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Information and Communication Technologies in Everyday Life

Authors:
1
Information and Communication Technologies
in Everyday Life: A Concise Introduction and
Research Guide
Leslie Haddon, (2004)
Berg, Oxford.
2
Table of contents
Acknowledgements
1. Introduction
2. Uneven patterns of adoption and use of ICTs
3. Children, youth and ICTs
4. Managing relationships through and around ICTs
5. Social networks and ICTs
6. Time and ICTs
7. Movement, public spaces and ICTs
8. Changing life circumstances and ICTs
9. The careers of ICTs
10. Conclusions
Bibliography
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Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Roger Silverstone at the London School of Economics for
involving me in much of the original research that went into this book and for making
valuable suggestions about my original proposal. Work for Ben Anderson at British
Telecom and later Chimera, part of the University of Essex, helped to shape the
format of the book and provided an opportunity to review much of the literature. It
was his suggestion to develop a book from this project. Thanks, too, go to Ralph
Schroeder who has been extremely encouraging throughout. He also provided
guidance and feedback on the original proposal. Richard Ling made a number of
useful comments on the early draft. I appreciate the efforts of Annevi Kant as she not
only checked through the work but also helped me in my goal of making this text
accessible to a wide range of readers. Finally, thanks to my wife, Sue, for her
patience and support.
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Chapter one: Introduction
The aim of this book is to introduce research on ICTs and everyday life
primarily to students entering the field and to those developing these technologies and
services. The book provides a guide to a number of the main existing research areas
and poses some possible questions for future research.
Perhaps it is best to start with a clarification of the words used in the title. The
term ‘information and communication technology’ dates from the mid-80s and in
particular from the British PICT initiative, a programme for looking at ICTs (Dutton,
1996). One glossary from the programme leader’s summary of that work defined
ICTs as ‘all kinds of electronic systems used for broadcasting, telecommunications
and computer-mediated communications’ (Dutton, 1999, p.7), while elsewhere he
gives the examples of ‘personal computers, video games, interactive TV, cell phones,
the Internet (and) electronic payments systems’ (Dutton, 1999, p.3). This combination
of general definition and examples conveys a sense of what ICTs can include, without
having to draw absolutely precise boundaries. This might be just as well given the on-
going development of technologies and services.
Turning to the second key term, scholarly work looking at ‘everyday life’ in
general has a longer intellectual heritage that can be traced back to Lukács and later
Lefebvre and de Certeau in Europe and the Chicago school, Goffman and Garfinkel in
the US (Bennett and Watson, 2002). However, the study of ‘ICTs in everyday life’ is
more recent. Hence, the book focuses mainly on the research undertaken since the
1990s. In practice, ‘everyday life’ has tended not mean the whole of life. Instead, the
studies have tended to deal with those parts of life outside the formal worlds of work
and education.
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The roots of empirical work in this field can be traced back to 1980s research on
the social uses of television, on the (then new) home computer market and on the
domestic phone. However, it was the 1990s that saw a substantial growth in
commercial and academic research in the field of ICTs, research that was spurred on
by a combination of factors. These included the plethora of new services and
equipment that appeared, the most visible of which related to the Internet and mobile
telephony. Many ICT companies developed a greater awareness of the importance of
private users as a market. In particular, many telecom companies realised that they
needed to know their markets better, especially following liberalisation, privatisation
and the move to a more competitive commercial environment in European
telecommunications. This meant that in addition to state sponsored studies social
scientists could find another source of funding to conduct research.
A certain amount of the, now considerable, output from this research has been
published in book form and in the journals that have emerged to cater for this new
field. This is more so for British and American studies and for those researchers
willing to write in, or have their work translated into, English. However, other
contributions remain dispersed across a diverse range of journals, conference
proceedings and papers given in workshops. Some has been published in various
European languages - especially French, German and Italian studies - but has not yet
appeared in English. Some research has not yet even reached the public domain. One
aim of this book is to make more of this material accessible in one text and in English.
The increasing academic interest in the private use of ICTs is shown in the
growing community of students and researchers coming from higher education
courses in media studies and in communication studies and from courses such as
innovation studies or those dealing with technology and society. Meanwhile, students
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of design and engineering, who will later be developing ICTs, often have modules
addressing the social dimensions of these technologies.
As noted above, ICT companies, more so larger companies in practice (Haddon
and Paul, 2001; Haddon, 2002), have acknowledged the need to know more about
ICTs and the realities of everyday life. Hence the rise in the number of social
scientists within these companies and the range of industry-financed reviews and
studies conducted by universities, institutes or consultants.
The interest of policy makers has been reflected in the research they have
supported, such as the various European telematics projects. Here we see concerns
about the different forms of digital divide as well as hopes about the social inclusion
that ICTs might facilitate. Nor are social inclusion and exclusion the only policy
interests. Another example would be in policy concerns about children’s experiences
on the Internet alongside a desire to promote their digital skills and literacy. NGOs
(Non-Governmental Organisations) have also started to take an interest in this field
for similar reasons.
In addition to the greater amount of research taking place, there has been an
increase in its visibility and dissemination. There is more coverage of user research
and indeed more journals devoted to the social aspects of ICTs1. Apart from this
dissemination by publication, a number of networks of researchers emerged in the
1990s that also, sometimes informally, created a greater awareness of what research
was taking place across countries within companies and academia. Finally, the 90s
saw the emergence of relevant conferences and other meetings on ICTs that have
proliferated further in the 21st Century. It is in the light of all these developments that
it seemed timely to write this book.
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The theoretical framework of domestication
Alongside, and sometimes in conjunction with, the growth in empirical research we
have seen the evolution and refinement of theoretical frameworks, tools and
approaches. The central one providing the organising principles for this book is that of
‘domestication’. While the studies described in later chapters actually come from far
wider traditions of research, it is this framework that constitutes the starting point for
most of the analysis. Therefore it seems appropriate to provide some brief exposition
of its history and key elements.
The concept, at least as applied to ICTs, emerged at the start of the 1990s from
an empirical and theoretical project organised by Roger Silverstone at Brunel
University. It was partly influenced by the emerging literature on consumption in
general (Silverstone et al, 1992; Silverstone 1994; Silverstone and Haddon, 1996b). I
became involved in the second stage of that project, which had by then moved to
Sussex University. Here studies of teleworkers, lone parents and the young elderly
enabled further exploration of how this approach might be applied. The studies also
led to incremental development around its key themes (Haddon and Silverstone, 1993,
1995a, 1996).
The domestication framework was used by a wider European community of
researchers partly because the academic networks in this field that were forming in
the 1990s (e.g. EMTEL, COST248, COST269). Norwegian researchers in Trondheim
in particular played an important role2. In the UK, the framework was employed by
the Sussex researchers in later studies for companies. It also formed a basis for some
policy-related documents (Haddon and Silverstone, 1995b) and discussions of issues
such as ICTs and social exclusion (Silverstone, 1995; Haddon, 2000). The term now
has an even wider currency and appears regularly in international papers on ICTs.
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While many of the themes from the domestication framework will become
clearer in the later section outlining the structure of the book, we can summarize
some of its key features at this point. Most early statements on domestication, as
well as most of the early British research, focused on social processes at work
when new ICTs entered the home. The term itself evokes a sense of ‘taming the
wild’. These ICTs have meanings for people, people who individually and
collectively also have a sense of identity. Hence domestication analysis considers
what various ICTs symbolise, whether they are seen as a threat or are seen as
somehow offering the possibility of enhancing social life. There is an emphasis on
the social relationships surrounding ICTs. For example, it looks at the interactions
between household members: their negotiation of the rules about ICT use, as well
as tensions or even conflicts over that use. Once ICTs have crossed the threshold,
part of the further process of their domestication involves physically locating
these technologies in the home, finding a time for their use in people’s routines
and, in various senses, displaying their place in our lives to others.
