How to avoid slipping through the net

October 10, 1997

Media and cultural studies: party political PR, film, video and the net in an age of media domination

THE impenetrable hype surrounding the potential benefits and dangers of the Internet has prompted new research at the University of East London.

Sally Wyatt, Graham Thomas and Tiziana Terranova will spend two years trying to separate Internet myth from the reality. Their project, to start in February, is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Ms Wyatt said that the Internet was viewed in the same way that radio and television were perceived earlier this century, inciting love, suspicion and loathing in equal measure.

"We have all heard scare stories about how overuse of the Internet could lead to a society of social inadequates who spend their lives in isolation, glued to computer screens," she said.

"Equally others talk of a communications revolution which could lead to a fairer and more democratic world. We aim to study how people are actually using it and how they are being affected. We can then examine scenarios for future development of the Internet."

Ms Wyatt said that much of the blame for the relentless discussion and hype surrounding the net lies with the people whose lives have already been changed by it.

She said: "Academics and journalists use the Internet more than most and they are the ones who tend to write about it."

But despite a blizzard of newspaper articles, the Internet is still something of a blank screen to most people. The net is hardly new, having been developed around 30 years ago by universities in the United States. Only recently has technology become cheap and sophisticated enough to allow access by ordinary people.

Ms Wyatt believes, however, that the technology will take a good while longer to come within range of the poorest people and could lead to exclusion from an increasingly knowledge-based and learning-orientated society.

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