Does the Internet Enhance the Capacity of Community Associations?
Springer London, Dordrecht Amsterdam
We employ a social network approach to explore the Internet’s impact on the capacity of community associations. We focus on how increased e-mail use affects the cohesion and democratic character of associations, and operationialize these concepts employing the standard social network measures of density and centralization. The analysis employs network data from 41 community associations that are comparable on a variety of factors, but which vary in their use of the Internet. It finds that the technological nature of e-mail as well as the background and interests of its users matter. Members of community associations do consider e-mail to be a distinctive communication mode and employ it differently from other modes such as phone and face-to-face communication. Increased use of e-mail is found to be associated with increased network density, a critical support for collective action. In contrast, increased e-mail use can either lead to increased or decreased network centralization, an indicator of the degree to which associational activities provide opportunities for the development of civic skills. In associations with relatively similar levels of e-mail use among members, the technology leads to more decentralized communication patterns, but in associations with disparate reliance on e-mail, e-mail use is associated with increased centralization.