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A Study of New Communication Technologies and Civic Engagement : A Time to Reconceptualize the Research Constructs?
Unformatted Document Text:  11 becoming obsolete as uses and applications of the Internet become more numerous and diverse. For the same reason, examining the effects of specific applications is increasingly becoming a Sisyphus’ task of pushing uphill a stone that always roles down again, i.e. mapping the effects of technologies that are in a constant state of flux. Still, I argue that examining the Net at the application level may be beneficial as fewer technological constraints are present in the process of their design and implementation and making applications increasingly reflective of human needs and desires. This may lead to increased customization and individualization of communications technologies and/or applications, but it is nonetheless likely that few applications will dominate the market, benefiting from network externalities. Some of the aforementioned problems plaguing the “Internet effects” research have not gone unnoticed by the scholars who in addition to providing useful critiques have also proposed certain remedies. Their criticisms have largely dealt with two sets of issues, the first one questioning the usefulness of the Internet construct in the era of convergence, and the second one dealing with a disputed distinction between on-line and off-line activities. Bimber (2000) for instance, suggests that research on civic engagement should be better empirically and theoretically grounded and argues that “the Internet” as a variable should be abandoned together with a distinction between technology-related engagement and traditional civic engagement. According to Bimber, convergence and integration of different technologies have made the concept of “Internet-specific effects” obsolete. Even more importantly, he argues, citizens who use new communication technologies have not stopped using traditional forms of communication like print and

Authors: Skoric, Marko.
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becoming obsolete as uses and applications of the Internet become more numerous and
diverse. For the same reason, examining the effects of specific applications is
increasingly becoming a Sisyphus’ task of pushing uphill a stone that always roles down
again, i.e. mapping the effects of technologies that are in a constant state of flux. Still, I
argue that examining the Net at the application level may be beneficial as fewer
technological constraints are present in the process of their design and implementation
and making applications increasingly reflective of human needs and desires. This may
lead to increased customization and individualization of communications technologies
and/or applications, but it is nonetheless likely that few applications will dominate the
market, benefiting from network externalities.
Some of the aforementioned problems plaguing the “Internet effects” research
have not gone unnoticed by the scholars who in addition to providing useful critiques
have also proposed certain remedies. Their criticisms have largely dealt with two sets of
issues, the first one questioning the usefulness of the Internet construct in the era of
convergence, and the second one dealing with a disputed distinction between on-line and
off-line activities. Bimber (2000) for instance, suggests that research on civic engagement
should be better empirically and theoretically grounded and argues that “the Internet” as
a variable should be abandoned together with a distinction between technology-related
engagement and traditional civic engagement. According to Bimber, convergence and
integration of different technologies have made the concept of “Internet-specific effects”
obsolete. Even more importantly, he argues, citizens who use new communication
technologies have not stopped using traditional forms of communication like print and


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