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Community and Social Interaction in the Wireless City: Wi-Fi use in Public and Semi-Public Spaces

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Café Society
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Abstract

Recent years have seen rapid growth in the availability of wireless broadband Internet access in public spaces. Providers and points of access take the form of municipal Wi-Fi networks (Muni Wi-Fi), such as those that have operated in Philadelphia and Toronto, community wireless networks, such as New York Wireless or Île Sans Fil in Montreal, advanced mobile phone networks (e.g., 3G), and Wi-Fi cafés, restaurants, bookstores, and related spaces (hereafter abbreviated as “Wi-Fi”). While there is a significant body of research addressing whether fixed Internet use increases, decreases, or supplements the ways in which people engage in residential (Hampton, 2007; Hampton and Wellman, 2003) and workplace settings (Quan-Haase and Wellman, 2006), few studies have addressed how the use of wireless broadband in public and semi-public spaces influences social life. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi adds a new dimension to the debate over how the Internet may influence the structure of community—the network of supportive ties that exist between individuals. It is unclear whether wireless Internet use in public spaces will facilitate greater engagement with people in public spaces or encourage a form of “public privatism.”

This article first appeared in New Media & Society, 10(6), December/2008. All rights reserved. ©SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008.

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© 2013 Aksel Tjora and Graham Scambler

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Hampton, K.N., Gupta, N. (2013). Community and Social Interaction in the Wireless City: Wi-Fi use in Public and Semi-Public Spaces. In: Tjora, A., Scambler, G. (eds) Café Society. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137275936_9

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