In this study we examine responses to the recent expansion of information technology in two rural Minnesota towns. One of these towns took a cooperative approach to technology access, developing a community electronic network, while the other town relied on a more individualistic, entrepreneurial model. The present study examines citizens' attitudes concerning social, political, and technological issues in these two communities, with the goal of uncovering what kinds of attitudes and resources citizens need to have in order to help support and sustain a community electronic network. Structural equation modeling is used to specify the relationships among individuals' economic, political, and social resources, technology ownership and use, and awareness of and support for the community network. Drawing on a theory of social capital, we consider the relative importance of privately-oriented social engagement versus publicly-oriented political engagement in relation to collective outcomes. Our analysis shows that in the town with the broadly-based community electronic network, individuals' political as well as economic resources are linked to knowledge and use of computer resources, whereas in the comparison community, economic stratification alone drives computer access. The implications of these findings for issues of equity, access to technology, and the development of strong community ties are discussed.
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Acknowledgments. This research was supported in part by grants from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, NSF Grant #SBR9619147, and funding from the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts to Eugene Borgida and John L. Sullivan. Melinda Jackson is also supported in part by a NSF graduate fellowship.
Grand Rapids was one of the first communities in Minnesota to initiate an electronic network. Located in the north-central area of the state, it is a classic small town with a population of 8,400. In 1995, local community partners joined in an effort to bring information technology to Grand Rapids. Civic leaders in Grand Rapids initiated planning for a communitywide electronic network called GrandNet, which was implemented in late 1997 with funding from the locally based Blandin Foundation and the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The community partners included the local school district, the public library, Itasca Development Corporation, Itasca Community College, and Itasca County Health and Human Services. GrandNet’s goals included increasing the community’s access to and use of the national information infrastructure, reducing disparities in access levels among community residents, increasing information available to community members, and facilitating the sharing of data and information among the partner organizations. Since 1997 the network has had several outcomes. It developed a web site that provides access to each partner’s web site while facilitating the sharing of computer hardware and expertise among the five partners. It has provided public access to computers and the Internet through computer labs housed by four of the five partners. At the same time, the project has supported training opportunities to the general public through free or low-cost classes. Finally, it has complemented other targeted efforts by local organizations to increase opportunities for computer use in the community.
- Community electronic networks
- Political capital
- Social capital