I am just back from a productive meeting of the World Internet Project (WIP) held in Macao from 8-10 July 2009 at the University of Macao. It was clear to me that the partners are moving closer to a real consensus on the issues and questions to address in common across the world, which has been a difficult and complex accomplishment. The project is accumulating an increasingly rich longitudinal data set from a growing number of nations.
My own talk was entitled ‘ A Tipping Point for the Internet and Policy’. I’ll post the abstract here along with a photo from the meeting. Many thanks to Angus Cheong of the University of Macao for hosting this meeting, and to all of the WIP partners and Jeff Cole and his colleagues at the Annenberg School for coordinating this project.
A Tipping Point for the Internet and Policy:
New Challenges Facing the World Wide Network of Networks
Professor William H. Dutton, Director
Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
The societal implications of the worldwide diffusion of the Internet are immense. This ‘network of networks’ is reshaping what people know, with whom they communicate, from whom they obtain services, and what skills and techniques they must know to exploit its potential in everyday life and work. Drawing on the Oxford Internet Surveys and the World Internet Project (WIP), this talk describes the current status of the Internet in Britain and around the world, focusing on two countervailing trends. On the one hand, digital divides persist as the diffusion of the Internet has slowed in many nations, such as Britain. This is a consequence of socioeconomic exclusion but also as a result of choices made by those who believe this technology is irrelevant to their lives. On the other hand, the Internet is the locus of tremendous and continuing innovation as it moves to faster speeds and greater wireless mobility, both of which have provided a platform for creative, bottom-up innovations in use and application, such as evident in the increasing ease of search, user-generated content, video, and social networking, such as blogging and micro-blogging. The constant reinvention of the Internet is making it more central, and even essential, for a growing range of purposes for an increasing number of users. However, the increasing centrality of the Internet is making it a target. Telecommunication, broadcasting and cable industries and their regulators see the Internet no longer as a novel sideshow, but as the infrastructure for a converged media landscape. Regulators, industries and publics are seeking to fit the Internet into their different national regulatory regimes, industry strategies, and domestic cultures. These initiatives are aimed at critical issues, such as diminishing divides, but they might not achieve their intended objectives and pose real risks in undermining the vital qualities of the Internet that have made it a global network of networks. It is critical for social research to focus more attention on the social and political processes identified here, which are reshaping the future of the Internet and its societal implications.