The Social Appropriation of Internet Technologies
Sociology Erasmus University Rotterdam Rotterdam, The Netherlands
This both quantitative (N=250) and qualitative research uses a new social and communal internet project, Telebrink, as a case-study to focus on the domestication of today?s information and communication technologies. Telebrink is designed to ease and facilitate the everyday life in small rural villages in the Netherlands, while concurrently enhancing its social life. We have focused on what explanations could help us in understanding the (non)usage of these social internet projects?
The debate around the role of information and communications technologies in our contemporary ?network societies? has long been characterized by the unquestioned belief that these technologies will drastically change our societies. What the social consequences of these changes are, have mostly been described in hyperbolic terms with a strong scent of technological determinism (Katz & Rice, 2002; Wellman & Haythornthwaite, 2002). The notion of the digital divide has nevertheless established itself as an important issue in political and sociological debates for it is believed that certain socially marginalized groups would be secluded from the advantageous emancipatory effects of these technologies. Hence a new (re)production of social segregation. As access alone became common property in most Western countries, the digital divide debate moved from a focus on access (who is online) to skills and capacities (what do they do online?).
However, skills for using computer technology was found to be a necessary but certainly no sufficient condition for the social usage of the internet (Silverstone, 2005). Our quantitative research has confirmed this hypothesis and showed that although socio-economic parameters and skills and capacities do indeed exert influence on the usage of internet technologies, they are strongly mediated by opinions and beliefs about sociality and technology, especially with regard to its social functions. These issues were consequently the focus of our in-depth interviews (23). Embodied notions of social contact with much emphasis on the sensual aspects of human interaction rivaled with rational, mental notions of social contact becoming ?hyperpersonal?. A diversified view on the qualities of social contact helps explaining the divergent social usage of internet technologies.