There are a lot of questions about how modern technology is transforming society and social interactions. (For modern technology, read smartphones mediated by social media software.) What is remarkable, however, is how little we really know about how older technologies affected society and social interaction.
For example, television. How much do we really know?
This paper investigates the impact of television and radio on social capital in Indonesia. I use two sources of variation in signal reception — one based on Indonesia’s mountainous terrain, and a second based on the differential introduction of private television throughout Indonesia. I find that increased signal reception, which leads to more time watching television and listening to the radio, is associated with less participation in social organizations and with lower self-reported trust. Improved reception does not affect village governance, at least as measured by discussions in village meetings and by corruption in village road projects.
That does not seem good. Maybe my Luddism does not go a far enough.
Elisabeth, I should add, has a neat paper on the effect of free rural mail service on politics in the early 20th century. From its abstract:
The rollout of Rural Free Delivery (RFD) in the early twentieth century dramatically increased the frequency with which rural voters received information. This paper examines the effect of RFD on voters’ and Representatives’ behavior using a panel dataset and instrumental variables. Communities receiving more routes experienced higher voter turnout and spread their votes to more parties. RFD shifted positions taken by Representatives to ones in line with rural communities, including increasing support for pro-temperance and anti-immigration policies. Our results are stronger in counties with newspapers, supporting the hypothesis that information flows play a crucial role in the political process
It is fascinating stuff.