Digital Infrastructures: Access and Use in the Networked Society

A GRAND NCE project.

Among the objectives of the Networked Centres of Excellence program are economic development and improving the quality of life of Canadians. In the context of Graphics, Animation and New Media research and development, quality of life can be greatly enhanced as new media in various forms are used to build and sustain a 'networked society'. But to achieve these desired outcomes, three major challenges must be addressed: i) Canadians must understand what infrastructure is needed to participate in a networked society and have access to it; ii) We must have the capacity for, and interest in, using new media technologies to engage with each other and to support economic activities; and iii) We must understand the social implications (both positive and negative) of living and working in a networked society.

The Digital Infrastructures: Access and Use in the Networked Society (DINS) project explores these challenges. Specifically, we focus on four distinct studies that consider various ways in which digital infrastructures are developed, created and taken up, by individuals and within organizations and communities, to support mobile and fixed access to content and services. The first study, led by Paula Gardner in collaboration with Deborah Fels, will create a unique tactile/multi-device interface that engages users in interactive play and experience with video footage provided by partner Bravo!FACT. Gardner's team will identify and explore the challenges inherent in developing tactile infrastructures.

Barry Wellman's team (including Anatoliy Gruzd, Alexandra Marin, Jason Nolan and Anabel Quan-Haase) will focus their efforts on understanding the Networked Society. They will examine and evaluate the prevalence and characteristics of social networking and of individual internet adoption and use, focusing on impacts on individuals and communities. This work is being done in partnership with the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Some of Wellman's work will also consider the impacts of increasing reliance upon mobile devices and infrastructures, facilitating an intertwining of work and personal activities.

These themes will be explored further by Catherine Middleton, in collaboration with Barbara Crow, Deborah Fels and Sam Trosow. Middleton and Crow will conduct a study of mobile device usage by Canadians (working with MobiTrack Innovations), and Middleton and Fels will work with a graduate student on a study of the use of mobile devices in organizations. Finally, Middleton will lead a study that explicitly considers the assumptions about infrastructure availability and use that are embedded in other GRAND projects. We will work with other project leaders to identify the types of infrastructures that would be required to bring specific projects out of the lab and into general usage, and to identify the skill levels needed to engage with devices/services/applications being built by the GRAND team. In particular, we will consider issues of accessibility (Fels, Crow), mobility (Crow, Gardner), potential impacts on interpersonal relationships and social networks (Wellman), and legal aspects of infrastructure development (Trosow). More broadly, we will consider the availability of the broadband and mobile infrastructures needed to enable Canadians to access, engage with, and create digital content and services. We will investigate policies and strategies that encourage affordable and equitable access to digital infrastructures, and that allow citizens to develop the necessary skills and confidence to engage in a networked society in ways that enhance quality of life, and create opportunities for improved socio-economic outcomes.