It's important to evaluate to what degree increased Internet communication infringes upon our normal social skills. How much distortion does the Internet place on our deep-seated social structures, our cultures, and our institutions
One of the oldest institutions that we have used as a place of social gathering and interaction has been the church. While church membership has fallen slightly in recent years, the Internet has been a revival for religious organizations. Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville SC downloaded 80,000 Internet sermons last year from their site (Hills, 2003). Many of these surfers would probably have never set foot inside a church. According to The Barna Group, by 2010 as many as 50 million Americans will rely on the Internet as their sole religious contact (as cited in Hills, 2003). Though the Internet has the power to move more people toward religion, it is clearly moving them away from the church and away from the social setting that was important for conversation and local news in previous decades.
Just as the Internet can deliver religion to the people, it also has the capacity to deliver people to politics. Political contributions, debate, and interaction have soared in recent years. The Internet has made vast quantities of information instantly available for anyone who cares to search for it and has the potential to create a new form of electronic democracy. Yet, with all this information available, it is still incumbent upon the user to seek it out, read it, and digest it. Polat (2005) suggests that we are suffering from information overload and says we "[...] may become dependent on others to evaluate the available information" (p. 438). When confronting all this mediated technology, Wood (2001) warns us, "The most important challenge, in a world in which more and more of our messages are mediated, is to sustain a coherent sense of personal identity" (p. 7). No matter how networked anyone seems to be, there is no substitute for the self. While rampant technology can generate interest in a candidate, it alone will not be able to sustain any reasonable support.
Another major institution that has gone through some fundamental changes is education. Online courses have opened the possibility to many people that might otherwise have been prevented from attending. The scheduling is more flexible and has the ability to fit around a busy work schedule. Online courses are getting the same recognition as in-place degrees and have material that mirrors campus classes. This has removed the stigma once held that an online degree was less of a degree. Simonson (2006) reports that there is a current enrollment of 2.4 million students and 56% of the higher education institutions see online learning as part of their long-term strategy (p. viii). This has the opportunity to reach inner city and rural areas and bring in students that were previously barred from attending on site due to geographic considerations. The educational system has made deliberate and rational use of the Internet and has served its customers well and fulfilled their social needs.
Health care is another area that has placed a