A new paper, \’The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces: Internet Use, Social Networks, and the Public Realm,\’ with Oren Livio and Lauren Sessions Goulet was published in the December issue of the Journal of Communication. I\’m exited that there is a companion photo essay that was published in the journal Contexts. There is also an audio interview of me on the Office Hours podcast discussing these papers.
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. We used place- and person-based behavioral mapping approaches to complete detailed observations of people in 7 parks, plazas, and markets in four North American cities. The places we examined included: (1) Bryant Park, NYC, (2) Union Square, NYC, (3) Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, (4) Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, (5) Union Square, San Francisco, (6) Dundas Square, Toronto, and (7) Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. Observations were completed on wireless Internet users, mobile phone users, people reading books/newspapers, and people playing video games. We also completed interviews/surveys of wireless Internet users in those sites. We explored how the use of new mobile technologies 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.
\’Core Networks, Social Isolation, and New Media,\’ my paper with Lauren Sessions Goulet and Eun Ja Her, on how the Internet and mobile phone use is related to network size and diversity was published in the February issue of Information, Communication & Society. The article has been made available for free from Routledge. You can also view a short video of me discussing the paper and the findings.
This paper was the result of a 2008 survey of core social networks (strong ties) and new media use. Evidence from the 2004 US General Social Survey (GSS) suggested that during the past 20 years, people became increasingly socially isolated and their core discussion networks became smaller and less diverse. One explanation offered for this trend is the use of mobile phones and the Internet. This study replicates and expands on the GSS network methodology to explore the relationship between the use of new technologies and the size and diversity of core networks. The findings conflict with the results of the 2004 GSS, i.e. we find that social isolation has not increased since 1985. However, the current study supports the conclusions that the size of core networks has declined and the number of nonkin in core networks has diminished. Mobile phone and Internet use, especially specific uses of social media, were found to have a positive relationship to network size and diversity. In discussing these trends, we speculate that specific social media provide for a \’pervasive awareness\’ within personal networks that has increased the specialization of close ties. We argue that this same pervasive awareness provides for heightened surveillance of network members, the result of which is a higher level of perceived diversity within networks based on metrics that include political affiliation.