Well from what I have read, academia is just scratching the surface about the implications of social networking and what exactly it is, what it means, and how it happens.
More appropriately, we just have a bunch of scholarly speculation of what exactly is going on.
One of my favorite articles, although from 2008 came from one of my favorite authors, Stephen J. Daubner, co-author of Freakonomics fame.
In the article which can be seen here, Daubner e-mailed several scholars from several different fields this question: "Has social networking technology (blog-friendly phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) made us better or worse off as a society, either from an economic, psychological, or sociological perspective?"
The answers, for the most part consisted of admitted speculation. But there were a few interesting quotes and perspectives amongst the bunch. Here are some of my favorite,
"students were using Facebook to increase the size of their social network, and therefore their access to more information and diverse perspectives. "
"Talk is cheap. Anyone can post “u r cool” on someone’s “wall,” or “poke” them on Facebook, but genuine smiles and laughs are a much more reliable indicators of someone’s suitability as a faithful friend."
"I remember one day a few years ago when our office phones and Internet stopped working. No e-mail, no voicemail, no Facebook, no Skype, and no Twitter. People came out of their offices and talked. I enjoyed that day."
"Powerful new technologies provide great benefits, but they also change the way we live, and not always in ways that everyone likes. An example is the spread of air conditioning, which makes us more comfortable, but those who grew up before its invention speak fondly of a time when everyone sat on the front porch and talked to their neighbors rather than going indoors to stay cool and watch TV. The declining cost of information processing and communication represents a powerful new technology, with social networking as the most recent service to be provided at modest cost. It can be expected to bring pluses and minuses."
"social networking technologies support and enable a new model of social life, in which people’s social circles will consist of many more, but weaker, ties. Though we will continue to have some strong ties (i.e., family and close friends), demographic changes, such as frequent household moves and the replacement of friends and family with market services for tasks such as daycare, are diminishing the role of social ties in everyday life. Weak ties (e.g., casual acquaintances, colleagues) may not be reliable for long-term support; their strength instead is in providing a wide range of perspectives, information, and opportunities. As society becomes increasingly dynamic, with access to information playing a growing role, having many diverse connections will be key.
Social networking technologies provide people with a low cost (in terms of time and effort) way of making and keeping social connections, enabling a social scenario in which people have huge numbers of diverse, but not very close, acquaintances. Does this makes us better as a society? Perhaps not — we can imagine this being a selfish and media-driven world in which everyone vies for attention and no one takes responsibility for one another. But perhaps it does — we can also imagine this being a world in which people are far more accepting of diverse ways and beliefs, one in which people are willing to embrace the new and different."