If this was the initial starting point of the domestication framework, later
British work in this tradition went on to examine the later careers of ICTs, how
our relationship to them changed long after their initial acquisition. This research
raised questions about extending the framework beyond the home, as will be
reflected in later chapters. All in all, the approach provides a very useful way of
exploring a social complexity beyond any simple ‘benefits’ and ‘uses’ of
technology. Thus, while this book is not primarily intended to assess
domestication, in general the chapters organised from the particular interests of
the author in this approach. Domestication provides an initial viewpoint from
which to survey the field.
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Choices within the book
There are always limits to what can be covered in any one book. Some derive
from the nature of the perspective itself. Because of its focus on social relationships,
domestication in general does not consider the type of individual mental processes
that might be associated with, for example, a ‘uses and gratifications’ framework. But
then there are the particular interests and choices of the author. For example, although
I have been involved in studies of the social shaping of technology and attempts to
link that interest with domestication, this issue receives only a limited amount of
attention in the chapter on careers3. And while domestication writings have addressed
questions of ICTs and the shaping of identity, including families’ collective identities,
this theme is only covered briefly: for example, in chapter four when reflecting upon
some of the claims made about gender.
However, at various points the book explores how the domestication approach
can make contributions to different debates and it makes connections with other
literatures as and when appropriate. For example, various chapters draw upon insights
offered by studies of the life course, generational analysis, the social construction of
experiences such as childhood and parenthood, analyses of public/private boundaries
and the literature on the experience of time.
As regards the choice of ICTs that I cover in this book, the mobile phone and
Internet receive the most attention. This reflects both general trends in recent research
and the fact that these are areas with which I am more familiar. In terms of coverage,
research on the fixed line phone and on the computer come next. It was my intention
not to use the short space available to spend too much time discussing TV research,
since this is an area that has already been well covered in media studies. However, I
admit that a range of audio technologies, such as radio and MP3, as well as visual
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ones, such as digital cameras and camcorders, receive little or no attention. Yet, some
of the more general social processes described in the book would in principle also
apply to them. In this sense, they are not meant to be excluded from the general
analytical framework.
A final set of choices relates to the national location of the studies covered. The
majority of the research cited is European, partly reflecting the projects and academic
networks in which I have participated. While the research agendas, cultural
circumstances and history of ICT markets in these different countries may vary, my
experience suggests that they also share much in common. Or at least they share
enough for the purposes of exploring some of the themes of this book. However, I
also look at North American research, especially when there are important debates
that have received more attention there. And I cite studies from other parts of the
world if I feel that they are relevant to the discussions of general social processes and
issues. Specific information to contextualise those national studies is provided as
appropriate.
Structure of the book
There is more than one way in which the material reported in this book could have
been structured and ordered. A number of researchers have specifically addressed
issues around the digital divide and social exclusion. And there is an increasingly
substantial sub-literature on children, youth and ICTs. Both subjects therefore merited
their own chapters rather than having the material dispersed across the book.
However, they can also be treated as worked examples, a way to introduce themes and
issues of more general interest, some of which can be followed up in later chapters.
This leads into a chapter that follows directly from the interests of
domestication research:how we manage relationships around ICTs, especially but not
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only in the home. The domestication interest is then extended to consider social
networks and ICTs, which is becoming an identifiable literature in its own right. The
same is true of time and ICTs, while mobility and ICTs seems to be an emerging
research area. All three topics have their own chapter.
There is enough material dealing with the dynamics of ICTs to justify two
chapters. The first looks at how people’s changing life circumstances affects their
relationships to ICTs. The second deals with the careers of ICTs themselves and our
relationship to them over time. One difficult decision was whether or not to have a
chapter on gender and ICTs, which arguably could constitute another cluster of
research in its own right. Ultimately, the chapter chosen was broader than gender,
how we manage our relationships with others through ICTs. Inevitably, though, this is
where one would expect to find some specific discussions about gender issues.
Because the same research could sometimes be relevant to more than one
chapter there is some cross-referencing to and reminders about studies described
elsewhere in the book. The rest of this introduction outlines the chapter themes in a
little more detail, relates them to the domestication framework and poses the
questions that are to be addressed in the chapters. Each chapter then commences with
a brief statement of those questions and the interests emerging from the domestication
framework. Usually they do not consider domestication further, except in the chapters
on social networks and mobility where part of the aim is to extend the framework.
Chapter 2
Questions concerning digital divides, haves and have-nots and social exclusion
have been raised in policy and academic circles on various continents. While many
relate to the Internet, they have also touched upon other ICTs4. Admittedly, concerns
about the uneven distribution of ICT access and skills, uneven patterns of use and
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uneven levels of interest were not the key motivation for British empirical research on
domestication. Nevertheless, this framework can provide some insights into the
processes of adoption and the integration of ICTs into everyday life – or when and
why this does not happen – that are clearly relevant for these debates. Starting with
this issue of unevenness allows us to explore what counts as ‘adoption’, ‘access’ and
‘use’. These are all measures that are crucial in much ICT research. Hence, we can
reflect more broadly on a range of methodological issues as well as the problems
involved in evaluating social consequences.
Chapter two starts by questioning whether we should think in terms of binary
oppositions such as haves and have-nots when studying the uneven patterns of take-up
and use of ICTs. It examines some of the problems associated with a variety of
measures relating to this unevenness, before moving on to the specific evidence about
an Internet digital divide. There has been some discussion of the consequences of
unevenness, more often through statements of principle and hypothetical examples.
Drawing both upon British empirical domestication studies and other research, the
chapter reflects on what the presence and absence of ICTs mean to people in everyday
life. In fact, if we consider the reactions of non-adopters, and especially former
adopters, this can lead us to a more critical approach than often exists in policy and
commercial discourses. Many of these simply stress the benefits of on-line life and
focus on (removing) barriers to adoption and use. Although much of the
domestication analysis focused on the acquisition of ICTs and how they fitted into
daily life, it always insisted that such adoption was not inevitable.
Chapter 3
The domestication framework looked mainly at children in terms of their role as
household members and how parent-child relationships shaped negotiations around
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the place and experience of ICTs in the home. The ensuing empirical research
considered in more detail parents’ concerns about their children, attempts to control
children’s use of ICTs and children’s resistance to those efforts. Thus, the material
reviewed here provides an introduction to the broader theme of domestic politics. The
second part of the chapter deals specifically with older children, with youth. Although
it acknowledged the rest of social life, in practice the British empirical work looked
mainly at processes within the home5. The literature on youth and ICTs allows us to
start broadening the focus of domestication beyond the home and family, to consider
the influence of peer networks (see also Haddon, 2003b)
Chapter three begins by providing a wider context to parent-child relationships.
It examines the extent to which childhood and parenthood are socially and historically
constructed. This is important because it shows how the experiences associated with
these roles are not simply natural and universal. In fact, we will see how ICTs can
become involved in the on-going construction of what it is to be a child or a (good)
parent. Next we consider how, in some countries at least, parent-child relationships
are influenced by the arrival of new ICTs as well as by changes in the spaces where
they are used. That leads on to issues of parental regulation of ICTs and children’s
reaction to that regulation. Moving over to the sections on youth, we see that young
people are be no means identical in their use of ICTs. Yet, in various ways we can see
how their orientation to peers at this stage in life shapes their take-up and use of ICTs
as well as a range of related practices. We can also start to explore the
communications choices we make from the repertoire open to us through considering
the example of young people’s prolific use of textual messages.
Chapter 4
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Many marketing studies, as well as some academic research, emphasise the way
in which individuals use ICTs, their perceptions, their attitudes, their practices, their
styles and so on. One central theme of the domestication approach (as well as of a
number of other forms of analysis) is that those individuals act in the context of other
people, be they other household members, social network members, work colleagues
or simply co-present others when outside the home. Therefore, some themes cut
across many chapters. These include how other people influence the individual’s
experience of ICTs, how those others are affected by the individual’s use of ICTs and
how people as collectivities negotiate the experience of ICTs. These all raises issues
of power and interpersonal politics.
