Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beyond Access: Psychosocial Barriers to Computer Literacy

In Beyond Access, L.D. Stanley examines the argument that cost and access are the primary deterrents to computer literacy. She does so by examining computer usage statistics of new users and nonusers at community technology centers and adult education centers in San Diego, CA. Through an ethnographic study, Stanley reveals that the underlying psychosocial elements of relevance, fear, and self-concept act as substantial motivation barriers to computer literacy.

Stanley found that nonusers often cite cost as an issue rather than addressing the underlying psychosocial barriers to computer literacy. Misconceptions about computers often led to nonusers rejecting them as personally relevant rather than making informed decisions about computers in their lives.

Self-efficacy prevented many from using computers, either due to fear of appearing foolish or fear of doing irreparable damage to the machines themselves. The anxiety and embarrassment that potential users felt over their computer illiteracy transcended divides of gender, education, and age (411).

Cultural identity and self-concept influenced individuals' perceptions about their relationship to computers and corresponding computer literacy rates. Stanley's research suggests that the acquisition of computer skills is directly correlated to an individual's ability to visualize herself as the type of person who uses a computer (412).

In the end, Stanley advocates for outreach efforts that underscore the plethora of economic and social advantages that computer literacy can provide. In order to be effective in breaking down the psychosocial barriers of relevance, fear, and self-concept, outreach efforts must be executed in culturally appropriate ways. By shifting the focus from access to outreach, Stanley believes that communities will be more effective in bridging the digital divide.


  1. Stanley's research suggests that the acquisition of computer skills is directly correlated to an individual's ability to visualize herself as the type of person who uses a computer.

    I think this point is really, really important. I know I'd cheerfully cancel all my other unnecessary purchases and subscriptions in order to maintain my Internet connection, and I'd rather spend a spare couple hundred bucks on a computer than put it toward a vacation or something, but that's because my self-identity is pretty well integrated with the time I spend online and with computers. It's an issue of what people prioritize, which I think makes us think about the digital divide in a different way.

    Also I think this ties into advertising; the whole Mac-versus-PC ad campaign is really about self-image. Are you the kind of person who owns a Mac, or are you the kind of person who owns a PC? Quite frankly there are a lot of people who fall into neither category, and therefore don't see themselves as "computer people" at all.

  2. I thought this was interesting too. One thing she didn't discuss in general was what prompted people who did not see themselves as 'computer people' to change their self-perception. Stanley notes that Donna "has since begun to reconsider and renegotiate this stereotype" after she was unable to advance in her place in employment, but the other examples she used didn't offer this information. She notes that most of these respondents are now "new computer users," but doesn't describe how the others came to change their perception of themselves as computer users.
    Was it similar to Donna's experience? That situations forced them to alter their minds? Or was it something else?

  3. Anonymous11:19 PM


    I think that the change in self-perception could be tied into the relevance issue that Stanley brings up. Most of the people who felt that computers weren't relevant in their lives often had minimal exposure to computers beforehand. As nonusers gained access to computers and learned basic computing skills, perhaps they were able to confront previous misconceptions and thus renegotiate their relationship to computers.

    I also think that once people were able to see that they could develop a degree of technological competence, a lot of the underlying issues of fear and poor self-esteem were alleviated. One of the things that struck me about the article was that all of the psychosocial barriers to computer literacy are interrelated. It seems to me that in order for outreach to be effective, it needs to address all of these psychosocial issues simultaneously rather than on an isolated basis.

  4. Speaking of outreach, I wonder what form "a series of culturally sensitive, community-based and -implemented outreach efforts" (414) would take? Would you assume that those who are psychosocially dis-inclined to use computers still have access to traditional media? If so, would a traditional ad campaign work? In libraries, we struggle a lot with bringing in non-users via outreach. Often, the best approach for increasing visibility is to partner up with community groups that might be tied into the group of non-users. But if you're making the case that there is a certain element of social isolation involved with people's decision not to use computers, are they reachable via a community group? I like Stanley's suggestion of partnering up with schools so that students might act as intermediaries for their parents, but I think that might be the sole example that fits her profile of outreach.

  5. Anonymous9:05 AM

    Well, my question for the group today will address that same issue of whether or not her proposal for culturally sensitive outreach can be applied in a variety of settings. People who are nonusers in rural environments won't have access to the amount of CTCs and other community centers that people in urban areas will have. The school suggestion would be effective for a select portion of the population but it seems like a universal approach to outreach is impossible. Individual communities will have to band together to address the issues specific to their community demographics. Even if libraries, CTCs, and literacy centers band together with other community organizations though, that will only reach people who are active in community groups. For that reason, I think that Stanley's proposal for outreach will only be effective to a certain degree.