Internet and Social Life

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Examining the Internet in Everyday Life[1]
Barry Wellman, Anabel Quan-Haase, Jeffrey Boase, and Wenhong Chen Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto

wellman@chass.utoronto.ca

www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman

Keynote address (given by Barry Wellman) to the Euricom Conference on e-Democracy, Nijmegen, Netherlands, October 2002

Introduction As the Internet evolves, its users and uses grow and diversify globally. Internet use dramatically increased worldwide between 1995 and 2000.Today, approximately 55 percent of the North American population is online (Howard, Rainie, & Jones, 2002; Reddick, Boucher, & Groseillers, 2000). For a large proportion of the population of Internet users, Internet access has become a daily activity (Howard et al., 2002)[2]. There is less agreement, however, about how the internet has influenced different aspects of society. It is important to understand what the consequences of the diffusion and high use of the Internet are for people’s lives. We present evidence about how people use the Internet, how it fits into their everyday lives, and how it is influencing other aspects of community. Our special concern here is the impact of the Internet on the change in society away from groups and towards individualized networking. This change is not only occurring at the interpersonal level but at the organizational, interorganizational and even the world-systems levels. It is the move from densely-knit and tightly-bounded groups to move sparsely-knit and loosely-bounded networks. This more to networked societies has profound implications for how people mobilize and how people and governments relate to each other – in all forms of societies – but especially in democracies. Our Toronto-based NetLab has been especially interested in how the Internet has influenced people’s interactions: open in browser PRO version

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Do people communicate more because the Internet offers them with the capability to contact people at a distance? Do they primarily communicate via the Internet or are face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and gatherings still important in creating closeness and providing emotional support? We also ask how the Internet is influencing community life with regards to how often people participate in community activities: Are people reaching out to neighbors and to their communities? Are they getting involved in neighborhood associations and in public activities? Does the Internet reduce the time we have available to dedicate to community life? How do people use their networks, social communication, and computer to access information at home, work, and leisure? What sense of self and belonging do networked people have? We draw from previous research done by NetLab. This research includes: An ethnographic study of a wired suburb (see Hampton & Wellman, 1999). A web-survey hosted at the website of National Geographic Society. The North American data focuses on 20,075 adults: 17,711 Americans (88 percent) and 2,364 Canadians (12 percent).[3] International data from the same with respondents from 178 countries (Boase, Chen, and Wellman, 2002 for the worldwide data). A study of Catalans and their uses of the Internet (see Wellman, 2002b; as well as Castells, et al., 2002). We also incorporate into our discussion results from similar surveys, such as the Pew studies of the Internet and American Life, and the American component of the World Internet Project, based at UCLA(collected in Wellman and Haythornthwaite 2002; see also Kraut, et al. 2002). Rethinking Sociability, Neighborhood, and Community Many definitions of community treat it, explicitly or implicitly, as occurring within rather small territorial limits, such as would be open in browser PRO version

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found in a rural village or a distinct neighborhood. As "community" is partially defined...
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