PhD Researcher - University of Cambridge | Public relations | Civic & social tech

Richard J Dent

PhD Researcher: University of Cambridge | Public relations | Civic & social tech

PhD research

My research examines emerging online social norms, their impact on online social capital and the implications for society in the wake of digital by default and channel shift policies. Channel shift is the process of relocating civic, public and private services from postal, face to face and telephone to the Internet. These shifts create significant cost saving opportunities and efficiencies but also introduce challenges for some individuals attempting to adjust to what I call online social-mediated interactions (Based on John Thompson’s theories in Media and Modernity).

Social-mediated Interactions

These are, in part, the unwritten social rules that influence an individual’s experience with others online. An uneven spread of ‘readiness’ for social-mediated interactions across society poses a challenge society transitions increasingly into online spaces. My PhD investigates three key related issues:

  1. Digital inclusion should not be solely addressed and categorized through a lens of digital skills or digital cultures but also social mediated interaction or online social interaction ‘readiness’. Emerging online social norms are not fully understood, especially how they impact social capital outcomes when individuals use social networking sites.
  2. We should analyse digital inclusion in regard to specific digital platforms (apps, services), not the Internet in general. Digital skills and social norms on one platform can be completely different to another.
  3. Many academics make theoretical generalisations about the Internet as if it has reached a final form, like the telephone or television. Yet the Internet is constantly changing opening new possibilities and closing others. Social scientists must adapt their theory writing to this changing digital environment.

These issues potentially impact not only government policy but also civic social marketing campaigns. We risk channel shifting society to a digital environment that is insecure and evolves in a way that shifts social power to less democratic entities.