Internet and Civil Society

I hosted* an event today in Parliament House for the release of a new ANU poll, which looks at the relationship between internet use and civil society. It's an issue that I wrote about in my book Disconnected, and I've long had a concern that internet use might be crowding out community engagement.

It's always risky to draw causation from simple correlations, but the results of the poll do seem to point towards a dampening effect. As you can see from the table below, frequent internet users are 13 percentage points less likely than rare internet users to be active in voluntary organisations. Frequent internet users are also 6 percentage points less likely to be active in politics, 8 percentage points less likely to serve on a jury if called, and 13 percentage points less likely to always obey laws and regulations.

That said, I don't think it automatically follows that better broadband will reduce civic engagement. As we've seen over the past decade, shifts in technology (eg. from dialup to broadband) fundamentally change the way we use the Internet. My hope is that applications such as high-definition video-conferencing will actually be complementary with stronger community life. And there are existing applications - from to online mental health support groups to Facebook places - which take advantage of the best of the net to build social capital.

* Meaning that I booked the room and popped along to discuss the results.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.