In the United Kingdom, the spread of broadband has reduced civic and political participation. On the other hand, it does not seem to have affected the strong relationships with relatives and friends. This phenomenon could also explain the rise of populism.
What is social capital and why is it declining in many countries
The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on personal relationships. For two years, social distancing has impeded many forms of participation in public life, undermining trust in institutions and social cohesion. The crisis is occurring at a point that is itself already difficult for social capital in Europe. Several studies document that indicators of trust, civic engagement, and social interactions have been declining in many countries since at least the second half of the 1990s.
Using the term social capital, literature refers to the elements of social life, such as networks of relationships, civic engagement, and trust, that help people coordinate better to achieve common goals. Secondly Robert Putnam, voluntary associations can function as “schools of democracy” that cultivate respect for social norms and concern for the common good. From an economic point of view, the cooperative attitudes likely to be generated by social capital make people more reliable and respectful of agreements, thus reducing uncertainty. The greater climate of trust that could arise from this encourages investments, and favors a better allocation of resources.
In his bestselling book, bowling alonePutnam suggested that television and other technology-intensive forms of entertainment, such as video games, may have replaced social interactions in the use of leisure time. In line with Putnam’s hypothesis, it seems plausible that the impact of the Internet, which is a more interactive medium than television and capable of delivering on-demand content, may have been stronger.
A new study on the United Kingdom
in a work Posted in Journal of General Economics We wondered if the time we spend online can erode our political and social participation, making us more focused on ourselves and less willing to worry about the well-being of the society in which we live. To answer the question, we combined information about the UK legacy telephone network topology, provided by Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, with a geographically defined sample data collected annually from 1998 to 2018 fromInstitute of Social and Economic Research.
The dataset we created allows us to calculate the distance between each respondent’s phone line and the nearest network node.
This is a critical factor for fast Internet access. Since the second half of the 1990s, broadband has used mostly DSL technology (digital subscriber line), which allows data to be transmitted over old copper telephone cables. However, the quality of a DSL connection is inversely proportional to the length of the cables connecting the telephone line to the network node. When the telephone network was designed in the 1930s, this had no effect on the quality of voice communications, but with DSL technology, node proximity became a necessary condition for fast network access. Thus, the uneven distribution of houses with respect to network nodes caused a variance in Internet connection quality that was unexpected and independent of the will of users and providers.
In our empirical analysis, we investigated the effect of the ancient copper network topology on broadband penetration in the UK. We therefore took advantage of chance-driven variance in Internet service quality to determine the causal effect of broadband on social capital.
Impact of broadband on capital “bridging” and “connecting”
Empirical analysis shows that the use of high-speed internet has eroded various dimensions of social capital in the UK. Following the broadband penetration, civic and political participation has systematically declined as users get closer to network nodes.
Activities that are in the public interest and that require spending a lot of time, such as participating in voluntary association initiatives, have been most affected by the “crowding out” effect of broadband. Putnam defined union life as a form of social capital bridging, referring to the ability to build bridges between social groups from different social and cultural backgrounds, thus promoting social cohesion and cooperative attitudes.
The effect is statistically significant and of significant size. Reducing one standard deviation in the distance to the node, which corresponds to a faster connection, decreased the probability of participating in membership activities by 4.7 percent between 2005 and 2017. For political parties and unions, the probability of participation decreased to 5.1 percent.
On the other hand, the impact of displacement has spared relationships with family and friends, which are often considered a form of social capital. bonding, based on already existing connections, which tend to enhance individuals’ attention to particular goals. Sociological literature is social capital bonding Among the roots of the development lag in the Italian south, due to the ability to undermine trust, social cohesion and cooperative attitudes.
While the capital bonding He seems to be able to withstand the impact of new communication technologies bridging More likely to pressure new media on users’ time-allocation options. It is an uncomfortable finding, which, with due caution, could provide a key to explaining recent phenomena such as the rise of populism. However, the empirical evidence observed in the UK is not necessarily valid everywhere. Our results should also be interpreted in light of previous studies, which have not identified a negative impact of broadband on social capital elsewhere, For example in eastern Germany. The economic and social impact of broadband penetration can vary according to the initial stock of social capital, institutional context, and users’ use of the fast network.
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