As we probed deeper into the use of social-network sites, it became 26 increasingly clear that young Facebookers’ abandonment of MySpace is not simply about avoiding “bad code”; it is also about avoiding “bad people.” . . .
Despite all of the hype about how the digital age is changing our lives, it 27 has not changed one essential aspect of human life—who we form our strongest social ties with. Similar to life B.W. — before the Web — our most intimate bonds online tend to be formed with like-minded people. Indeed, the young people we surveyed and spoke with are attracted to online com- munities that connect them to people who are like them in some notable way — age, education, region, race, or class. In order to understand what is happening online, you have to understand what is happening off-line. One place to start understanding what is driving young people toward homo- geneous online communities is a consideration of what author Bill Bishop has tagged the Big Sort, a reference to the geographic transformation of American neighborhoods.
The Big Sort, according to Bishop, began around 1970 as Americans 28 underwent a massive social experiment that changed one of the most basic features of everyday life—where and with whom we live. The change in geography, Bishop maintains, is “really a sorting by lifestyle,” as Ameri- cans now more than ever gravitate toward counties and communities that reflect their values, beliefs, and ways of life. Thinking further about the Big Sort and how it is remapping American neighborhoods, Bishop writes, “We have come to expect living arrangements that don’t challenge our cultural expectations.”8 Many Americans, especially the ones who enjoy a degree of economic mobility, are choosing to live near people who think, live, and look like them.
Social-network sites do not cause social divisions. The young and 29 the digital have grown up in a world in which the geographic sorting by race, lifestyle, and ideological values—a rather extraordinary develop- ment — has become ordinary. Bishop is correct when he writes, “Kids have grown up in neighborhoods of like-mindedness, so homogenous groups are considered normal.”9 The vast majority of the young people we meet go online to have fun by sharing their lives and communicating with their peers. And yet, the choices they make regarding who they interact with online are not immune to the social forces that are shaping their off-line lives. Like the Big Sort, the online sorting among young Facebook users is shaped by a general suspicion of difference, a split along lifestyle, and, finally, the wish to reside in communities with like-minded people.
The digital gating practices of young, white college students are especially 30 interesting when you consider how often we hear that race does not mat- ter to Generation Digital. In his 2008 book, The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby