Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ever-Shifting Internet Population (2003)

Every few years the Pew Research Center releases a report on some aspect of Internet connectivity and the digital divide. What makes the 2003 Report, the Ever-Shifting Internet Population, interesting is that it illustrates the Internet as a boundary object as well as emphasizing the, often ignored, variation within populations. Using phone surveys, focus groups and secondary data the report focused on non-users, negotiated meanings of the Internet and the physically challenged.

58% of Americans were reported to have used the Internet; this was up from 2000 when the numbers were at 49%. However, the data suggest that since 2001 new users had become stagnant. By 2002 Internet use was predicted on being White, upper-middle class, having a college degree, student status and residence in urban or suburban communities.

African Americans (A.A.) were least likely to go online lagging being both Whites and English dominant Hispanics. When adjusted for income and education A.A.’s still lagged behind the aforementioned populations.

Southerners and Mid-Westerners, at 45 % and 44% respectively, were the largest geographical areas were citizens were off-line.

Boundary Object - Negotiated meaning:

Non users and users had divergent conceptualizations of the Internet. The overwhelming majority of non-users believed the Net is a dangerous space/ place; half thought the Internet was just for entertainment, and most did not feel they were missing out by staying offline. Interestingly 20% of non-users had no concept of what the Internet was at all.

Various types of Non Users

Net Evaders: (20%) This demographic while not using the Internet they often had access via friends and family members who searched and retrieved information on their behalf.

Net Dropouts: (17%) Users who were once Internet users but have left- usually because of have poor equipment.

Intermittent Users: (27-44%) Internet users who stopped accessing for prolonged periods and are now back online.

The physically challenged:
18% of participants self-identified as physically challenged. Only 38% of this demographic were Internet users. Many lack access to adaptive technologies and are unable to access public Internet facilities. Internet access is especially important for this population as they are more likely to search for medical information and use the Net as an entrainment outlet.


  1. I found the section on physically challenged people interesting, but I wondered about the overlap in ability, age and income categories and how that was affecting Internet use and its relevance to people.

    For instance, there's a maximum allowable income for a person with a disability to earn while remaining eligible for state-provided care - this keeps many people in poverty in order to retain the services they need, and rules out paying for the expensive assistive technologies that may be needed for the Internet.

    Similarly, increasing age, declining physical abilities, and loss of income can be closely related, and the intersection of those factors would seem to be an interesting place to explore the meanings of the Internet.

  2. Anonymous2:31 PM

    One of the minor points in the article that I found interesting was the issue of control in relation to Internet/computer use. While the article discusses how non-users "feel like they have less control in their lives" (22), some of the non-users "view themselves as less dependent on technology, and more self-sufficient" (20).

    I tend to associate the concept of being self-sufficient as a product of exercising a certain amount of control in one's life. I'd be interested to see what particular elements (outside of socioeconomic barriers, education, trust issues, etc.) contributed to the loss of control in non-users' lives. I think that the lack of trust on the part of non-users could easily be tied into the earlier blog post that Brenton made about African Americans and fear of Internet adoption.

  3. Along with control over one's life, I also thought the social factors section was really interesting. Specifically how people's social contentment and outlook effected internet use. Its something I hadn't thought of before and it wasn't really covered in the other articles. Unlike racial or economic barriers, disposition isn't something that can be changed with more outreach or money.

  4. One aspect of the article that I believe has impacted the playing field for internet access is the increase of broadband users. Looking at page 26, the article explains that only 13% of users on the Spectrum of internet Access are home broadband users. I am making a personal assumption that this portion of Internet users has drastically increased in the past few years do to two different phenomenon: price and connectivity. First, the price of broadband has decreased in the past few years. I remember when my parents refused to get "high-speed" internet because it would cost them an arm and a leg. Now, internet companies promote DSL, Cable, and FiOS (what I now have at home) to customers over regular dial-up. Second, the ability to access high speed internet has increased. Whereas broadband services were once available to individuals that were geographically located next to metropolitan/urban towns, internet companies now have the resources to provide high speed internet to individuals in suburbs and "rural" areas.

  5. After our discussion on Thursday about survey questions, I was wondering if perhaps using more open ended, participant driven questions and answers couldn't tease out more interesting information and how people are using technology, including cell phones. I was also wondering if the table "What do you think the internet is like?" had terms given to those participating in the survey and they had to choose or if they were generated by the participants.