Undoubtedly, mobile phones changed society, allowing people to connect with one another no matter where they are, but doing so has moved much of our face-to-face conversation to Wi-Fi networks and Internet communication. At the beginning of the decade when several American households had already integrated mobile phones into daily life, the Amish were still debating if permitting cell phones in the community would bring them together or draw them farther apart (Rheingold, 2004). And it’s a debate that continues today, even (Blair & Fletcher, 2010, Abel, Buff, & Abel, 2012).
A similar discussion and concern can be directed at networks created with Raspberry Pis, Library Boxes, and Pirate Boxes, for example. These technologies allow users to share information just within their quite possibly small and limited communities. The Internet is maintained on the principle that all information should be open, free, and accessible to anyone with a connection, and even those without. But when information is moved from the massive scale of the Internet down to small information networks, information can become privileged and inaccessible. For example, if a hospital opted to serve all of its information on a small network instead of on the Internet, patients and other interest groups would have to physically travel to the hospital to get information. But why would a hospital do such a thing? If they believe the Internet to be unreliable in its area, it can invest in this kind of network instead of working to better its connection to the Internet. While this may seem unimaginable in the United States, in places in Africa where access is already limited, this could be a very real and distinct possibility.
Users must be within close range to access the information on the device or network. In the case of a Raspberry Pi and Pirate Box, users must generally be in the same room to have reliable access. Because of the range, these information networks can hyper-localize information, especially if the only place to retrieve a particular piece of information is only available on this network. When people are drawn to small networks like this, they may form a tight-knit community, but it can be one that is isolated from the larger, global community, which the Internet services. With such a move, the focus of file and information sharing shifts from the collective to the individual. Such individualization can erode a country’s social capital, which promotes a social cooperation of mutual benefit. When the social capital erodes from individualizing or shrinking communities, people are not creating networks to depend on, they are entrenching themselves in a community that allows them to hone in only on themselves (Putnam, 2000).
Abel, J. I., Buff, C. L., & Abel, J. P. (2012). Can they defer the cellular lure? College Students’ self-control and cell phone usage. Review of Business Research, 12(4), 101-106.
Blair, B.L. & Fletcher, A.C. (2010). “The only 13-year-old on Planet Earth without a cell phone”: Meanings of cell phones in early adolescents’ everyday lives. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 155-177.
Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy, 6(1), 65-78.
Rheingold, H. (2003, July 1). The Amish are famous for shunning technology. But their secret love affair with the cell phone is causing an uproar. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.01/amish_pr.html.