By Conhaim, Wallys W.
Information Today , Vol. 18, No. 11
Internet Research 2.0, the Association of Internet Researchers' (AoIR) second international conference, was held October 10-14 in Minneapolis. This event gave me a rare and refreshing glimpse of the tremendous body of knowledge about the Internet that's being built by researchers who represent a wide range of academic disciplines. The attendees--some 400 in number--were a predominantly young crowd of professors and graduate students mainly in their 20s to 40s, as well as a sprinkling of elders. These participants included rhetoricians, sociologists, management professors, feminists, ethnologists, psychologists, lawyers, software designers, and librarians, among others.
The conference was enriched by a strong international presence. In addition to many presenters from Canada, speakers represented institutions in Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Singapore, Finland, France, Australia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Brazil, Taiwan, Scotland, and Germany, and included other international researchers currently at U.S. and Canadian universities.
The program had some decided tracks that were created by clusters of interest rather than by location or label. By far the largest cluster, with 11 sessions, revolved around the study of virtual communities, online relationships, and interaction. There were seven sessions each on research methodology; legal issues, such as privacy, security, and intellectual property; and gender, sex, and gay/lesbian/transgender perspectives. Six large panel sessions and a buzz group discussed the digital divide in North America and around the world. All of these topics reflected the attendees' concern about the impact of technology on society. E-commerce, education, software design, library and publishing issues, and health and medicine generated somewhat less, but still notable, interest.
Each day, keynote speakers addressed high-profile questions that challenged commonly held assumptions: whether the privacy and child-protection legislation accomplishes its goals, which Internet research methodologies are most useful in the long term, what role international and racial identity plays in the Internet's image and practice, what limitations exist in the public debate on artificial intelligence (AI), and whether the field of "Internet research" is indeed a field.
Privacy specialist Anita Allen, visiting professor of law at Yale University and professor of law and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, started the conference on a critical note by discussing the inconsistencies in the current laws and statutes related to privacy. Specifically, she raised questions about the required parental involvement in approving young teens' use of certain Internet programming by pointing out that the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which went into effect in April 2000, may in fact serve as a barrier to some young people when using sites designed for them. In Allen's opinion, these requirements single out the Internet since there are no comparable restrictions or mandated gatekeepers on teens' use of other media. You can find her books and papers at http://www.law.upenn.edu/fac/aallen/cv.pdf.
The next day's keynote speaker was Sheizaf Rafaeli, co-founder of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, head of the Center for the Study of the Information Society, and a professor in the Graduate School of Business Administration at Haifa University in Israel. Rafaeli urged researchers to move away from commonly researched subjects such as disintermediation, reintermediation (now on the rise), the digital divide (an overdone topic, in his opinion), technological determinism, content as king, the Internet stock bubble, individual effects (such as addiction, alienation, or loneliness), online journalism, push vs. pull, and the bandwidth gold rush. These "boom-or-bust" topics represent "old orthodoxies," he said.
In one of many references at this conference to Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone, Rafaeli urged attendees to seek out and research stable, long-standing theoretical constructs as dimensions for calibrating research. …