Responses in reaction to the following statement were assembled from a select group of 1,286 Internet stakeholders in the fall 2004 Pew Internet & American Life Predictions Survey. The survey allowed respondents to select from the choices “agree,” “disagree” or “I challenge” the predictive statement. Some respondents chose to expand on their answer, writing an explanation of their position; many did not. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with each answer; many did not. We share some – not all – of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are listed below are attributed here only for the purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies’ or government agencies’ policies or positions. Some answers have been edited in order to share more respondents’ replies. Below is a selection of the many carefully considered responses to the following statement.
Civic involvement will increase substantially in the next 10 years, thanks to ever-growing use of the internet. That would include membership in groups of all kinds, including professional, social, sports, political and religious organizations – and perhaps even bowling leagues.
Compiled reactions from the 1,286 respondents:
42% of internet experts agreed
13% challenged the prediction
17% did not respond
This is one of the most effective uses of the Internet – building community. Exciting global connections will do more for international understanding and intergenerational respect than any tool since the printing press. – Tobey Dichter, Generations Online, a non-profit internet literacy project for seniors
What’s interesting about civic involvement is that it doesn’t have to link to any particular real-space sovereign. I can imagine leagues and guilds emerging very soon in which we’ll be closely involved. Virtual worlds are already pointing in this direction. So our understanding of “civic” will be much more interesting and diverse than it is now. – Susan Crawford, policy analyst, Center for Democracy & Technology and a fellow with the Yale Law School Information Society Project
The Internet is a great political organizing tool and we will see the interactive, town hall meetings online along with a networked electronic, paperless, voting system, locally and nationally. We will see a return to civic activism. Neighbors will be in a much stronger position to leverage their collective political power quickly and efficiently to make their positions known. Edmund Burke would have a tough time in the digital age. – Bradford C. Brown, National Center for Technology and Law
Without a doubt the ease to which people can connect to groups online and participate will increase civic involvement … My concern is if it will be primarily for the betterment of the world or simply to assist people’s more selfish personal and professional interests. I’m afraid the latter at least in this country where entertaining ourselves seems to be the primary focus. – Jonathan Peizer, Open Society Institute
It’s true that civic involvement has increased due to the Internet, but there’s still a huge number of people who can’t afford access in poorer countries. While that might shift somewhat, it’s hard to believe that the vast majority of the globe’s inhabitants will have Net access or even a computer. – Mark Glaser, Online Journalism Review/Online Publishers Association
According to Peter Drucker, volunteerism has been on the rise for many years (predating Internet) and is an important factor in our society. The Internet facilitates volunteerism but the urge to do it does not rely on the Internet. – Peter Denning, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.
I see civic involvement going down as people have more things to do and less time to do it in. A smaller, more radical group of people will dominate civic life. – Simson Garfinkel, Sandstorm Enterprises/Technology Review
Yes, but their ability to influence public and civic affairs may be counteracted by increasingly “conservative” legislation. – Douglas Rushkoff, author
Increasing civic involvement is not in the interest of traditional sources of political power in the U.S., so the existing power networks are going to put up roadblocks to delay developments along these lines until they put mechanisms into place that will preserve their power. The grouping of “civic involvement” with membership in ALL kinds of groups is so conceptually broad as to be conceptually worthless. I would separate civic involvement from membership in ANY kind of group. Those are different issues. – Robert Lunn, FocalPoint Analytics/USC Digital Future Project
The internet will give people a greater ability to participate – but our limited amount of time (and limited interest) will continue to be barriers to further participation. There are still only 24 hours in the day – and many, many other demands on our time. – Ken Jarboe, Athena Alliance
