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Communal computing and shared spaces of usage: a study of Internet cafes in developing contexts



This paper shares the findings of a contextual enquiry into Internet cafés and their users in Johannesburg, South Africa. High densities of Internet cafés in less affluent areas of Johannesburg have been identified, which speaks to a need for computer and Internet access which is otherwise inaccessible or insufficient at places of home, work or study. Internet café users were found to have distinct patterns of use which are different to current mainstream and previously explored home or work users that feature in more affluent areas. The 'mainstream' functions in what we have begun calling a 'developed world paradigm of use and aspiration', in stark contrast to Internet café users who function in what we are calling a 'developing world paradigm of survivalism'. The findings and insights of this paper have implications for how we may understand the usage and value of the Internet and World Wide Web (the Web) in South Africa. Visitation to Internet cafés occurs with high frequency across a broad geographic space that follows areas of residence, places of work and transport routes between the two. The lack of a personal, private and persistent desktop, along with data storage, sharing of computers and the use of portable data storage devices, all have implications for how we should design and conceptualise experiences of web sites and Internet based services for the growing number of Internet café and shared computer users.
... The study reports a high rate of returning customers and almost half of respondents accessed the Internet on behalf of others. (Hobbs & Bristow, 2007) A study in Uganda finds that Internet café users represent a cyber-elite: typically urban, male, young and educated (Mwesige 2004). "Acquiring technology is still a dream for the majority of Africans who do not live in the capital cities and are not part of the elite" (Jensen 2000: 218). ...
The relationship between technology and development is addressed in many development discourses. Framed as an impetus to modernisation, progress and economic development, it has generally been seen from a determinist perspective that overstates the progressive qualities of technological innovation. Technologically determinist notions tend towards a top-down approach that favours the ‘if you build it, they will come’ notion of technology-led policy. The ‘smart city’ discourse has not really been considered in the development studies literature, but provides interesting insights into the relationship between cities, technology and social development. Often these initiatives are associated with other objectives, such as improved and more democratic governance as represented by e-governance initiatives. This chapter considers the trajectory of smart city debates and considers whether its social development promises are merely that, marketing language for city ‘potentials’, or does provide a meaningful frame for empowerment and progress.
... Although there is no reliable count of Internet cafés either globally or in specific nations, Internet cafés are thought to hold significant development potential, particularly in urban settings, where they might provide inexpensive Internet access to people without computers and broadband access (Haseloff, 2005;Hobbs and Bristow, 2007). Limited research, mostly ethnographic, suggests that the overwhelming majority of Internet café patrons are young men who buy computer time for gaming, online chats, viewing pornography, and seeking information about jobs and educational opportunities (Chawla and Behl, 2006;Rangaswamy, 2007). ...
This paper investigates the impact of information and communication technologies, especially landline and mobile phones, computers, and Internet cafés in facilitating economic growth in the developing world. Data on access to ICTs, as well as business-relevant behaviors and attitudes, was collected by a multi-stage probability sample of women microentrepreneurs in Mumbai, India. Main findings include evidence that in urban microenterprises owned by women, business growth is a function of ICT access and is related to motivation to use ICTs for business purposes; and that the more positive a woman microentrepreneur feels about her status and power because of her business, the more she will be motivated to use ICTs in support of her business. Implications for the study of digital divides and strategies for studies of communication and technology more generally are considered.
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