Virtual Social Capital

For a number of years now I have been a student of understanding social capital.  Since my first introduction to this construct, back in the early 90's, I have been fascinated by the power and potency of our relationships.  Indeed, studies have shown that most all good things associated with a successful life, health, happiness, advancement, achievement, self confidence, and even life expectancy, have some tie back to the people we surround ourselves with and the value they bring to our lives.

As I share some of the things we are learning, and look at ways that people can build more social capital, I often get questions about on-line relationships, and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, that create opportunities for people to build relationships - a type of virtual social capital.  People wonder if these relationships are as potent as actual friendships.

Sociologists who are interested in social capital are certainly attuned to the notion of virtual social capital.  We know that many people today are regular visitors to Facebook, Twitter, and the other social platforms.  In fact, I know some people who are seemingly addicted to these platforms and spend an amazing amount of time posting and giving status updates.  So how good is virtual social capital?

It is important to know that in general there are usually 3 key values associated with social capital. These are 1) Instrumental value - when your friends do specific things for you. 2) Emotional value - when your friends have your back. 3) Informational value - when your friends share things with you that are helpful.  When looking at virtual social capital, all 3 of these values can be present and seemingly are addressed.  So, on the surface, it appears that virtual social capital is just as potent.

Still, when you think about it - in spite of all the friends, and good things you reap from Facebook, there is really nothing that can replace an actual relationship in your life.  There is clearly something about looking someone in the eye, or getting a hug, or sharing a nonverbal nuance that can never be replaced by virtual formats.

Of course Facebook is fun, and can bide our time when we are isolated situations, but in the end, nothing beats actually being with other people.  What do you think?