Chapter four examines how, in a variety of ways, we manage relationships
through and around ICTs. We have already seen some of these processes in the
chapter dealing with parent-child relationships. Now we start to explore others. The
first section looks at efforts to control the use of the fixed-line phone. We then turn to
examples of how interactions within the home relate to issues around gender and
ICTs. This is followed by research on gender and managing relationships with the
outside world, including relationships with the extended family. Lastly, the chapter
considers some particular debates about the relationship between Internet use and
sociability within the home, whic will set the scene for a related discussion on
sociability amongst social networks, a theme of the next chapter.
Chapter 5
The study of social networks has generated a literature in its own right.
Networks have been of interest to those studying ICTs for a number of different
reasons. Companies have been interested in the role that such networks play in the
diffusion of new technologies and services. This diffusion can work through such
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mechanisms as word-of-mouth or through seeing the use made of ICTs by others
within their social networks. Another tradition, of relevance to policy, has asked how
social networks can provide people with social support, a theme that has found later
formulations in terms of the amount of social capital we have and its effects on our
quality of life. Do ICTs in general, and the Internet in particular, have a bearing upon
this? One limitation should be noted here. The chapter will not address research on
the Internet, community and civic engagement. While in some senses this could be
seen as a continuation of work on social networks, this is one step too far removed
from the primary interest in domestication.
Chapter five starts by examining how people first gain familiarity within, and
even acquire ICTs through, their social networks. Subsequently those networks can go
on to influence usage. While the domestication framework had originally concerned
itself mainly with processes within the home, this chapter then makes the case for
saying we might usefully stretch the concept to consider domestication processes
amongst collectivities such as social networks. The second part of the chapter looks
more specifically at discussions of social networks in relation to the Internet and the
relationship between on-line and off-line interactions. A number of, sometimes
interrelated, debates concern the potential implications of the Internet for sociability
amongst social networks. They ask whether the Internet influences who we interact
with (e.g. does it change the balance of local and distant contacts). And they compare
the ‘quality’ of on-line communication to other forms interaction, addressing its
ability to sustain social networks.
Chapter 6
Temporal considerations have always been an important part of domestication
research, which has consistently asked about the way people manage time and how
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ICTs are fitted into their daily time schedules. Perhaps a less developed theme has
been the difference that the arrival of ICTs might itself make to the way we organise
time. More generally, the changing temporal patterns of our lives and the experience
of time have been objects of study in their own right.
Chapter six starts by examining why the time spent using ICTs is an issue and
for whom. Next it considers some of the domestication framework’s interest in the
time constraints that can have a bearing upon ICTs adoption and use. Here we need to
bear in mind not just overall disposable time but also the structure of people’s time
schedules. The chapter then moves on to subjective perceptions of time and how
people’s decisions about ICT use may be based upon those perceptions. Lastly, it
deals with issues around ICTs’ influence upon the way we plan time.
Chapter 7
While questions about domestic space featured in early British domestication
research, people’s movement through and presence in public spaces was not covered
precisely because of the attention that was paid to the home. Yet travel behaviour is
clearly a part of daily life. Indeed, the experience of mobility is now attracting some
attention as a topic in its own right. Research, in particular, on the use of the mobile
phone when travelling around and in public spaces reminds us that we need to address
mobility issues if we are to appreciate more fully our experience of portable ICTs.
Chapter seven considers how we might assess the influence of changing
mobility patterns upon ICT use, especially by considering the mobility of different
groups in society and by disaggregating different types of travel. Still in somewhat
speculative mode because of limited empirical data available, the chapter then
considers the opposite relationship. It looks at how we might evaluate the influence of
ICTs on mobility. Further sections deal with the consequences of ICTs for the
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organization of travel and for the subjective experience of travelling. The final part
addresses the other main theme of the chapter, that of expectations and behaviour
relating to ICTs in public spaces.
Chapter 8
Although the earliest statements about domestication emphasized the processes
involved in the entry of ICTs into the home, follow up research considered various
transitions over the longer term (Haddon and Silverstone, 1993, 1995a, 1996). This is
important because some of the researchers who have referred to the domestication
approach see it as a process that can be finished. This question then becomes: has an
ICT reached the stage where it is finally integrated into everyday life? End of story.
The original proponents never saw such closure and so the empirical work noted
above is used to chart ways in which the experience of the same ICTs can alter over
time. Some of this is covered in chapter nine on the careers of ICTs, but chapter eight
allows us to introduce the influence of changing life circumstances.
Chapter eight illustrates the different dynamics experienced by individuals and
households through a series of detailed examples. Studies of the move to
unemployment and to teleworking provide examples of changes related to work. The
example of the transition to single parenthood then introduces the effects of shifts in
household composition. Standing back from such specific periods in life, we move on
to reflect upon the more general evolution of gendered use of the telephone across
different life stages, before returning to focus in on the specific changes associated
with the birth of the first child and the transition to retirement. Finally, the chapter
considers the issue of how much people’s orientation to and decisions about ICTs
reflects the conditions of their current life stage versus how much it reflects their
biographical experiences. Through looking at the case of the young elderly, we
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explore the effect of belonging to a certain generation or cohort of people with shared
earlier life experiences. However, this is by no means a form of analysis that just
applies to the elderly. Therefore, the chapter ends by reflecting upon the research
questions this approach raises when thinking about generations of youth.
Chapter 9
The last topic involves a different set of dynamics. The entry of ICTs into the
home and finding a place there were the key concerns of the very first writings on
domestication. However, there are other traditions, especially those dealing with the
history of ICTs, which can be drawn upon to expand our understanding of these
processes. For example, the question of the relationship between newer ICTs and
older ones, especially in discussions of whether they substitute for or complement
each other, is a theme one finds within a number of strands of telecom and Internet
research in particular. Meanwhile, changes affecting the longer term careers of ICTs
have been explored in empirical research on domestication as well as in some North
American research on the Internet.
Chapter 9 starts by looking at the factors shaping how people first learn about
and perceive ICTs. This includes the influence of wider social discourses about those
ICTs. More specifically, it includes the role of the media in shaping our awareness of
technologies. As regards the question of how we learn to use ICTs, the chapter
considers the sources of support in that process and the nature of experience with
these technologies and services. Research on people’s early experience of the Internet
demonstrates how patterns of use change during that period. One long-standing
interest of domestication research has been how new ICTs fit into the ensemble of
artefacts that are already present in the home. Hence the chapter discusses how ICTs
find a space in domestic environments. But ‘fitting’ into the home, or into our lives,
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also includes issues of how the use of newer ICTs is influenced by practices already
established around older ones. This is then followed by the reverse question: how do
new ICTs influence the consumption of existing ones? To answer this, the chapter
explores the extent to which newer ICTs compete with, complement or introduce
changes into the way we deal with older ICTs. The last section deals with the longer
term careers of ICTs, examining some of the influences not already covered by
households’ and individuals’ developing life circumstances. These include shifts in
the wider public representations of technologies, changes in the nature of the
technologies and services themselves, various ways in which adoption and use by
others has a bearing upon people’s consumption and the effects of adopting multiple
versions of the same ICT.
Chapter 10
The conclusion returns to reflect upon the domestication framework, its relations
with other traditions of research, how it has and could be applied and how it can be
extended. We then consider the general lessons company researchers and students
might draw from this book. Finally, as a worked example for students to reflect upon,
we look at how the material in this book might be mobilized to evaluate the social
consequences of ICTs.
