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TitleLiving The Wired Life in the Wired Suburb: Netville, Glocalization
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Keith N. Hampton

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,

Graduate Department of Sociology
University of Toronto

© Keith Neil Hampton 2001

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Living the Wired Life in the Wired Suburb: Netville, Glocalization and Civil Society

Keith Neil Hampton

Doctor of Philosophy

Graduate Department of Sociology

University of Toronto


This dissertation addresses the question, what will be the fate of community and social relations

as a result of the growth of new home-based information and communication technologies? How

have social networks, social capital and community involvement been affected by the rise of

personal computers, the Internet and computer mediated communication (CMC)? Will the

Internet reconnect the disaffiliated, or will CMC only contribute to a further disengagement of

American community life? Survey and ethnographic data from a long-term study of “Netville,”

a wired suburb near Toronto, are used to investigate the effects of advanced communication

technology on social relationships. Netville was one of the first residential developments in the

world to be built from the ground up with a broadband high-speed local computer network.

Netville provided a unique opportunity to observe the effects of advanced information and

communication technology on people’s daily interactions with family, friends and neighbours.

The “wired” residents of Netville are compared with a similar group of non-wired residents who

lived in the same neighbourhood, but who were never connected to the local computer network.

Greater involvement with friends, family and neighbours is linked to use of CMC. Internet use

is associated with high levels of in-person and telephone contact, the exchange of support, the

growth of personal network and increased community involvement.

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There are unverified neighbourhood reports of a helicopter being called in to remove sunken


Figure 4.0 Early in-person social contact was discouraged by the physical

4.1 Early Settlement

During the early stages of home construction, Netville’s physical environment resembled that

of most new residential developments. The first homes to be occupied were not built within easy

access of each other, but were dispersed widely throughout the development. Streets were not

paved nor were lawns planted, soil conditions were such that it was common for vehicles and

construction equipment to sink into unpaved driveways to the point of immobility.1 To walk

around the neighbourhood meant incurring at least a moderate dry-cleaning bill (see Figure 4.0).

This is not unusual. S. D. Clark (1966) made similar observations of the physical environment

nearly a half century earlier in studying a new suburban development neighbouring onto Netville.

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During early settlement, the condition of the physical environment surrounding Netville was less

than conducive to the formation of local social ties. Yet, consistent with observations from

previous studies of new suburban neighbourhoods, there was persistent need for access to local

information and support (Gans 1967; Clark 1966).

Almost all of Netville’s early residents needed to obtain information about local services,

such as a good dry cleaner, a reliable babysitter, or a trustworthy repair shop. When interviewed,

residents expressed a need to identify playmates for young children and to find neighbours

willing to lend household items. The “wired” status of Netville also prompted an interest in

locating those who were willing and able to provide informal computer support. As is generally

the case when people move to a new neighbourhood (Gans 1967), Netville residents began

forming local ties to help meet these and other needs. In Netville, I hypothesize that the local

computer network would have provided a new and alternative means of communication that

would further facilitate tie formation during this early settlement period. This is exactly what


4.1.1 The Neighbourhood E-mail List

The primary purpose of the local high-speed network, as it was initially conceived by the

Magenta Consortium, was not social connectivity, but access to information. As depicted on

bulletin boards located at the entrance to Netville and on displays in the developer’s showroom,

the primary advantage of living in a wired neighbourhood was access to information (see Figure

4.1). With the exception of the video phone, the Netville network itself actually provided few

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