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Keith Hampton, Assistant Professor, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces and connected Netville projects (

The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces

A growing number of cities have announced plans or are in the early stages of deploying municipal broadband wireless networks; Muni Wi-Fi. These projects promise untethered Internet access in private, public, and semi-public spaces. It is unclear if wireless Internet use in public spaces will facilitate greater engagement with co-present others, or encourage social disengagement. This study investigates how mobile technologies, focusing on Wi-Fi use but not excluding mobile phones, etc., impact the use of public space in select North American cities. Updating William H. Whyte's classic study of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, this project is based on ethnographic observations of nine Wi-Fi enabled public spaces in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto. The goal is to identify how mobile devices augment local interactions and people's social networks more broadly.

This project puts the findings of the e-Neighbors and Netville studies into practice. is a a free, public resource where people find their geographic neighborhoods online and form corresponding digital communities. The i-neighbors project investigates in detail the specific contexts where Internet use affords local interactions and facilitates community involvement. also looks at "e-democracy," the potential for new information and communication technologies (ICTs) to expand political participation. This project is a "public sociology," putting the results of empirical research into practice to inform the public and policy makers of the potential for new technologies to positively affect people and their communities.


Addresses concerns about the impact of Internet and computer use on community and family life. Through an empirical analysis of four case studies in the Boston area that were followed over three years this research project i) examines the relationship between Internet use and the size and composition of people's social networks, and ii) explores the potential for new information and communication technologies to expand social networks, social capital and community involvement at the neighborhood level.


The Netville project is a window into the not so distant future, providing a glimpse of how social relationships will change as a result of computer-mediated communication (CMC). Located in suburban Toronto the "wired suburb" of Netville was a three-year investigation of how living in a newly developed residential community, equipped with a series of advanced computer and communication technologies as part of its design, affects work, community and family relations.