Wired High Rise: Using Technology to Combat Social Isolation on an Inner City Public Housing Estate

Wired High Rise: Using Technology to Combat Social Isolation on an Inner City Public Housing Estate

Denise Meredyth (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia), Liza Hopkins (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia), Scott Ewing (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia) and Julian Thomas (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia)
Copyright: © 2004 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-132-2.ch013
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The chapter poses questions about the goal of building community through the creation of local networks, using the example of an entrepreneurial scheme to create a resident-run computer network in the Atherton Gardens high-rise housing estate in inner Melbourne, Australia. The scheme stems from a social partnership between a not-for-profit organisation, government and community groups; the aim is to enable residents to re-enter training, employment and community activities. The first stage of the paper places the scheme in the context of broader debates on the digital divide, information poverty and social capital, drawing out existing problems in the field. The authors discuss the problems of tracking the social impact of computer networks on ‘communities’, especially where there is a great diversity of interest and allegiance. The Atherton Gardens Reach for the Clouds initiative exemplifies such difficulties. The chapter argues that enthusiasm for this innovative scheme should be balanced by caution in using the vocabulary of social capital and community building. It cannot be assumed that online communication will build social connection off-line, given the diversity of interests, groups and allegiances within groups. This argument is made drawing on the initial stage of survey-based research on Atherton Gardens residents’ patterns of computer and media use, of employment and training, social connectedness, use of social services and experience of living on the estate. The authors conclude by reflecting on the broader implications of the case study for research on the social impact of computer networks on multiethnic populations with diverse needs, interests and allegiances.

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