The Internet, 1995-2000: Access, Civic Involvement, and Social Interaction


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Type of work: Article (academic)


ICT Infrastructure | Information Society | Participation


This research, which began fielding surveys in 1995 (and thereafter with variation in 1996, 1997, and 2000), was apparently the first to use national random telephone survey methods to track social and community aspects of Internet use and compare users and nonusers. The program has explored the Internet in terms of trends in access, political and civic involvement, and social interaction. The authors uncovered serendipitously what they call the Internet dropout phenomenon. The findings have found a decline in some aspects of the digital divide, especially once awareness has been achieved and when the year of adoption is considered. Contrary to the pessimistic assertions of many, no loss was discerned in terms of the indicators of political or community involvement. The findings support a more positive interpretation of the Internet’s impact, at least in terms of interpersonal communication, where Internet use was associated with greater levels of telephone use (although not of correspondence by mail) and social interaction (although this was more widely dispersed). It also led to many face-to-face friendships that were judged by respondents as a positive experience. Thus, some of the earliest research on the social consequences of the Internet, confirmed during a half-decade of additional surveys, finds a decreasing but still significant digital divide, few negative effects on civic involvement and social interaction, and some positive consequences.