Interview: Lee Rainie on Networked Individualism

On 24 May I interviewed Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Lee is co-author with Barry Wellman of a recent book titled “Networked: The New Social Operating System.” In the interview, Lee summarizes one of the central points of the book: “The sort of small, tight-knit world of groups in the village and family systems and things like that is giving way to a system of more loose-knit networks where people have a little bit more opportunity to engage others.” Lee cites a variety of survey data while making interesting observations about the “triple revolution” of internet connectivity, mobility, and social networks. Listen to the full podcast or read the transcript.

Some select quotes from the interview:

  • 66% of American adults now have broadband connections at home.
  • Two-thirds of American adults now and three quarters of teenagers are content creators. So they’re contributing their stories to the media ecosystem, and it’s hugely democratized, the number of voices that exist in communities and cultures. And it’s made people sort of stand on par with big media companies that used to be exclusively in this line of work in the industrial media age.
  • 88% of American adults now have cellphones. 46% have smartphones. We just passed through an interesting moment earlier this year where now more Americans have smartphones than have feature phones.
  • On the role of media: [T]here’s kind of a two-step process here that big news organizations and reputable reporters are still the starting point of lots and lots of conversations about what’s meaningful in this culture. But it’s also those conversations that are taking place in social media and among friends that are driving people towards making meaning out of those bigger events.
  • On privacy: There is a paradox in our data as there is in everyone else’s about Americans’ attitudes towards privacy. At the level of a core value, as a cultural concern of theirs, they rank privacy very high. They want to be in control of their identities…And yet, in their day to day life, there are plenty of pieces of evidence in our data and others that people aren’t necessarily thinking in those terms as they go through the web.
  • On connectivity: [T]he other thing we’ve consistently heard, particularly from young people, is that personal transparency of at least not showing everything but more disclosure rather than less disclosure has some real advantages. It’s a way you build friendships.

Lee first wowed W3C at our tenth anniversary event in Boston in 2004. We even have a photo among the mementos.