One of my best friends lives over four hours away, but I never feel too disconnected from her thanks to the Internet. I follow her posts on FaceBook, read her blog and look at her pictures on her Flickr account. We do see each other a few times a year and I think those face to face meetings are key, but I give the Internet credit for keeping us connected in between times. However, there are two schools of thought when it comes to how well personal connections translate on the Internet.
Some people believe that the Internet is making our society more disconnected and people more isolated. In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman claims, "it's hard to create a human bond with e-mail and streaming Internet." He argues that a wired world is draining the personal touch from decisions and driving all decisions to the bottom line. Rovai and Barnum (2003) cite research that classify online classes as "impersonal, superficial, misdirected, and potentially dehumanizing and depressing."
Others see the Internet as a way to connect in new and meaningful ways. Millions of people log into FaceBook every day just to connect with their friends online. Think of all the singles who find their spouse online. It doesn't get more personal than that! With respect to distance learning, Rovai and Barnum also cite research that claims "strong feelings of community can be developed in distance learning environments."
So which is it? When considering online instruction, the quallity of offerings vary greatly. As Rovai and Barnum state the effectiveness of an online course is determined by how the online medium is used not the medium itself. Instructors can use online tools to "reduce social and psychological distance between people" (Rovai & Barnum, 2003). I believe the Internet is neither inherently personal or impersonal. The medium itself is neutral and can be used in impersonal or highly personal ways. What is your experience?