Much enthusiasm surrounds the opportunities made available by digital media for people to express themselves and participate in the public sphere without having to go through traditional gatekeepers (e.g., see Benkler’s Wealth of Networks). Indeed, likely more people than ever before participate in discussions and collaborate on projects yielding heretofore unprecedented outcomes of value to many (e.g., Wikipedia, free software, blog content). While the enthusiasm about new opportunities is thus warranted, little is known about who is actually participating, who is not, and what participation patterns may imply for the democratizing potential of new tools and services. This talk draws on unique survey data collected in 2009 to explore these questions. Findings suggest that even when we control for people's Internet access – currently the main focus of initiatives in the stimulus package concerning broadband dissemination – significant differences remain in how people incorporate the Internet into their lives. While improving universal access is a necessary condition to equalizing online opportunities, the evidence presented in this talk suggests that it is in no way sufficient. This has important implications for questions of social inequality and thus the scope of policy interventions in the domain of broadband dissemination.
Eszter Hargittai is Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet &
Society. She is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and
Faculty Associate of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern
University where she heads the Web Use Project. She received her Ph.D.
in Sociology from Princeton University where she was a Wilson Scholar.
In 2006/07 she was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the
Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.
Her research focuses on the social and policy implications of information technologies with a particular interest in how IT may contribute to or alleviate social inequalities. Her research projects have looked at differences in people's Web-use skills, the evolution of search engines and the organization and presentation of online content, political uses of information technologies, and how IT are influencing the types of cultural products people consume. She is starting a new project on the role of digital media in people’s job-seeking process. She has spent her time at Berkman working on a book bringing together a decade’s worth of empirical research on people’s different Internet skills, uses and participation. She is also editor of a forthcoming book called Research Confidential, which presents a behind-the-scenes look at doing empirical social science research.
In addition to her academic articles, her work is also regularly featured in the media. Her current research has been supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, Nokia Research and the Hiatt Fund at Northwestern University.
Last updated June 23, 2009