Author: Dr. Brian Spitzberg
The Internet, and the technologies of mapping it, are growing faster than humans’ ability to understand its manifold effects. Past theories, however, may provide important bridges to span understanding with technology. At the macro theoretical level, the primary role of the internet is the diffusion of information, which can be understood by two interrelated sets of theoretical traditions—network theory and diffusion of innovations. Network theory is a context-independent approach to understanding interactions at a purely structural level—what sources of information (nodes) distribute information to and from which other nodes, which create links. The denser these links, the more influential the nodes in the larger network of which they are a part. A host of related laws and principles arise from the self-organizing and systemic processes involved when entities link in through information. Among the concepts represented by such links is the diffusion of innovations (E. Rogers), which is any communication concerning content or form that is considered “new,” and new content can be mapped in its origins and spread through the internet. Such diffusion patterns may yield important insights into their adoption, and the influences such adoptions portend for events as diverse as hate groups and militia, natural disasters and human crises, and the marketing of new products. In order to understand such processes, ultimately a more micro theoretical approach is also needed, which can be broadly conceptualized through a computer-mediated communication (CMC) model of individual user competence. CMC competence refers to the appropriate and effective use of information technologies, and is a function of user motivations, knowledge, skills, and contextual parameters. A person who is (a) more motivated to generate, use, and distribute information, (b) who is more knowledgeable about the technologies and the topic(s) involved, (c) who is more skilled at actually using such technologies in the process of communicating, and (d) has more facile contextual incentives and fewer contextual delimitations, is more likely to play a significant role in the diffusion of information via the internet. Seeking ways of integrating these micro and macro theoretical perspectives, in the cause of understanding geospatial and sequential processes of internet diffusion of information, holds promise in revealing the true nature of internet influences.