Does high-speed Internet access make you less satisfied with your community?

What does it mean when broadband users turn out to be less satisfied than other people with their community life?

That’s a tantalizing question that emerges from a study the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation commissioned to look at what people think about the way information flows in their communities.

The study took a close look at samples of residents in Philadelphia, San Jose and Macon, Ga., and drew a few important, but more or less unsurprising conclusions:

–People who like the way their local government shares information tend to be satisfied with civic life.

–Social media like Facebook and Twitter are emerging as important parts of civic life.

–People who think they can have an effect on their community are more likely to engage in civic activities.

But it also found that broadband users sometimes are less satisfied with community life than others are. This, the authors said, “raises the possibility that upgrades in a local information system might produce more critical activist citizens.”

The work was done by the Monitor Institute and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. They found that having a broadband connection to the Internet at home negatively correlated in some cases with thinking:

–that government is doing a good job

–that existing news sources are delivering all the needed information

–that schools are doing a good job

–that local non-profits are dealing well with the poor

–that residents can find local information about jobs or in emergencies.

The findings weren’t across the board in all three cities but they do make you wonder. The study’s authors don’t seem sure what to make of the results either, but they take a stab at it:

“Perhaps, as some people take advantage of broadband connections they become exposed to more critical information and conversations about community problems.”

Are unmoderated comments on online news stories actually having a measurable bad effect?

Maybe, the study suggests, it has to do with higher expectations on the part of broadband users.

I’m curious whether anybody sees this playing out in Minnesota in any way.

  • http://www.muninetworks.org Christopher Mitchell

    Regarding unfiltered comments, I find the Strib and Pioneer Press comments a total wasteland only useful to read when I want to boost my blood pressure. These sites seem to represent the very worst of all aspects of modern society.

    MPR and Minnpost do a much better job, not sure if that is self-selection from audience or active filtering.

    Having not read the study, I wonder how they controlled for the bias among the group studied: there are key socio-economic differences between those who have broadband and those who don’t. So some of the disparity may have little to do with broadband itself.

    That said, I think we continue to struggle with adapting to the amount of information we have access to. The Gutenberg press changed a lot over centuries… the net has changed a lot over mere years. Most people have had to figure out their own strategies for dealing with the information overload. Unfortunately, our brain naturally seeks out agreement to existing ideas and is pained by facts running counter to our beliefs.

    It is still early in the lifetime of the net though, much may change in the coming years (especially if a few companies are able to shape it for their private gain).