Endnotes
1. If we take just the example of telecommunications research in Europe, in the 1990s
the French journal Reseaux started to report more empirical studies of telecoms in
everyday life. The journal New Media and Society appeared in 1999 and Convergence
a little earlier.
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2. For Norwegian examples, see Sørensen (1994), Berg (1996) and the collection by
Lie and Sørensen (1996). For Dutch examples, see Bergman and van Zoonen (1999)
Frissen (2000), Rommes (2002). For Belgian examples, see Punie (1997) and
Hartmann (2003). Ward (2003) provides an Irish example, and Frohlich and Kraut
(2003) an American one. Lally (2002) in Australia and Bakardjieva and Smith (2001)
in Canada have also drawn upon this approach.
3. Sørensen (1994) and Silverstone and Haddon (1996b) provide examples of papers
trying to link the issues of design and domestication. For a more recent example of
this approach, see Rommes (2002).
4. Discussed in Silverstone and Haddon (1995); also reported in Mansell and
Steinmuller (2000).
5. Hartmann (2003) has noted that in this respect, Norwegian domestication studies
have been more willing to look outside the home.
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Chapter two: Uneven patterns of adoption and use of ICTs
Concern over uneven patterns of adoption and use of ICTs has been reflected for
some years in discussions of haves and have-nots. More recently, and specifically in
the case of the Internet, we see this in discussions of the digital divide. In a European
context the equivalent discussion has been in terms of ‘social exclusion’, although the
older concepts of ‘disadvantage’ or ‘deprivation’ are also relevant1. Each of these
terms operates within slightly different analytical frameworks. The primary interest in
this field derives from the social agenda of the state, NGOs and those academics
informing policy. There is a concern about the potential new forms of inequality that
may arise through that differential take up and use of ICTs. To take some European
examples, we can see the EU TIDE programme addressing the potential problem that
the very design of ICTs might itself exclude some elderly and disabled people from
using them (Van Dusseldorp et al, 1998). Meanwhile, evaluations of telematics
programmes ask if attempts to encourage ICT solutions might in fact lead to
disadvantage for those who do not make use of these option (Silverstone and Haddon,
1995).
Although the prime driver of interest is policy, this unevenness is, or should
be, also of relevance for ICT suppliers. For one thing, the launch of national and
international (e.g. EU) telematics programmes in which companies are involved
involves the state financing or otherwise supporting or promoting access to these new
technologies. In addition, ICT developers have their own reasons for taking an interest
in and understanding the uneven patterns of the market. These patterns can help them
to make decisions as to whether some parts of the potential market are in practice
unreachable because of people’s resistance. By identifying who has and who has not
acquired ICTs, along with current trends, they can try to determine where the market
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might develop or be developed next. On this basis, they can then change the
technological offerings or marketing packages available in order to entice non-
adopters to become adopters or to expand the usage of existing adopters.
This chapter will focus on uneven patterns of take-up within countries2. It first
asks questions about ICTs in general. How appropriate is it to conceive of unevenness
as a binary division, as implied by discussions of ‘divide’ and ‘haves vs. have-nots’?
What are the ways in which that unevenness has been measured? What types of
evidence have been cited? And what are the problems with these various measures?
Turning to the specific example of the Internet, what do different measures of
uneven access to the Internet show and what is the evidence of change over time?
What lessons can be learnt from general studies of social exclusion? What insights
emerge from looking at the experience of older technologies, including those from
domestication studies? Lastly, what can we learn from studies of non-users and
former users of ICTs?
In terms of addressing a policy concern, this chapter sets the scene for
understanding uneven adoption and use as one of the major issues relating to ICTs.
Subsequent chapters enable us to appreciate further the factors that shape this
unevenness. At the same time, the analysis provides a worked example. It aims to
introduce some of the realities behind terms such as adoption and use, as well as show
the complexities involved in measuring and evaluating the role and consequences of
ICTs in everyday life
Measures of unevenness
Many researchers of both the Internet in particular and other ICTs in general would
agree that it is questionable as to whether a binary division is adequate to capture the
23
complexity that exists. For example, commenting on the results of a five-country
European survey that looked at the ICTs possessed by European households (hereafter
referred to as the Telsoc study3), one French analyst rejected such a simple
dichotomy:
Rather than talk about “haves” and “have-nots”, as most official reports do, it
would probably be better to talk about the distinction between individuals and
households who are “with it” and will have all the equipment and services,
those who will only have part of them, and those again who will only have basic
services (television and telephone). We must add those who have nothing at all
to these three groups - even if they are few and far between (Claisse, 1997a,
p.141).
He added in a later report:
...the processes of social differentiation are much more complex and cannot
simply be explained away by a model of dualisation. Between households with
only telephone and television and the ‘super-equipped” households there is a
high degree of diversity and diversification of equipment combinations. Claisse,
1997b, p.34).
Next, we need to differentiate between access and possession since one can have
access to (and use) a technology or service without actually owning it. For example,
there is the practice of borrowing mobile phones. To provide some idea of the size of
this phenomenon, in a European survey (referred to from now on as P-903), an
24
average of 9%4 claimed to have access to a mobile phone even though they personally
did not own one, and this rose to 19% in the Czech Republic where the mobile market
was less developed (Mante-Meijer el at, 2001).
Other qualitative studies have shown how social networks can also provide
access to the Internet, for instance, by allowing friends to try out the Internet in their
home (Haddon, 1999a). Internet cafes and libraries as well as institutions such as
work and education provide further examples of how one can have access without
ownership. The European P-903 survey found that more than 7% of the European
sample claimed to have access to the Internet outside the home even though they did
not have a home subscription. This rose to 31% in the case of the Czech Republic,
where once again the Internet was less widespread. Clearly, these alternative sources
of access can be important, more so in some countries than others, and lead to a
slightly different picture of unevenness than that provided by measures of personal or
household possessions and subscriptions.
Then there is the question of access within the home. People ‘borrow’ access5 to
other household member’s ICTs such as the mobile phone. Or else that can use what
is perceived to be a collectively owned device, such as the ‘family computer’. In
addition there is access by proxy. For instance, while not going on-line themselves,
sometimes people get other household members to send and receive e-mails for them
or look something up on the Net (Horrigan et al, 2003). Because of this some surveys
have tried to ascertain whether a particular device is owned by someone within the
household or whether it is accessible to other members.
However, one qualification here is that just because something is present in the
home this does not mean that accessibility is straightforward. Qualitative studies have
shown that access may involve a certain amount of negotiation. Sometimes there are
25
constraints on - including rules about – use. We will see this explored in more detail
in chapter three when looking at parent-child relations and also in chapter four on
managing relationships. The point to make at this stage, though, is that when looking
at any figures about the presence of ICTs in households, we have to bear in mind that
social interaction in the home shapes how that ‘access’ is experienced in practice6.
Questions of access lead us on to the more general point that existing measures
of adoption do not automatically imply usage. People may acquire but not use a
technology. Conversely, some people may not be counted as ‘adopters’, even though
they use particular ICTs. This is because they do not ‘possess’ them, but instead they
have access to the technologies or services through other means. The European P-903
study attempted to accommodate this range of possibilities by distinguishing between
the following groups:
1. Those who have access to the technologies and services and are current users
(adopting users).
2. Those who do not ‘own’ the technologies or subscribe to services personally
but who nevertheless have access to them and use them (non-adopting users)7.
3. Those who ‘own’ the technologies or subscribe to services but do not use them
(adopting non-users).
4. Those who neither have access to the technologies nor do they use them (non-
adopting non-users).
5. Those who used to have access to the technologies and services and used to
use them but no longer do so (former users or dropouts)8.
(Mante-Meijer et al, 2001)
26
Several points can be made here. The above typology refers only to adoption
whereas in the light of the previous discussion we might also want to consider a
typology including access rather than adoption.
