I have posted a preprint of a new article written with two of my students, Oren Livio and Lauren Sessions, that will be published in the Journal of Communication. This paper builds on the work I recently published in New Media & Society on wireless Internet use in public spaces. The most recent paper is based on behavioral mapping, ethnographic observations, and surveys of wireless Internet users in seven public spaces. It explores the importance of public spaces for social networks and democracy and the implications of wireless Intenret use for social interaction in these spaces.
Here is the abstract:
In recent years, changes to the structure of peopleâ€™s social networks, the mass media, and urban public spaces may represent a confluence of social trends that constrain exposure to diverse issues, ideas, and opinions in the public sphere. Technological change that influences how we maintain social networks, access information, and use public spaces may advance or hinder this existing trend. This study examines one such technological change: 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, we explore how this new technology is related to processes of social interaction, privatism, and democratic participation. Findings reveal that wi-fi use within urban 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.