There is a draft program available for the ICA 2009 pre-conference Mobile 2.0: Beyond Voice?. I am presenting a paper along with my students, Oren Livio and Lauren Sessions, reporting the results of the Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces project. The project was inspired by the work of William H Whyte and looks at WiFi use in 7 public spaces in four cities. The paper is currently under review by a journal. Here is the preliminary abstract:
This study examines the impact of wireless Internet use (wi-fi) on urban public spaces, wi-fi users, and others who inhabit these spaces. Through extensive observations of seven parks, plazas, and markets in four North American cities and surveys of laptop users in those sites, how this new technology is related to processes of democratic participation, privatism, and social interaction is explored. Findings reveal that wi-fi use within urban public spaces affords interactions with existing acquaintances that are more diverse than those associated with mobile phone use. However, the level of social diversity to which wi-fi users are exposed is less than that of most users of these spaces. Although urban public spaces are not a public realm for wi-fi users, the activities in which they engage do contribute to broader participation in the public sphere.