Second, the last category above shows that we may want to look beyond the
snapshot of contemporary adoption and use to take into account previous adoption
and use. Former users who have given up ICTs are different in social profile from
those who have not adopted them yet and they may provide some clues about the
problems that are encountered in using these products (Katz and Rice, 2002a). This
group will be examined in more detail later in the chapter. But, to give some
preliminary idea of the size of this group, the European P-903 survey at the end of
2000 found that 2% of the sample were former users of the mobile phone and 5%
were former users of the Internet.
Third, is there a threshold below which we would be wary of claiming that
someone is a user? For example, some people carry mobile phones ‘for emergencies’
and then do not make or receive calls. In one sense they can be considered to be
‘using’ the device – carrying it around provides peace of mind. But in terms of
telephonic traffic, they are non-users. Or, if they have used the mobile for the
occasional ‘emergency’ or contingency, they may be considered to be almost non-
users. In principle the problem of how to handle rare use when trying to map the
experience of ICTs can apply to other technologies as well. British researchers cited a
UK survey showing that just over a quarter of ‘users’ had not used the Internet at all
in the week preceding the survey. A further fifth had accessed it only once or twice
(Wyatt et al, 2000). While not quite the same as the case of rare use, this it does mean
that we need to be careful not to read into adoption figures any over-optimistic
assumptions about the frequency of use, and about the importance of ICTs in people’s
27
lives. As we will see, this is also relevant to the discussion at the end of this chapter,
questioning people’s commitment to the Internet.
Fourth, we need to take into account the technical nature of access (Thomas and
Wyatt, 2000, reported in Rommes, 2002). For example, a Canadian qualitative study
reported how the age, power and speed of the equipment installed in people’s homes
varied, reflecting their diverse motivations for going on-line and differences in how
much money they were willing to spend (Bakardjieva, 2001). Meanwhile, a Dutch
study made a related point, noting variations in modem and connection speeds
(Rommes, 2002). These can all lead to users having different experiences of the Net,
including differences in what can actually be accessed9.
Lastly, in many surveys usage is measured, in one way or another, by the time
people spend using ICTs – as we shall see in the more detailed discussion of the
Internet below. However, if we really want to know more about the uneven
experience of ICTs we need to move beyond time (Jung et al, 200110). For example, a
variety of people could spend the same amount of time using an ICT but achieve
different things. And ‘heavier’ use does not necessarily ensure more sophisticated use.
In charting unevenness, some researchers are now asking how ICTs are actually used
(Chen et al, 2002). They have asked about degree to which people are able to ‘use
ICTs for personally or socially meaningful ends’ (Warschauer, 2003, cited in Chen et
al, 2002, 78). And they have raised questions about people’s ability to use the Internet
effectively (Jung et al, 2001, cited in Chen et al, 2002, 79). This entails considering
measures such as users’ different degrees of technological skills. Other researchers
have asked how we should evaluate the quality of the Internet experience
(Livingstone and Bober, 2003). And they have suggested that we should consider the
extent to which it is integrated into people’s lives (Katz and Rice, 2002b). Finally, we
28
would want to look into the consequences this might have for people’s lives, even if
there are a variety of criteria for evaluating those consequences. Compared to some of
the earliest debates on digital divides there is clearly scope for a richer evaluation of
unevenness. This is now starting to be realised.
Evidence about uneven access
Change over time
Although various North American studies of the Internet have shown that differences
in use by standard socio-demographics continue to exist11, at least some studies have
found that in the last few years certain gaps are closing. Examples would be the
narrowing of gender and age divides (Katz et al, 2001; Katz and Rice, 2002b; Chen et
al, 2002; Singh, 2001 on the Australian situation). The European P-903 study showed
a similar closing of the gap both in relation to mobile phones and the Internet as the
later groups of adopters included more older people and more women than the earlier
ones (Mante-Meijer el at, 2001).
This is important because it can make evaluating the significance of any
uneven patterns of take-up more complex. In fact, there is a somewhat common
adoption process across many ICTs whereby the early adopters of innovations will
often have one social profile but their domination of the market may be only
temporary. If it is only temporary, how much should it be a cause for concern?
Admittedly, there have been some criticisms of the extent to which we can simply
assume a ‘trickle down effect’, whereby innovations eventually reach wider audiences
(Wyatt et al, 2002). For example, some groups continue to have many non-adopters
even after the passage of time (e.g. the current generation of older elderly).
Illustrating the point a little further, where past precedents mean it is possible
to imagine some reduction in unevenness over time, this can have a bearing on how
29
unevenness is perceived as a problem, at least in public discourses. For instance, in
the 1980s there was a widespread concern, reflected in media but also in some
academic commentaries, over the gender gap in the early British home computer
market. There were worries over girls being ‘left behind’. Nowadays, when there is
much less of a gender gap in access, this is not raised as the issue it once was. This is
not meant to imply that there are now no questions to ask about gender experiences of
computing. The point is, this forces us to reflect on how we interpret evidence of
unevenness and on what becomes a public issue.
One final consideration is that amongst all the processes influencing any
digital divide (and there will be multiple influences) the very object of adoption, in
this case the Internet, is itself changing and evolving over time. Hence, if we do find
that the socio-demographic composition of earlier and later diffusion groups differ,
the later waves may not have delayed adoption because of some ‘techno-
conservatism’. They may simply be adopting later because the Internet has actually
become more interesting, worthwhile and/or easier to use or access compared to what
it was when the early waves adopted it. The earlier waves may well have consisted of
people who were willing to put up with more problems12.
Multiple measures: adding further complexity
We will now look list some of the measures used in evidence specifically concerning
the digital divide as it relates to the Internet. This will enable us to appreciate even
better some of the potential complexity that is involved.
According to one US study, on any particular day, of all those who have
access to the Internet, men, whites, higher income, higher educated and more
experienced users are more likely to be on-line (Howard et al, 2001). This
immediately underlines the fact that there are multiple measures of usage: ‘use at all’
30
(in answer to the question ‘do you ever use…?’), ‘regularly use’ and in the above
example, ‘use on a daily basis’13. In addition, various studies (reviewed in
Haythornthwaite, 2001b; Wellman and Haythornthwaite, 2002) point out that older
users, although fewer in number than younger users, use the Internet for longer when
they go on-line. In other words, we see yet another measure of usage: duration.
Within that same review a further measure of usage that was discussed was the spread
or breadth of usage – those who engage in more or less different kinds of on-line
activities. If we no longer have a single measure of use but multiple measures, the
binary digital divide might become an even more inappropriate descriptive
framework. That is, unless all the measures indicate a trend in the same direction.
Some American researchers have pointed to yet further forms of unevenness
in the market (Katz et al, 2001; Katz and Rice, 2002a, 2002b). First, they drew
attention to the existence of a digital divide in terms of differences in the very
awareness of the Internet (by age, gender and income). Second, they looked at the
social composition of dropouts. Younger, less affluent and less well-educated people
are more liable to become former users. This has important implications. To take
income, in later diffusion waves more lower income groups were adopting the
Internet, but at the same time more of those lower income groups were also dropping
out. The overall result was that this particular gap was not narrowing.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, we need to consider what the Internet is used for.
Consider the case of gender. Several studies have found differences in what males and
females use the Internet for (Haythornthwaite, 2001b; Wellman and Haythornthwaite,
2002). If the Internet is itself composed of multiple elements (e.g. web-sites for
viewing, transactional facilities, communication options) and if these have different
roles in the life of males and females, or at least if there is a different emphasis, then
31
in effect the Internet is a slightly different object for each sex. Moreover, if these
patterns of use are different, how much weight should be placed upon figures
measuring simple ‘access’ to the Net or total hours of use?
