Is the Internet tearing down social institutions? Maybe.
Our results paint a complex picture. We find that, after the advent of the broadband in the area, several indicators of social capital started to decrease with proximity to the node of the network, suggesting that the exposure to fast Internet displaced some dimensions of social capital, but not all of them. There is no evidence that broadband access displaced routine interactions such as meetings with friends.
However, fast Internet crowded out forms of cultural consumption that are usually enjoyed in company, such as watching movies at the cinema and attending concerts and theatre shows. In addition, broadband penetration significantly displaced civic engagement and political participation, i.e. time-consuming activities that usually take place during leisure time, are not pursued in order to reach particularistic goals, and generally relate to a non-self-interested involvement in public affairs.
Associational activities have been often mentioned as a form of bridging social capital creating positive societal and economic externalities, and the finding in this paper suggests an explanation for their reportedly declining trend.
The developing role of fast Internet use, however, certainly calls for further investigation, as social media dramatically changed the role of Internet use. A more recent wave of Internet studies suggests that social media may also support collective action and political mobilization, especially in young democracies and authoritarian regimes, thereby providing a potentially positive contribution to the strengthening of political participation.
The internet has been a lifesaver for me as I have moved from one place to another to another, though I really do have to be careful not to let it become the entirety of my social life. Especially given that wherever we end up, my local social options are going to be more limited than for most people.