Certainly e-rulemaking is a bright spot. NGOs will work to make their, and their members’, contributions more useful also. – Timothy L. Hansen, MoveOn.org
I agree that civic involvement will increase, but not in the way that we traditional measure it – through voting or organizational memberships. I think the Net will create entirely new forms of civic participation, much of it using new media tools. Consider the creation of political advertisements, movies, and web sites in the current presidential campaign – mostly done by individual. These are new routes to civic engagement. – Jan Schaffer, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism
Our definition of civic involvement will also evolve – we will worry less about bowling alone and more about playing video games alone.– Douglas Levin, policy analyst, Cable in the Classroom
I agree with this and see lots of evidence of this already occurring. The Internet is growing rapidly as a powerful social network for connecting with others over space and time. I think one of the greatest benefits of the Internet is as a social network for interacting with many others and this net attribute will surely continue to grow as more people gain access and grow more comfortable with electronic communication. – Gary Kreps, George Mason University/National Cancer Institute
People will certainly be introduced to more possibilities through the internet. But whether that actually translates into more civic involvement is not automatic; it depends on the forces that drive how this process works. There needs to be a real desire to promote social capital that informs the development of these services, and the people running organizations need to understand better how to leverage them. – Gordon Strause, Judy?s Book
People have a limited amount of time, they cannot keep increasing their involvement in everything. Where is this time to come from? For now, data seem to suggest that those who are already engaged in lots of activities are more likely to then get engaged in more. – Eszter Hargittai, Northwestern University
I expect many more of our scheduling, occasional access and connectivity activities will pass through the Net … e.g. signing up for political campaign activities, taking part in online video town meetings (political or social), electronic voting. But such activities may be replacements for current mail, phone/voice or sign-up sheets. The eventual nature of the network, the price and the user-friendliness will affect how deeply casual users will plunge into civic applications in ongoing patterns. – Gary Arlen, Arlen Communications
Involvement won’t necessarily increase in numbers, but it will in depth and richness of experience. As more groups discover ways to use the Internet to connect, disseminate and influence, a new element will be added to group interaction. We’ll also see those traditionally excluded from participation, including the physically disabled and elderly, being brought on board. – Rose Vines, freelance tech writer for Australian PC User and Sydney Morning Herald
Maybe. But the memberships may be loose and ephemeral, coming together around an issue or a need at one moment, then dissolving and reforming elsewhere the next. Case in point – the Dean Campaign. – Mark Rovner, CTSG/Kintera
I’m not so sure about the bowling leagues, since I think much of the civic engagement will be virtual. What we now see in the blogosphere will engage more people of different ages, backgrounds, and interests. – Lois C. Ambash, Metaforix Inc.
I do believe that civic involvement will increase substantially, and I think the internet may enable this. Much of the change, however, is highly contingent on economic and political drivers. – A. Halavais, State University of New York – Buffalo
The Internet will strengthen social and political groups by increasing intragroup communication. – Stanley Chodorow, University of California, San Diego/Council on Library and Information Resources
People are seeking more ways to connect with, share, and take action with like minds. The internet makes this easier than ever and will accelerate civic engagement in all of its forms. – Christine Geith, Michigan State University
Ha! So much of online group “involvement” is passive. Look at things like listservs. Such a small proportion of members do anything. That is not involvement. Will we be members of more groups? Sure, but that is not social involvement. – David Tewksbury, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Membership in disciplined, rule-based organizations will probably continue to fall. Membership in face-to-face organizations may also weaken. Counting mailing lists as “associations” can be a mistake. – Peter Levine, University of Maryland
I believe that the ability to register to vote online has already demonstrated the mediums ability to motivate those who can’t be prompted to get off the couch. Now they don’t have to in order to participate in public discourse. – Michelle Manafy, editor Information Today Inc.