The consequences of uneven access and use
Why is unevenness of experience important? If we take the Internet as an example,
some commentaries on the digital divide refer more generally to the argument that
lack of access to the Internet might limit ‘participation in society’. Others are more
explicit and detailed, listing the ways in which non-users can be disadvantaged:
inequities of awareness and use will be come increasingly urgent as more
job-related services (postings of job opportunities, training), government
functions and public service information (health education, insurance and
financial support) become available via the Internet (Katz et al, 2001, pp.
416).
To start thinking about consequences of such unevenness, one first step is to review
the lessons that can be learnt from some of the more general discussions of social
exclusion. Second, we can consider the lessons from more detailed empirical studies
of older technologies.
Lessons from the social exclusion literature
In many respects, debates about social exclusion, as featured especially in EU
discourses, are based on older discussions of ‘relative poverty’. In particular they
relate to discussion of ‘relative deprivation’, first promoted back in the 1960s14. One
reason for referring to ‘relative’ poverty in those older debates is that poverty is a
32
moving target over time. To be without certain possibilities at one point in time would
not be considered such a major disadvantage in life. But once it becomes the norm to
have those options, being without them can be perceived as being deprived. In
principle, the same is true for social exclusion. And in principle, the same is true when
considering ICTs. To an extent this is reflected, in some of the commentaries made
about the Internet. The argument is that there may be certain, limited, disadvantages
now to not being on-line. But as more and more aspects of social life become
manageable through the Net, as more communication takes place by e-mail, as more
and more people routinely use the Internet in everyday life, there is the increasing
potential for non-users to become more disadvantaged in the future.
The other reason for referring to ‘relative’ when we discuss concepts like
‘deprivation’ is that disadvantage can itself be partial. We can be disadvantaged in
some respects while not being disadvantaged in others. This moves us away from
conceptualising deprivation (or poverty) in terms of a single underclass and fits better
with approaches within, for example, the literatures on gender, ethnicity, ageing and
disability. In relation to our concerns in this chapter, it means that ‘have-nots’, or
those on the wrong side of the digital divide, are not disadvantaged in every aspect of
their life simply because of their lack of access to particular ICTs. Even a
multifaceted one like the Internet. They may be disadvantaged in certain respects, but
not in others15.
Third, in the discussions of social exclusion and related concepts, access to
resources, and especially economic resources, remains important. But they are not the
only consideration. For example, two other important factors would be knowing what
can be achieved on-line (a form of awareness) and having the skills and knowledge to
33
achieve these goals (competence). These are not captured in measures of unevenness
that focus solely on access (or more narrowly, on ‘adoption’).
Finally, one key concept in those original analyses of poverty in the 1960s was
being able to ‘participate’ in society, joining in but also identifying with the social
world. In fact, the very words ‘social inclusion’ have the merit that they capture this
sense of avoiding social isolation. The implication is that we need to consider not just
what we possess but also what we can do, the extent to which we can fulfil various
social roles - which itself refers back to earlier discussions of social rights and of
citizenship. Approaching the role ICTs play in relation to social inclusion in this way
would enable us to explore in more detail how the specialness of many ICTs, and by
extension future ICTs, lies in facilitating connection with the wider society (Haddon,
2000b). This is especially so in the case of both the interpersonal and mass media of
communication, which both practically and symbolically facilitate participation in the
social and cultural world.
Lessons from older ICTs
We now move from general arguments to the more detailed and systematic study of
the place of one particular technology in our lives: telephony. The first example
comes from a German study of the unemployed (Häußermann and Petrowsy, 198916)
and the second from a British article reflecting on studies of single parents and the
young elderly (Haddon. 2000b17). All of these are reported in more detail in chapter
eight on changing life circumstances, but for the purposes of this chapter, those
findings can be summarized as follows:
There are some points that can be made very generally about the significance
of access to telephony. They apply not only to the particular groups studied, but also
to many other people. For example:
34
1. Those studies all showed how telephony has increasingly come to play a very
important role in facilitating the logistics of everyday life, allowing people to
be contactable quickly, to find out what was going on and to co-ordinate their
interactions with others. In this sense we see how an interpersonal medium of
communication helped to enable face-to-face contact and sociability.
2. The research also indicated how the telephone provided a significant channel
of communication for maintaining involvement in family and social networks.
In general the phone has become even more important to the extent that people
increasingly operate over wider geographical areas and make contacts beyond
the very local area. This in part derives from the degree to which greater
residential mobility has dispersed both friends and kin.
There are some observations about the significance of telephony that may not apply to
most people but which do apply to a number of people sharing related circumstances.
For example:
3. The phone could take on an extra importance as a social lifeline for single
parents looking after children in the evening and for those young elderly who
were less mobile. Both these groups sometimes felt that they were trapped in
home.
4. The telephone often played an important role by enabling psychological
support for people coping with unemployment and for those single parents
who had experienced the trauma of family breakdown.
Finally, there were instances where the phone had a particularly important role
because of the specific circumstances of some groups. For example:
5. The phone helped the unemployed in a variety of ways, formally and
informally, to increase work opportunities.
35
6. The telephone could be vital for helping single parents to manage any
contingencies that arose (e.g. the child falling ill) when they were the only
parent available to deal with them.
The first lesson from these examples is that in order to appreciate more fully
forms of dependence and what it would mean to be without a commonly available
technology, we really need to look beyond the broader arguments about outlined in
the previous section. We have to examine the detail of people’s lives and how ICTs
have come to fit into them. Moreover, it is important to take into account not just the
generalities, the experiences common to many people. The particularities of different
people’s experience mean that ICTs can take on an added salience in life precisely
because of those circumstances. Greater moments of dependency can result (with the
single parents often commenting that the phone had proved to be a ‘lifeline’) as can a
greater sense of loss or disadvantage if one has to do without a technology (as some
young elderly found when the phone was accidentally cut off for a while).
We can extend these arguments beyond general telephony. Some of the points
raised about telephony’s importance for job opportunities and social networking could
start to be applied to the mobile phone and the Internet. For example, the immediate
contactability enabled by the mobile might be increasingly important for finding
work. More generally as the mobile becomes ubiquitous in social life, new forms of
disadvantage may be emerging for those without mobile telephony. Meanwhile, as a
medium of interpersonal communication, research is already showing how e-mail is
starting to complement voice telephony in some social circles both for social
messaging and for making arrangements. In some cases perishable information about
what options are possible and what events are happening lends itself to distribution by
e-mail because of its one-to-many facility. Once again, we might ask for what
36
purposes and at what stage in its wider diffusion might a lack of access to on-line
messaging start to constitute a disadvantage? Can a lack of access mean that (new
forms of) information passed around within social networks are missed. Or would the
fall-back of (fixed line) voice telephony usually suffice?
However, we must also be a little cautious about overstressing the possible
drawbacks of this lack of access. People show some ambiguity even towards
technologies that they value. The best example is actually in relation to television in
the single parent and young elderly studies (developed in Haddon, 2000b).
Interviewees from both groups usually valued particular television programmes. More
generally, TV was cheap entertainment when income was constrained or when people
were tied to the home. It passed the time. It provided company. Most did not want to
be without TV. On the other hand, many were critical of TV. They did not want it to
dominate their lives. At many times, like the rest of the population, there were other
things they preferred to do rather than watch TV. While there were slightly less
criticisms of the phone, the costs of telephony could also create some concern or be an
issue. Generally then, and in relation to all ICTs, if we want to understand both their
adoption and their consequences for life we need to appreciate these negative aspects.
The importance of this critical perspective is sometimes lost in discussions of the
haves and have-notes18.
Studies on non-users, former users and intermittent users of ICTs
In the course of collecting data about adoption and usage, surveys routinely collect
figures on the non-adoption of ICTs, showing the socio-demographic profile of non-
adopters. It was American researchers who first observed that non-adoption had only
more rarely been studied in its own right (Katz and Aspden, 1998). Nor had former
users or dropouts received much attention. Yet, given that advocates of the Internet
37
emphasize the need to get on the bandwagon or else be left behind, any notable
dropout rate here immediately raises suspicions about this claim (Wyatt et al, 2002).
