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The Web Does Not Equal More Civic Engagement

world wide webThe Web is not the answer to increased civic participation, according to the results of a study released Tuesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Instead, as in offline activities, those engaged are still basically older and more wealthy than the citzenry at large.

For example, 35 percent of adults making more than $100,000 a year had participated in some kind of online political activity over the past year. Contrast this with those making under $20,000 — only 8 percent participation was recorded there. Pew noted that this was the same gap seen offline as well.

The bottom line seems to be that the more money you make, the more likely you’re going to be civically involved, regardless of whether it’s online or not.

“Contrary to the hopes of some advocates, the internet is not changing the socio-economic character of civic engagement in America,” Pew research specialist Aaron Smith said. He did acknowledge that access to the Internet does also correlate to socio-economic status, but added there was still a “strong positive relationship” between socio-economic status and political activism.

The news is certainly a blow to those who have been lifting the Web up as a way for a broader swath of the citizenry to get involved — heck, our own President is one of it’s biggest cheerleaders. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel: social networking.

Pew found that those on social networking sites did not follow the patterns they found elsewhere, and thus one’s financial situation meant less to whether or not they were politically active.

“The impact of these new tools on the future of online political involvement depends in large part upon what happens as this younger cohort of “digital natives” gets older. Are we witnessing a generational change or a life-cycle phenomenon that will change as these younger users age? Will the civic divide close, or will rapidly evolving technologies continue to leave behind those with lower levels of education and income,” Smith asked.

I guess we’ll find out.

(Cross-posted from TechPolitik)


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Twenty Years Ago Today, the Idea That Became the Web Was Born

Tim Berners-LeeOver at Cnet, Charles Cooper has a nice post on a meaningful historical tidbit: Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee, who was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva, Switzerland, submitted a proposal to his bosses on how the organization could do a better job of keeping track of information. It involved publishing documents online with links to tie everything together, and it was the idea which eventually turned into the World Wide Web.

If you were trying to determine the twentieth anniversary of the Web, you probably wouldn’t decide it was today. (Another possibility would be August 6th, 2011–the day that marks two decades since Berners-Lee’s first Web site went live on the Internet.)  But his 1989 memo remains good reading, and the fact that his plan to change how CERN used information turned out to change how the world uses information is as inspiring as stories about technology get.

I’m about to board an airplane to go to the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, and have been brooding about the fact that I’ll be deprived of the Web for just a few hours while we’re in flight. It’s startling to remember that something as essential as the Web is so new–and that the guy who came up with it is not only still with us but very much involved in shaping its future.

Thanks, Sir Tim! I feel like I owe you my career–because if there weren’t a Web, there sure wouldn’t be a Technologizer…


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