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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.

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