Fundamentally social animals, human beings have a need for connection. Woods, cited in Wandel (2008) writes that there are four underpinning characteristics to successful human characteristics: 1) identified investment 2) commitment 3) trust and 4) comfort with relational dialectics. Woods also made the observation that “verbal disclosure” was important in building trust in western society. These concepts have been used by a number of authors in one way or another in discussing the use of Online Networking Sites (ONS) and their resulting social impacts on different student cohorts (d. boyd, 2007; Martin, 2009; Neri & Ville, 2008; Valenzuela, Park, & Kee, 2009; Wandel, 2008).
Social Capital has a variety of definitions in the literature (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; Martin, 2009; Neri & Ville, 2008; Valenzuela, et al., 2009). For the purposes of this paper, it may be thought of as the accumulation of resources that may be accessed via ones network of relationships. The concept of social capital is pivotal in underpinning the student experience at university. Adler (2002), identifies four key aspects to social capital 1) Trust and solidarity, which is more likely to strengthen weaker ties. This aspect may also generate compliance with strong social norms and beliefs of the network 2) Civic engagement at both organisational and societal levels. 3) Access to information. Social capital increases not only the extent or boundaries from which information can be garnered, but also the relevance and timeliness of it. 4) By building up obligations, this can allow one to achieve specific goals or outcomes therefore creating a power base.
Helliwell & Putnam (cited in Ellison, et al., 2007) suggest that relative strength of social capital is also important for well-being, self-esteem and life satisfaction/happiness. ‘Bonding social capital’, which occurs between tightly linked persons defined by emotional intensity, intimacy and time spent together (Granovetter, 1973) in particular is important to create this sense of well-being. Conversely ‘bridging social capital’ is loosely associated links more about garnering access to information (Ellison, et al., 2007).
The concept of social capital and its impact on psychological well being, happiness, self-esteem and so forth link tightly back to those of connectivity with strong parallels in the context of the student experience has been addressed for the last several years by higher education institutions. However with the shifting sands of 21st Century, new solutions are needed to create the structure in which to incubate the necessary environment for the student community.