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Max Weber was the first sociologist to systematically describe the concept of “life chances;” as in, “For any person P, what are the chances of that person occupying social status S at some point in the individual’s lifetime?” Or, to take a more concrete example, “What are my chances of becoming Mayor of Chicago?”

It turns out that a great many things can affect an individual’s life chances for occupying a particular status. With the rise of supercomputers it has become clear that social networks, in particular, being plugged into one social network rather than another, is tremendously important in affecting an individual’s life chances. Both information and personal contacts flow along these networks, and both are very important to an individual’s life chances. 

The new network analysis was developed just a little before electronic social media rose to prominence. Sure, there were “bulletin boards,” but they didn’t have the same massive reach as MySpace (remember them?), Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Real-time face-to-face contact and the telephone were more important.

Write an essay that assesses the impact of the new electronic social media. Will they tend to restrict the flow of information and contacts even more, intensifying the difference in life chances we already see, or will the new social media serve as a vast leveling device, increasing the life chances of people who previously may not have been plugged in to real-time social networks?


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