Connected in Isolation
Digital Privilege in Unsettled Times
210 pp., 6 x 9 in, 2 b&w photos, 35 b&w illus.
- Published: November 8, 2022
What life during lockdown reveals about digital inequality.
The vast majority of people in wealthy, highly connected, or digitally privileged societies may have crossed the digital divide, but being online does not mean that everyone is equally connected—and digital inequality reflects experience both online and off. In Connected in Isolation Eszter Hargittai looks at how this digital disparity played out during the unprecedented isolation imposed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
During initial COVID-19 lockdowns the Internet, for many, became a lifeline, as everything from family get-togethers to doctor's visits moved online. Using survey data collected in April and May of 2020 in the United States, Italy, and Switzerland, Hargittai explores how people from varied backgrounds and differing skill levels were able to take advantage of digital media to find the crucial information they needed—to help loved ones, procure necessities, understand rules and risks. Her study reveals the extent to which long-standing social and digital inequalities played a critical role in this move toward computer-mediated communication—and were often exacerbated in the process. However, Hargittai notes, context matters: her findings reveal that some populations traditionally disadvantaged with technology, such as older people, actually did better than others, in part because of the continuing importance of traditional media, television in particular.
The pandemic has permanently shifted how reliant we are upon online information, and the implications of Hargittai's groundbreaking comparative research go far beyond the pandemic. Connected in Isolation informs and expands our understanding of digital media, including how they might mitigate or worsen existing social disparities; whom they empower or disenfranchise; and how we can identify and expand the skills people bring to them.
We are all incredibly fortunate that a scholar of such stature as Eszter Hargittai had the presence of mind to record and analyze our digital experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. This trenchant analysis will serve as real-time historical evidence and perhaps too as a guide to a future that may be disrupted from time to time--and to how we should live if that comes to pass.”
John Palfrey, coauthor of The Connected Parent
“Connected in Isolation is an extremely timely investigation of how inequality in digital access and skills affected different populations at a time when the global pandemic dramatically increased all of our dependence on communications networks and social media. An important and detailed analysis from one of the world's leading experts on digital inequality.”
Yochai Benkler, Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard Law School; faculty co-director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society
“Connected in Isolation is a remarkable portrait of digital divides operating in real time, with immediate, measurable consequences on health, job, and life outcomes. By seizing the pandemic as a research opportunity, Hargittai and her team show us the multiple facets of spreading digital inequality, spotlighting the need for an entire set of policies that build on broadband access to create genuine digital opportunity.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
“Connected in Isolation is that rarest of social science books – one that captures a critical event as it is unfolding. Clearly written and analytically sharp, the volume offers insight into how people used technology in the first months of fear and isolation. But it does much more, casting important comparative light on differences and similarities in response in Italy, Switzerland and the U.S., examining how media use (mainstream and social) are related to both factual knowledge and misinformation, and contributing an important case to the growing literature on attitude change in unsettled times.”
Paul DiMaggio, Professor of Sociology, New York University
“Connected in Isolation provides both a vivid snapshot of the inequities of life during the Covid-19 global pandemic and an invitation to envision building societal resilience in preparation for future crises.”
danah boyd, author of It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens