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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Internet 'divides society'
digital divisions
Getting online does not bring people together
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

The internet is reinforcing divisions in society and will not be a panacea for social ills say researchers.

The first results from a three-year, 3m project looking at how the internet is changing society has found that it is doing no such thing.

Government and local authorities are wrong to think that improved access to the web for those who cannot afford to surf from home will end social exclusion, said Professor Steve Woolgar, a sociologist from Brunel University and director of the Virtual Society research project.

Preliminary results from the Virtual Society studies show that internet-connected kiosks put in libraries and shopping centres to get net novices using the web were being used more by those already online.

E is for exclusion

The people who could benefit most from access to online information about education and government services were not using the terminals.

"Access does not generate use," said Professor Woolgar. "These are not new points of access for the socially excluded."

Kiosks and public net access points only attract a broader range of people when novices are given help and training during their first few forays online.

Without this extra effort, those who are already connected at home tend to monopolise the terminals.

Technology tower blocks

Some local authorities are starting to regard kiosks and public net access points in the same way that they saw tower blocks in the 1970s said Professor Woolgar.

"They all think they should have them, but they are not sure that they are going to do the job they want them to," he added.

The full results from the 22 different research projects in the Virtual Society programme will be presented in June.

The results were presented at the launch of Citizens Online - a charity set up to improve access to the internet for all and to show people how they can use it to their advantage.

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14 Oct 99 | Information rich information poor
Bridging the digital divide
09 Jul 99 | Americas
Technology divide grows in US
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