Growing use of the Internet does not necessarily mean that people will devote their time in civic involvement. The Internet may provide an opportunity for people to participate online, but it does not “make” people participate. – Joo-Young Jung, the University of Tokyo
Civic involvement will see the formation of new kinds of groups, particularly interest groups that cross geographic boundaries. People will have the ability to band in multiple groups based on specific niche issues. Party loyalty will erode as politicians develop platforms made up of these niches and steps toward a coalition style of government will be realized. – Scott Moore, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation
Finding people and groups that directly align with your interest will become more easy as more people come online, although I am a true believer that the internet adds and does not replace everything in the physical world. One only has to look to meetup.com to see how the website has organized people with similar interests with real-world gatherings. – Tiffany Shlain, Founder, The Webby Awards
This is likely, but even virtual civic involvement will be “messy” (loud, sometimes ugly, occasionally enlightening, potentially useful for hearing from a wide range of people) as it is in the mechanisms we have now, such as public hearings. I hope that over the next 10 years effective online tools will be developed that can enable more people to be heard, creating a richer dialog. Or will the growing rudeness and ”me-first” attitudes that we see now – or worse behaviour – be what we see in 10 years online? – Barbara Smith, technology officer, Institute of Museum and Library Services (federal government)
So we’ll be ”bowling alone” on the internet? We’ll use the internet to support our activities, and technology will facilitate new communications processes not possible in the real world, but the fundamental urge toward civic involvement won’t be stimulated by the technology – it has to come from within each individual. Technology might make it easier to register to vote, but you still have to figure out who to vote for, and why. – Meg Houston Maker, user-experience designer
Political scientists and sociologists, while recognizing the high importance of civic activity have, to date, been unable to ”dissect” the mechanisms of civic involvement. Indeed, since the 70s researchers, politicians, and pundits have hailed the role that technology will have in increasing civic engagement, yet this has not happened on a wide scale. Some research even points towards a decrease in civic engagement and a fragmentation of the public that does not contribute to the whole. I find this statement a bit utopic/deterministic in any case – civic involvement is affected by people, not technology – the technology merely mediates. – Michael Dahan, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Comparative Media, Israel
Traditional civic involvement leans too heavily on a ”guilt” model of coercing participation in face-to-face modes, like getting people to bring something for a bake sale. People will do it, and even enjoy doing it, but the participation level is unsustainable. The effect of online communities and connections on civic involvement ought to send us all to Hannah Arendt, on the spontaneous eruptions of civil societies and common feeling, outside modes of power, coercion, and guilt. Online communities and cultures self-select, and because of the more tenuous nature of the connections, are less affected by guilt. Those who would be more susceptible to be guilted into bringing brownies to the bake sale can drift off more easily online and duck out on obligations. So how does anything get done in civic groups based in online communities and connections? That is the fascinating part, and something I’ve studied in my online ethnography. Things happen because the motivation factor is very high. Xena fans hold conventions, plan parties, raise money for breast cancer. They get things done, and very few participants lack motivation to sustain the participation. However, when they do, the activity simply doesn’t happen. The righteous guilt and obligatory nudging just isn’t persuasive in online communities. If someone doesn’t want to be someplace, she just bugs out. The group reaches the end of its life cycle and participants self-select the next thing that captures their attention honestly, instead of out of guilt. – Christine Boese, cyberculture researcher, CNN Headline News
Civic engagement has not been increasing. College students who are certainly heavily involved in the Internet are not generally interested in civic engagement. The American Democracy Project, in place in nearly 200 higher education institutions throughout the nation, is designed to bring civic engagement to the front burner and produce scholars who also understand the need to give back to their community. If we have to create a structure to promote civic engagement to this strong Internet target audience, then I don’t know how the Internet can be responsible for a substantial increase in civic engagement in the future. – Stephen Schur, Ramapo College of New Jersey
Unfortunately, one of the internet’s greatest strengths – creating and bolstering affinity groups – poses a real danger. The sheer volume of information and potential relationships allows for and even necessitates individuals’ filtering their content and social contacts. On the contrary, as Robert Putnam detailed in Bowling Alone, our society is shifting away from communal activities. The greater the dependence on information technology, the more rapid will be our exodus from community. By its nature, the Internet breeds a certain self-absorbtion. I think civic malaise will be higher than ever before ten years from now. – Daniel Weiss, Focus on the Family (Christian ministry)
Rather than broadening people’s world view, the internet easily permits left-handed, D&D-playing, Rush Limbaugh fans to interact only with others who share their world view. The risk is that civic involvement will decline, as people retreat to the comfort zone of the like-minded. The days of the bowling league where you might meet a smart, committed family man whose politics differ from one’s own are waning, and the loss of mutual understanding is genuine. – Perry Hewitt, marketing consultant
Wishful thinking. My research shows that most people are lurkers both online and FtF. And the few who are really active online are also really active FtF. It’s the TV that’s the problem, folks. Once people get off the TV, then they may become more actively engaged in both FtF and online. – Anita Blanchard, UNC Charlotte
The Internet is a tool for social use, not a determinant of social behaviour. It does not necessarily follow that making something easier will make it happen. There will have to be significant social changes for this prediction to be true, people will have to have the inclination to use the Internet for this purpose. We have to be careful not to be technologically deterministic – society will determine how the technology is used. – Susan Kenyon, University of the West of England, UK.
