Social network technologies: connecting at a distance

Internet facilitates communication and information exchange with people who are present 'anywhere' on the planet. The telephone and mobile phones make it possible to speak over long distances at any time at any place provided that there is an infrastructure to facilitate this. Millions of people use telephones everyday, via private phones or via public phones. We no longer have to say goodbye and see whether someone will return, we just phone or e-mail to check whether a person has arrived somewhere else and is safe and well.

In many regions in the world we can reach each other 24 hours a day. With the introduction of mobile phones many conversations open with the line 'Where are you?', whereas previously we could not communicate without knowing where a person was. We had to give a letter an address, which is physically located in a place, as we had to phone a certain number, which was connected to a specific place by way of landlines. But today, we can be 'together' even when we do not know where we are. This ubiquitous sentence 'Where are you?', used by so many people, illustrates the amazing fact of a new sharing of time without having to share place at all, while our bodies actually remain physically bound to place and time as before. It shows how 'easily' large groups of people adapt their behaviour as well as their language to a certain technology without understanding how it works at all.note 24 If we take the vast acceptance of these technologies into account we can only conclude that people appreciate this extension of their communication possibilities with others, but it also provides an easy way out, not having to confront each other 'In Real Life' when complex situations have to be resolved. Ending a romantic relationship via sms is something experienced by many youngsters these days. Where people communicate violations also occur. In the UDHR rights are formulated for people based on their 'natural' presence'. Understanding violations of human dignity in the realm where time is shared, but not place, is very difficult. Particularly on the Internet, where one can also communicate without revealing ones identity, this causes real trouble. Can a person be raped by words?note 25 And if the answer to this question is yes, how does one prosecute?

Internet facilitates the storage and exchange of text, images, sound, music, film, radio and live broadcasts. With over one billion usersnote 26 in 2006 (which is 15,7% of the world population) it has become deeply embedded in the communication processes of civil life: in entertainment, in business, in politics, in education, in health. Even though 5,5 billion people do not have access today, the expectation is that it will develop into a utility like water, electricity and gas.note 27 If one wants to be successful it becomes more and more necessary to use the Internet, and the transaction facilities it offers. However, many people do not have access to the Internet and the distinction between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' seems to be more pronounced. The term 'digital divide'note 28 is used to emphasize the dynamic by which the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer because of the necessity for using the Internet to be successful. Not having access diminishes the chances of successfully participating in civil and business life in a global economy, which is more and more determined by the use of the Internet for the sharing of knowledge and the facilitation of communication. The 'digital divide' is not the subject of the research carried out here, even though it is a matter of great concern, also in the light of the UDHR. This study focuses on what happens when people use 'utilities' like the Internet.