Publications - Abstracts:
The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces: Internet Use, Social Networks, and the Public Realm
This study explores the role of urban public spaces for democratic and social engagement.
It examines the impact of wireless Internet use on urban public spaces, Internet users, and
others who inhabit these spaces. Through observations of 7 parks, plazas, and markets in 4
North American cities, and surveys of wireless Internet users in those sites, we explore how
this new technology is related to processes of social interaction, privatism, and democratic
engagement. Findings reveal that Internet use within public spaces affords interactions with
existing acquaintances that are more diverse than those associated with mobile phone use.
However, the level of colocated social diversity to which Internet users are exposed is less
than that of most users of these spaces. Yet, online activities in public spaces do contribute
to broader participation in the public sphere. Internet connectivity within public spaces
may contribute to higher overall levels of democratic and social engagement than what is
afforded by exposure within similar spaces free of Internet connectivity.