A71.  Katz, J.E., Rice, R.E. & Aspden, P. (2001). The Internet, 1995-2000: Access, civic involvement, and social interaction.  American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 404-419.  Revised version: Katz, J.E. & Rice, R.E. (2002).  Syntopia: Access, civic involvement and social interaction via the Internet.  In B. Wellman & C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The Internet in everyday life (pp. 114-138.) Oxford: Blackwell.

The Internet promises to transform the nature of political participation and expression. Some say that the Internet has or will become enormously beneficial for democratic processes in particular and for society in general. Others argue that the Internet will be either harmful or ruinous. Another possibility—seldom considered—is that the Internet will have only minimal impact (Katz & Rice, 2002). The stakes riding on the political impact of the Internet are enormous. The technology could potentially affect the democratic nature of American society, the global human and natural condition, and the ability of special interests to capture billions of taxpayer-payer dollars.  The current study is in the fortunate position of being able to report analyses of historically relevant Internet useusage data from the 1996 and 2000 national elections. This research is part of the Syntopia Project (2002). The project’s aim has been to create, through random digit dialing phone surveys, as well as case studies, in-depth observations, focus groups, and Web site analyses, a multiyear-year program charting social aspects of Americans’ mediated communication behavior, on the Internet and the Web, and through mobile telephones.  This study also analyzes some data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project election survey in 2000, which included all cases of completed surveys (from adults over the age of 18 years of age) by the Princeton Survey Research Associates from October 1, 2000 through to November 26, 2000.

Our findings have found a decline in some aspects of the digital divide, especially once awareness has been achieved and when year of adoption is considered. Contrary to the pessimistic assertions of many, no loss was discerned in terms of many of our indicators of political or and community involvement. In fact, our findings support a more positive interpretation of the Internet’s impact, at least in terms of interpersonal communication, and associations of Internet use was associated with greater levels of telephone use (though not of correspondence by mail) and social interaction (though 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 over a half-decade of additional surveys, finds a decreasing but still significant digital divide, few in the way of negative effects on civic involvement and social interaction, and does find some positive consequences.

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