British qualitative studies in the 1990s indicated that sometimes people
exhibited active resistance to adoption of ICTs, revealing negative feelings about
certain technologies (the ‘resisters’ in Wyatt et al’s typology of non-users, 2002).
Certainly TV-related products and services could evoke this response. For example,
some people disliked the aesthetics of satellite dishes. Or else there were wary that
putting a dish on the wall might imply to the outside world that they watched
television all day. Large screens were sometimes avoided because that threatened to
allow TV to ‘dominate’ the room. And some resisted the entry of cable into the home
because it threatened to provide ‘yet more TV’ when there was already ‘too much’
(Silverstone and Haddon, 1996a).
For others, certain ICTs could be an irrelevance, never thought about because
there were far more other important things in life that were taking up their attention.
An example would be single parents coping with the pressures of marriage break-up,
finding new housing, finding new work etc. (Haddon and Silverstone, 1995a).
However, those qualitative studies found that the most common reason given
for non-adoption was actually that people said they simply had ‘no need’ for the
device or the service. In line with a point made specifically concerning the Internet
(Wyatt et al, 2002), some people do not want ICTs because they already have
sufficient alternative sources of information and forms of communication. Belgian
quantitative research also found ‘no need’ to be the most common explanation given
for non-adoption, even before the cost of a product or service. Moreover, this
researcher marshalled evidence to suggest that when people were saying they had no
need for some technology this was not, for example, a smokescreen for the fact that
38
they simply did not want to answer the question (Punie, 1997). ‘No need’ had become
a common justification across many groups in society, although after some discussion
of what it meant Punie argued that the response required further attention.
This theme re-occurred specifically in relation to the Internet. The P-903
European multi-country survey in 2000 showed little of the outright resistance to the
Internet that was sometimes found in relation to the mobile phone (a negative reaction
that had been discovered in the earlier 1996 five-country Telsoc quantitative study).
Non-users of the Internet were more likely to exhibit indifference towards it rather
than hostility19.
If we now turn from non-users to former users, the first article dealing
specifically with Internet dropouts was based on US surveys in 1995 and 1996 (Katz
and Aspden, 1998). The US researchers involved had been surprised to find that at
that moment in time former users of Internet were as numerous as users (both 8% of
their sample). The researchers acknowledged that they had previously neglected this
group because of their interest, shared with other researchers, in the rise of new ICTs
rather than in their rejection. Yet, they argued that this rejection could reveal
disincentives and barriers to use, as well as providing clues useful for designing and
implementing an improved Internet20.
The researchers then proceeded to compare the profiles of users and former
users. Some interesting results were that former users had only been users for a brief
time (i.e. they had tried the Internet out), that teens were more likely to be dropouts
and that there was very little difference in profile of teenage users and teenage
dropouts. The major reason for giving up the Internet was loss of institutional access,
as was the case in a comparison of surveys in later years. Other key factors were lack
of interest, the complexity of the computer, high costs and lack of time (Katz and
39
Rice, 2002b). The impression arises that, despite claims about the existence of a
young Internet generation, these teens, at this point in time in the US, had a very
casual relation with the Internet, not a committed one21. Further evidence of this
casual relationship, true of older groups too but especially of teenagers, was that
dropouts were more likely to have learnt to use the Internet informally, through
friends and family. The authors pointed out that at this stage in life this teenage group
also faced many competing attractions.
After reviewing some of the dropout data from the US and UK, some British
researchers conducted their own study of Northern Ireland university students who
were about to graduate (Kingsley and Anderson, 1998). Hence this study focused
specifically on the loss of institutional access to the Internet, asking students to
evaluate the Internet and whether they would want to continue to have access after
graduation through taking out a private subscription. The students were overwhelming
less enthusiastic than some in the Internet industry would have desired. Once again
they showed a high degree of indifference towards the on-line world. In fact, they did
not foresee technical barriers to use, they were not critical of Web content and they
did not convey particularly negative images when talking to other people about the
Internet. But losing access was not felt to be a sufficient deprivation in their lives to
make them actually want to pay to regain it22. The authors of this study observed that
the years of using the Internet while at university should perhaps be better thought of
as an extended free trial.
A later US study by Pew showed a flattening of Internet take-up. And the
dropouts were increasing: in 2003 they constituted 17% of all non-users. As in the
earliest study, about as many people were dropping out as were adopting (Horrigan et
al, 2003). In keeping with the previous research described above, just over half said
40
the main reason was a lack of need or desire, although admittedly a range of other
factors were also mentioned23. The survey also observed that a substantial number of
users24 were actually intermittent users who had gone off-line for extended periods.
Again, a variety of reasons were given for this including losing of access or
technological problems. But others cited social reasons in their lives (e.g. periods
when they did not have enough time to go no-line). Or else they concluded that the
Internet was simply not so useful to them at a certain time in their life. Such responses
question the degree to which the Internet is integrated into user’s lives. It also
introduces the idea that the careers of ICTs generally can change over time, a line of
analysis developed further in chapter nine.
In sum, while there does not seem to be much active resistance to the Internet,
some of the above evidence suggests that neither is it so attractive as those promoting
the on-line world would have us believe. Even those on the positive side of the digital
divide, i.e. users, appear to show at any one point in time differing degrees of
commitment to the on-line world. In this sense, there might be some justification in
critics challenging policy assumptions and the drive to provide access, referred to as
the ‘connection imperative’ (Wyatt et al, 2002). These critics speculated that the
ceiling on Internet growth might turn out to be lower than some forecasters had
expected.
41
Conclusions
Dealing first with the policy issues, binary oppositions such as haves and have-nots
and digital divides clearly do not do justice to the complexity of how the experience
of ICTs is uneven. This has been shown in empirical studies charting the ICTs that
people possess, but also in a typology bringing together multiple measures of uneven
patterns of adoption and use.
As a worked example, the chapter has made a start in showing how measures
of adoption, access and use can all be problematic. This will become even clearer in
later chapters of the book when we look in more detail at the social processes relating
to ICTs. One challenge for researchers entering this field is to ask themselves how
many and what type of measures should be utilized in order to capture a richer picture
of reality. Here, we have looked at the picture of the uneven experience of ICTs, but
in principle it could be a picture of some other phenomenon relating to ICTs. The
other side of the coin is that we have also seen how the existing methodological
approaches already provide scope for debate as various analysts prioritise different
measures. This reveals both the practical and theoretical decisions facing academic,
policy-motivated and company-based researchers. In what circumstances and for what
purposes should they retain multiple measures in order to develop a more nuanced
representation of reality? Or when should they focus on fewer measures, choosing to
prioritize some above others? They may want to do this in order to make new research
comparable with existing studies so as to measure change. Or simplifying the picture
may be a way to arrive at some overall judgement about the state of play.
Judging the consequences of a phenomenon such as the uneven experience of
ICTs can be as difficult a challenge as measuring it in the first place. For example, by
paying attention to the history of concerns about technology we saw that the degree to
42
which uneven use is temporary can have a bearing on any such evaluations. Through
reflecting upon the development of key concepts like social inclusion, it was clear that
any disadvantage from not having access to or using ICTs can be relative and partial.
Nor should we overlook empirical research revealing what ICTs mean to people. In
relation to the digital divide debate, these studies showed how and why even those
who use ICTs might also exhibit negative feelings about them, and how and why non-
users and former users might reject them.
This all questions any assumptions that ICTs are always an unambiguously
‘good thing’, assumptions that technology simply means progress. As regards debates
around the digital divide, it means we have to be cautious when assessing the view
that some disadvantaged people in society are simply missing out. In general,
researchers entering into the study of ICTs in everyday life need both to take a critical
stance towards the subject matter and to chart the more detailed roles that
technologies can play in our lives, sometimes considering the specific circumstances
of different groups in society over and above more general arguments about the
consequences of ICTs.