The nets are likely to increase fragmentation rather than an appreciation of collective understanding. So far the hope that the internet would remain an aspect of the commons has not proven to be true, despite the best efforts of early adopters. Instead, it has become increasingly proprietary and fragmenting. While we might hold out hope that the decentering impact of the nets may leave individuals and groups feeling more empowered, it strikes me as pretty unlikley. However, my main challenge to this prediction is that the internet is not likely to be a key factor in determining civic involvement. Growing cynicism on the part of the intelligencia, increasing privatization on the part of the economic elites and rapidly expanding anti-intellectualism, anti-technology sentiment and fundamentalist fervor on the part of those who feel excluded by the nets are likely to be far more significant factors. – Alec MacLeod, California Institute of Integral Studies, AoIR
I would say instead: Social Capital will increase substantially in the next 10 years, thanks to the ever growing use of the Internet. It will grow through informal online social, business, politicial and cause related networking with the occasional face-to-face meetups. – Leonard Witt, PJNet.org
Civic involvement will expand, but not primarily because of the internet. Having the ability to communicate and get involved does not impact the desire to get involved. And, while it makes it easier to get involved initially, the internet does not really dramatically decrease the time needed to be truly involved in an organization.Civic involvement will go up because the Millenial Generation is inclined to be more socially involved. As this generation moves into the workplace, they will take that urge to make a difference and integrate it into their approach to everyday life. That will also motivate those around them to get more involved. So will involvement increase? Yes. Will the internet play a role? Yes. But does the internet cause that involvement? No. – Mike Witherspoon, Connexxia
This election is like no other. I remember sitting in a conference in Syracuse, NY, when they discussed Meet ups. The houseparties and the meetings are the social networks that enable, the communities to meet up. At the conference there was little evidence of minority involvement in the movements, but it took a little time. There was a meetup at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington. That is in the heart of a black part of the city. The book clubs on Oprah. The synergistic listservs, the media groups working worldwide are just a small part of the ways in which citizens meet. I like being asked to be involved in the political process. I have given money, participated and followed actions that I might not have thought of. – Bonnie Bracey, George Lucas Educational Foundation
If this happen it won’t be because of the Internet (like any other social change considered in this study) but because the citizens will have found the need, will, and readiness for it. And then yes the Internet among other things will possibly help. – M.J. Menou, AmICTad
The increase in civic involvement will come through the weak ties that are the Internet’s strengths. This will not necessarily mean greater involvement in local organizations. The pace and complexity of people’s everyday lives limits their involvement in groups and that won’t change. They can only deal with a limited number of strong personal ties. The weak ties of the Internet, however, are available on an “as-needed” basis. Therefore, the nature of people’s civic engagement will change with the Internet and be different than in the past. – Kim Keith, About.com/Southern Arkansas University
Civic involvement will increase but also the very definition of what constitutes ”civic” will change as well, away from the Putnam-style definition this question uses. Read Schudson for more details, especially his idea of ”monitorial citizen.” – Travers Scott, 9099 Media/University of Washington
The Internet as a communications medium has clearly made it easier to contact people and organize events, meetings, even recreation. These aspects are valuable to all users of whatever background, and they will continue to be very valuable and lucrative areas for development. – Mike Weisman, Reclaim the Media
The only way that civic involvement will increase will be as a backlash against the Internet and technology, not because of it; I suspect that time will come, but not in the next decade. For the next ten years, like the last five, we’ll be enraptured with and distracted by the new technology. We’ll sit in our homes and offices, staring at the screen, and not realize how empty our lives have become. It will take a much bigger social disruption than 9/11 to shake us up, and then some folks will opt out, or greatly scale back. But if you follow the technological innovation from telegraph to radio to TV to the Internet, it’s hard to believe that folks will choose demanding forms of social interaction when the Internet as entertainment-delivery service is right there in their houses, throwing big screen images of fun on their walls without ever having to leave the house. – Peter Eckart, director of management information systems, Hull House Association
