The dream of bringing all the knowledge of the world to users' fingertips has taken a prominent place in discussions of the social significance of computer networking since its early years. The obverse of the dream has been the nightmare of the information flood prophesying that relevance and significance of information will be lost or very hard to establish for the network user. This paper will present observations from an on-going study carried out in Calgary, Canada, with regard to the new patterns of social distribution and use of knowledge brought about by the Internet. The study examines the ways in which the Internet is used in 90 households of diverse socio-economic background through home visits, observations and in-depth interviews. The project applies a home-centered "active user" approach to examine the nature of the medium from the user's standpoint. All members of the participating households who use the Internet are interviewed with respect to their daily use habits, favourite sites, online groups and social networks maintained electronically. The diversity of respondents allows for comparisons between people and households representing different socio-economic categories and life-experiences.
This paper focuses on the ways in which information and knowledge gleaned from the Internet become intertwined with daily decision-making and action in various areas of life. What patterns and rituals of information-seeking and knowledge-building behaviour arise around the home Internet connection? How do they differ across different categories of respondents and in the context of different socio-biographical situations? What are the new authoritative sources users turn to? How do users navigate the information flood? What roles and relationships with respect to information processing and knowledge emerge within the household?
Ultimately, the central question under investigation is whether and how the ready availability of diverse sources of information and knowledge amidst everyday life (knowledge@home) contributes to users' empowerment as economic agents, citizens and consumers. A taxonomy of the "social distribution of knowledge" proposed by Schutz (1970), namely, the ideal types of "the expert," "the man in the street" and "the well-informed citizen," represents the starting point of the analysis of users' information-seeking and knowledge-building behaviour. Preliminary results suggest that the presence of the Internet connection in the home creates a new knowledge environment in which the notion of the expert becomes relative and heterogeneous, the unquestioning, routine existence of "the man in the street" is challenged and "the well-informed citizen" is supported, even though required to perform much more knowledge work. What expressions these changes take and what challenges are experienced in the case of people occupying different demographic, socio-economic and cultural positions are also discussed.
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