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Analysis: Internet Social Costs

The advent of any new technology, from the wheel and atomic bomb to cell phones and the Internet, offers society benefits and drawbacks. This is because any invention or form of new technology has the potential for positive or negative use. For instance, the internet has removed significant barriers to education for disabled individuals with online classrooms and courses by established universities, but it has also created potential danger for teens and youth from Internet predators. In Social Implications of the Internet, DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, and Robinson (2001) maintain that because of the internet's unique capability of integrating modes of communication and forms of content, it is "a critically important research site for sociologists testing theories of technology diffusion and media effects" (p. 307).

Critics of the internet argue it is divisive and leads to a decline in social capital, while others contend it offers more personalized information and entertainment, can lead to new forms of community-building, and offers a more effective and less expensive media distribution network. This analysis will argue that the internet positively compliments existing media across three significant domains: (1) the digital divide (inequality in access); (2) political participation; and (3) cultural participation and cultural diversity.

For purpose of this analysis, the "internet" is defined as "the electronic network of networks that links people and information through computers and other digital devices allowing person-to-person communication and information retrieval" (DiMaggio et al., 2001. p. 308). One of the three domains under analysis is the digital divide. The digital divide refers to "inequalities in access to the Internet, extent of use, knowledge of search strategies, quality of technical connections and social support, ability to evaluate the quality of information, and diversity of ...

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