There will be some increase, and more social mobilization, but institutional power will remain resistant to change. – Barry Wellman, University of Toronto
And the following are from predictors who chose to remain anonymous: [Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are listed below include Microsoft, FCC, Centre for Cultural Research, IBM, RAND, The Aspen Institute, U.S. Department of Commerce, University of Michigan, Internet2, The Institute for the Future, the University of North Carolina, Media General, University of Illinois, the Knight Foundation, University of Texas at Austin, Canada Institute for Information Technology, Carnegie Mellon, University of Washington, U.S. Census Bureau, Marmoset Media, Penn State University, Tampa Bay Online, University of Pennsylvania, Marketingdriven.com, University of British Columbia, Monster.com, American University, Umbria Communications, Nanyang Technological University and others.]
Certainly the Internet is being used more and more for organizing, including the civic organizations mentioned. I just don’t want to over-estimate this, as more information has not made the U.S. more involved in politics in the past 20 years. Still the Meet-up type activity will increase substantially.
I had a conversation with (“Bowling Alone” author) Robert Putnam about this exact proposition. The City of Seattle’s civic involvement initiative, known as the Democracy Portal, is based to some degree on this premise; we do agree that community health is related to participation, but believe that we can use the internet to help promote it. Although I checked agree, this is a really hard one to make happen and I’m certainly not sure it will. But we are trying.
I don’t anticipate a big uptick in such activity, nor do I expect a big change in the incidence of bowling alone in America.
The Internet will enable more participation of a less-committed variety, but it may not have the same desirable consequences of participation when participation was harder.
Too many factors affect civic involvement for the Internet to be perceived as the prime mover. Yes, information-intensive activities, such as elections, may reach more people via the Internet, but will it make non-voters go out and vote? I doubt it.
Civic participation will grow but not because of the Internet. The Internet will help facilitate such groups and perhaps attract some people to them, but it will not be the “prime mover” of increasing civic participation.
It seems to me that there is less civic involvement of a substantive nature as people become dissociated with their local communities and shift their attentions to virtual communities that come and go, often at the whim of the larger media conglomerates.
The Internet will not be magic pixie dust that causes everyone to reach out into their community. I believe it is more likely that the involved will become more so. Soccer people will become more knowledgeable and networked through the Internet. I don’t believe the Internet will awaken social and civic consciousness in the masses.
Technology is a tool. A book can connect us to the world, or help us escape it. Same with the Internet. There are no guarantees. People do not obey Moore’s Law.
The surveys and trial projects on this are very positive, but the actual results are pretty negative. Everyone says that they will participate, but few do – except in small, closed user groups such as law faculties.
Young people in particular are making enormous use of tools like Friendster to expand social networks.
Even when some activity belongs to just 1 in a million persons, it means there are 6,000 of those people in the world. The internet allows those 6,000 people to find one another more quickly and easily.
People who do it off line will do it online; people who don’t join groups just don’t, no matter which environment we’re talking about; the new generation of internet users – today’s college kids and high school kids – feel differently about online community than earlier generations, maybe because it has always been around and they have been cautioned about the “internet stranger” from a young age on. Most do not even believe that one can form close relationships online.
Virtual interact will replace physical interaction. Since the former creates less close ties than the latter, the overall sense ofr connectedness will actually decrease.
