A fascinating article in the NYT discusses some of the social aspects of online communities (particularly Facebook). One quote captures the unique sort of self-imposed captivity that online communities can create:
Yet Ahan knows that she cannot simply walk away from her online life, because the people she knows online won’t stop talking about her, or posting unflattering photos. She needs to stay on Facebook just to monitor what’s being said about her. This is a common complaint I heard, particularly from people in their 20s who were in college when Facebook appeared and have never lived as adults without online awareness. For them, participation isn’t optional. If you don’t dive in, other people will define who you are. So you constantly stream your pictures, your thoughts, your relationship status and what you’re doing — right now! — if only to ensure the virtual version of you is accurate, or at least the one you want to present to the world.
It’s a great description of one of the addictive aspects of online discussion.
The article also gives a good explanation of who exactly your Facebook friends are — and why they (might) matter: