Segregation in Digital Geographies: Revisiting Schelling Segregation in the Era of the Digital Realm

Authors: Petter Tornberg*, University of Amsterdam
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: segregation,schelling,simulation,space,digital
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Muses, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Human interaction is increasingly split between the physical and the digital realm, as sharing economy services, social media, and digital platforms are playing increasingly large roles in our daily lives. Physical distances become less and less relevant, as we increasingly navigate in a digital world, characterized by “spheres”, “spaces” or “networks”. The topologies of this digital realm, and the dynamics that follow from it, in turn affect the social fabric of the physical, and, in Massey’s relational and process-based sense of the concept, space itself.
This paper looks at the interaction dynamics of these new geographies, by revisiting the highly influential segregation model proposed by Thomas Schelling in 1972. While Schelling's model focused on physical geographies, this models looks at segregation dynamics in the topologies associated to the digital realm, including “networks” and “spaces”.
While new digital platforms have been theorized to weave tighter the fabrics of the social life, the opposite is found: the interaction structures of online spaces result in high levels of emergent segregation. Segregation enforces itself, in a self-perpetuating feedback process operating on multiple concurrent scales.
As digital geographies increasingly replace the serendipitous meetings of the street, these dynamics enable new forms of urban micro-segregation, as ostensibly integrated neighborhoods can maintain highly segregated social interaction structures. The result is a tearing apart of the social fabric of the city, causing polarization, social conflict, and increasing inequality. This paradoxically implies that increasing connectivity does not necessarily bring us closer together, but can instead increase social distances.

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