Civic involvement does not need the internet, it needs a lack of apathy. Sitting in front of a computer surfing the web is likely only to disengage individuals from their more proximate surroundings, not engage them.
I believe the Internet will be useful merely as a tool to support social networks.
Civic engagement is a function of time and attention. Neither are replicable resources and there is nothing in the internet that provides more of either.
Human ability to interact and find time is limited; electronic communities amplify this ability but not by an enormous factor.
People only have so much time. There are many opportunities for involvement now. More opportunities won’t increase civic involvement, although it may alter it somewhat.
I do see this happening, e.g., use of e-mail lists by homeowner associations, but I don’t see it leading to substantial civic involvement. Civic involvement implies engaging in a dialog about ideas. Much of the use of the internet seems to be between like-minded individuals reinforcing shared views. Where’s the dialog?
America has always been a pluralistic society. The Internet merely provides a vehicle for those inclined to accelerate that pluralism. However, civic involvement will not increase as a percentage of the population.
The trend continues to be that groups are adopting the Internet to help them organize as soon as a critical mass of their members have the capability to participate.
Civic involvement means deliberative discourse, human engagement, understanding all of which requires being informed and engaged. The Internet is a tool, not a replacement for life. The same predictions were made about radio and television when first introduced, and those latter-day prophets have been forgotten, as have the historical memories of their similar predictions.
Involvement in on-line groups may in fact erode traditional civic participation.
Yes – but as campaign 2004 is suggesting, this kind of civic involvement has both positive and negative aspects. In the first half of this year, the positive aspects were clear as groups like movon.org were getting people more engaged with the political process, increasing voter registration, etc. But as we’ve lived through the various blogger wars surrounding this campaign, not to mention the various Truth campaigns (Texans, Swift Boat Captains), it is less and less clear to me that the effects are purely positive. The negative campaign tactics are being played out on the grassroots level and they are resulting in more antagonism and divisiveness than I would have imagined possible. We will have lots of work to do to repair the damage to civic life at the end of this process.
Today special-interest groups have become much more effective in applying pressure and raising funds due to the Internet. This has even more deeply woven together money and politics, making it even more difficult to make progress on campaign finance reform. The result will be increasing cynicism and decreased civic involvement long term.
I think it will decrease. However, contributions to organizations probably will increase as internet solicitation and the ability to transact easily intersects with ubiquity and awareness to create a less-intrusive/anonymous way to offer one’s own support with time/money w/o getting involved.
It depends on how you define civic engagement, including the definitions of membership, but I suspect distraction and withdrawal from meaningful links in favor of thinner ties is likely.
This will happen if people are motivated – if they are “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” The network enables greater civic involvement, but does not spawn it: a desire for change does.
Internet will have negligible affect on total civic involvement, though it will alter means.
Initial studies have shown that despite the Internet’s claim to be connective and community building, that the Internet can leave individuals feeling isolated. Like television, the act of staring at a computer screen will not increase civic involvement unless there are personal incentives that encourage it.
People’s capacity of social interaction is saturated even without the Internet. The limit on the number of social groups one can be a part of is not the size of one’s mailbox, as it were, but the time it takes to communicate with each group. Last I checked, there were still 24 hours in a day.
Already we see dart leagues, kids soccer and other not-for-profits organizing on the net. what groups don’t? Traditional men’s dinner clubs like Rotary. They are already in a coma and will go the way of felt hats.
Will more people be connecting with one another and joining online communities? Yes. Is this traditional civil society? Not sure. Many of the groups are nichecould create honeycomb structure of walled-off little communities that don’t meet in any kind of civic public space, virtual or physical.
I think this prediction under-estimates the basic human wish for human company. Time and again, people – including experienced Internet users – articulate the notion that while Internet communications offers all kinds of useful networking possibilities, they still choose real-time face-to-face interaction, group activity and communication to fulfill basic human social needs.
