The social life of wireless urban spaces: Internet use, social networks, and the public realm

Keith N. Hampton, Oren Livio, Lauren Sessions Goulet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explores the role of urban public spaces for democratic and social engagement. It examines the impact of wireless Internet use on urban public spaces, Internet users, and others who inhabit these spaces. Through observations of 7 parks, plazas, and markets in 4 North American cities, and surveys of wireless Internet users in those sites, we explore how this new technology is related to processes of social interaction, privatism, and democratic engagement. Findings reveal that Internet use within public spaces affords interactions with existing acquaintances that are more diverse than those associated with mobile phone use. However, the level of colocated social diversity to which Internet users are exposed is less than that of most users of these spaces. Yet, online activities in public spaces do contribute to broader participation in the public sphere. Internet connectivity within public spaces may contribute to higher overall levels of democratic and social engagement than what is afforded by exposure within similar spaces free of Internet connectivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-722
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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