active? How much online communication takes place between people who actually see one another every day?) This knowledge really need to become part of the business discussions of social media that I frequently find myself involved in. But for now, since I leave for Beijing in a couple hours, here’s a link to his Netlab at the University of Toronto and a photo of two Internet friends and colleagues.

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