Depends of curse on how you define civic involvement. The current presidential campaign has increaed involvement. Will this last? Will this be truly good for society, or is this just a case of divergent groups becoming more well-defined, more isolated, and shouting at each other. Will it have the mpact of league bowling? I fear not.
It’s not obvious how the Internet will increase face-to-face social interaction. So many other variables are at work in determining how much time we spend in non-work related activities, including (a) how many people need to work overtime, two jobs, or all the time, (b) the independent religious beliefs of the populations (some groups attend church more than others), and (c)the growth of cell phones as an alternative to computer-based use of the Internet.
I think that in the next 10 years, we will need to think more about what it means to participate in all areas of our life. What does it mean to participate in a virtual protest for example? Does this constitute civic engagement. Perhaps, our definitions of civic engagement are changing to take into account new digital forms of participation. We need to think about and study the implications of these shifts.
Pew studies found that in comparing net users and non users, net users do more sports and recreation. Why? My theory is become organization and administration of sports clubs and teams is generally administratively difficult, and the Internet has FANTASTICALLY facilitated small community organization. People can spend more time playing and less time on the phone, organizing playtime. There is less of a barrier to play time. I also think that features like RSS will improve frequency to noise ratios – people will be able to narrow in or their interests and be empowered, instead of suffering from information overload.
It would be great if this would happen, but all indications I can see point towards more privatisation/individualisation rather than collectivisation. Civic involvement at the level of ‘citizenship’, or involvement in governance, is hampered by a growing sense of alienation from political processes and cynicism about what difference an ordinary person can make. Modes of membership in social and leisure groups will be affected by internet use, and it’s likely that people will be more easily able to find like-minded people who share their interests.
While the Internet facilitates the growth of vast interest-based networks, it unfortunately accelerates the decline of genuine civic involvement. Local life is being eclipsed by virtual life. Local identity is being eclipsed by identification with groups that have nothing to do with geography. Civic life begins at home, but the concept of home is being undermined.
Heavy Internet users are way too distracted and multi-tasked to make commitments to groups like this for a long period of time. Most Americans are too selfish and self-involved to commit to anything more that gets in the way of their convenience-driven lifestyles, unless they’re already passionate about a cause (like a religion, a sports team or a political candidate) and can be whipped into a frenzy by marketers and demagogues.
It’s happening now, from neighborhood kids’ soccer clubs having websites to nearly any type of organization. It’s the way of the world. Everyone has something to say and to share. That’s human nature and the Internet has allowed us to have the widest possible audience. Yes, there will be even more than we can currently fathom.
The internet certainly does foster civic/group involvement. It is easier to be part of an community that includes contact via the web. For one thing – you can check into or sign up for things going on while at work. A second thing is: you can schedule group events easily (emailing bunches of people at once). Third: I’ve been able to download all kinds of paperwork connected to civic and group involvement, like newsletters from churches and neighborhood groups, voting registration forms, etc. Finally, it is much easier to investigate or find out about groups in the first place via the internet also. The internet allows one to travel far and wide while sitting at a desk. BUT the internet won’t replace face-to-face group activities.
People’s willingness to use information merely to confirm their beliefs, irrespective of the relevance of the information in question, will win out in the majority of cases over the ability of the Internet to expose people to unprecedented amounts of information and breadth of perspective. I believe the main effect the Internet will have in these areas is to increase the convenience, or perception of same, of business as usual. Eg, it is not an ”increase in civic involvement” when 100,000 get the letter-to-the-editor boilerplate astroturf text online and email it to their local papers; it’s just a technological enhancement of the marketing of ideas. Also, a ”substantial” increase occludes the notion of the digital divide, which is still alive and well. By and large, Internet resources increase the convenience and sometimes power of endeavors that were already within reach for the individuals in question.
At the end of the day, involvement is limited by time. And civic involvement must have some intangible payoffs. That payoff comes with investment in time. So I see selective involvement still, with greater involvement being channeled into areas where there is greater payoff. You could say that involvement will become deeper instead of broader. This could mean that strong civic groups become stronger while already marginal ones shrink and die.