New Pew survey emphasizes the Internet’s importance in civil society

The role of the Internet as a platform for collective action grows. A survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and Life Project shed light on the social side of the Internet. The results offered insight into the differences between the connected and the disconnected, revealing that Internet users are more likely to be active participants, with some 80 percent of Internet users participating in groups, compared with 56 percent of non-Internet users.

These findings confirm the impact of the the Internet on collective action, observed Beth Noveck, NYU law professor and former deputy CTO for open government at the White House. “Internet users are more active participants in groups and are more likely to feel pride and a sense of accomplishment.” Perhaps we are all not, as Robert D. Putnam suggested, relegated to “bowling alone.”

“Technology may not be the corrosive force that Putnam imagined in American life,” wrote Jared Keller in The Atlantic. “Instead, it may provide new lifeblood for civic organizations by making participation cheap and easy, if in a different form. Americans may not want to bowl alone: they just prefer to do it online, from the comfort of their homes.”

On Tuesday, I participated in a panel at the State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss the Pew study’s findings as they relate to civic participation, technology policy, and new media. I was joined by Jerry Berman, founder and chairman of the Center for Democracy and Technology, Andrew Keen (@ajkeen), author and host at, Lee Rainie (@lrainie), director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and Clay Shirky (@cshirky), technology consultant and author. Video of the panel, courtesy of the Congressional Internet Caucus, is embedded below. More analysis of the Internet’s role in participatory democracy at Radar.

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