Endnotes
1. For a more detailed review see Haddon, 1998b.
2. The global digital divide and factors shaping the uneven take-up between countries
has been considered in, for example, Thomas and Mante-Meijer, 2001 and Chen et al,
2002.
3. The Telsoc survey was a survey conducted in 1996 for Telecom Italia and covered
France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. The results were published in Italian in
Fortunati (1998).
43
4. Twice as many females claimed this. This study was conducted for EURESCOM,
the research body jointly funded by European telecoms companies. The qualitative
study conducted in 1999-2000 consisted of focus groups in Denmark, the Czech
Republic, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The quantitative study in 2000
covered Denmark, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands,
Norway, Spain and the UK.
5. This practice also exists outside the home – as shown in Swedish research on the
way in which young people borrow each other’s mobile phones (Weilenmann and
Larsson, 2001)
6. In this respect, one of the potentially pertinent developments is the trend towards
multiple versions of ICTs within the home. For example, it is increasingly common to
have multiple TVs and VCRs, multiple phone handsets and multiple PCs, partly as
individual household members acquire their own devices, partly as older devices are
retained when upgrades enter the home. Arguably this arrangement sometimes
provides greater freedom of use, of access, compared to the situation of having to
negotiate with other household members over the use of a single TV, phone,
computer, etc.
7. For example, the P-903 survey showed that by the end of 2000, 8% of those
surveyed were non-adopting users in the sense that they only had access to the
Internet outside the home. If we compare this to the mobile phone, 9% had ‘shared
access’ – i.e. someone else in the household possessed a mobile that they could use.
8. Wyatt et al (2002) make a further distinction within this category: the ‘rejectors’
who stop using the Internet voluntarily (e.g. because it was boring, because there were
alternatives), and the ‘expelled’ who stop using it involuntarily (e.g. because of loss of
institutional access).
44
9. Rommes (2002) argued that this could also lead to systematic gender differences,
citing Dutch evidence showing that women had older computers and slower
connections.
10. These researchers constructed an Internet Connectedness Index, taking into
account a variety of factors and showed how more inequalities existed according to
this measure than were shown by time measures (discussed in Katz and Rice, 2002b).
11. Reviewed in Haythornthwaite, 2001b. See also Wyatt et al, 2002, Wellman and
Haythornwaite, 2002.
12. Wyatt et al (2002) made another observation about the changing nature of the
Internet itself. Later adopters may have joined the on-line world at a time when
promotion of the Internet raised their expectations. This might have led them to be
more disillusioned once the on-line world failed to live up to what they had imagined.
13. Wyatt et al (2002) call for a more refined way of distinguishing between different
types of user because of the range in frequency of use.
14. More details on the issues involved in processes of social exclusion and new
telematics in general can be found in Haddon (1998b and 2000b) and also in Mansell
and Steinmuller (2000), which draws heavily upon the these studies.
15. For example, some may be relatively wealthier, lead comfortable lives, and feel
no need for this technological option.
16. This article was based on a review of the existing German literature on the
unemployed, on survey data and on official statistics.
17. The study of single parents was conducted in 1994-5 and involved twenty parents
filling out week-long dairies and then taking part in in-depth interviews. This was
reported in Haddon and Silverstone, 1995a. The study of the young elderly (here
operationalized as 60-75-year-olds) involved a further twenty participating
45
households, with dairies and in-depth interviews. It was conducted in 1995-6 and
reported in Haddon and Silverstone, 1996. Both reports are available at
http://members.aol.com/leshaddon/Date.html.
18. Wyatt et al (2002) take such a view, listing the problems and deficiencies of the
Internet that could severely diminish the attractiveness of the Internet experience.
19. Some initiatives designed to encourage more take up of the Internet can be
informative in this respect, even if they are only small scale studies. Women taking
part in a Dutch Internet training course had done so because they wanted to find out
more about the on-line world - they feared being left behind. After the course, they
decided that the Internet did not fit into their lives, but they were nevertheless happy
that they had followed the course so that they could evaluate the Net – and become
more ‘informed rejectors’ (Rommes, 2003).
20. A related point is made by Wyatt et al, 2002.
21. One qualification to add is that this evaluation was based an analysis of the
Internet at a particular point in time. Teenage relationships to the on-line world may
change – e.g. following the greater entertainment possibilities after ‘Napster’
(Comment by Richard Ling). That said, a British qualitative study of children’s views
of the Internet noted that, despite enthusiasm for it, many preferred to do other
activities and use other media, ‘seeing the Internet as something to use on “rainy
days”’(Livingstone and Bober, 2003, p.28).
22. The authors observed that at the time, loss of e-mail access was not so significant
since e-mail was mostly used to contact other students, who were also about to lose e-
mail access.
23. These included, among other things, concerns about safety and unsavoury content,
cost, lack of time, and the complexity of the Internet.
46
24. 44% were intermittent users in their March-May 2002 survey. The figure was
27% in their December 2002 one.
47
Chapter three: Children, youth and ICTs
The digital divide is not the only area where there is a considerable public interest in
the consequences of ICTs. As ICTs from the TV, through videos, games and
computers to the Net have appeared so there has been a history of concerns about the
effects on children. Yet at the same time some technologies have been perceived as
holding out the promise of better options for future generations. Or at least they may
change in the experience of children and youth, for example by affecting their degree
of independence
To set the scene, this chapter first draws attention to the literature describing
how the very experience of childhood and youth changes over time, regardless of the
influence of ICTs. The expectations of what young people of different ages can and
should do, their circumstances, the legal frameworks within which they operate, etc.
have changed historically. In these senses childhood and adolescence are social
constructs. So too is parenthood. This certainly provides a broader context within
which to understand contemporary parent-child interactions. But more generally it
reminds us that we can ask similar questions about any groups we study, not just
parents and children, specifying how the experiences of that group are historically
shaped.
Given the interest of domestication research in how the relationship between
people affects the experience of ICTs, the focus then moves to parent-child
relationships1, and how these may be changing. In particular, there are discussions,
perhaps true of some countries in the developed world more than others, of children’s
media rich bedroom culture and children’s activities in supervised spaces. How has
this had a bearing upon parents’ ability to monitor children’s use of ICTs? How
interested are parents in controlling that use, what strategies do they employ to do so
48
and how do children resist those strategies? Through looking at parents interacting
with children we are drawn into the core theme of the next chapter on how
relationships around ICTs are managed, when there are different perspectives among
family members and some conflicts of interest.
The section on youth starts by addressing some general stereotypes concerning
young people’s communications. To what extent are young people heavy telecoms
users? And how much variation exists in their telecoms behaviour, including gender
differences, at this stage in their lives?
The central interest of much research on youth and ICTs relates to their peer
orientation. Hence the chapter asks how peer relations influence the use of
technologies like the Internet and mobile phone. How, for example, have teenage peer
relationships shaped the use of text messaging and related practices? When do we
need to may attention to peer obligations or expectations about appropriate use? And
how do fashions amongst peers have a bearing up perceptions and choices of ICTs?
Such discussions more broadly pave the way for thinking about the influence of social
networks, gift-relationships, ICT-related practices beyond narrow definitions of ‘use’
and the symbolic meanings involved in acquiring particular ICTs.
Finally, as we have more communication options in our repertoire, one research
question concerns how we choose between them (Haddon, 2003a). Of course, this
will vary according to social groups’ circumstances. But we can at least start to
consider what type of considerations may be relevant through looking at young
people’s use of textual messages via the mobile and e-mail.
49
Childhood, youth and parenthood as historical social constructions
The social construction of childhood and youth
The last decade has seen as growing literature on the social construction of childhood.
The key point is that the experience of children and youth as well as expectations of
their roles, their independence, their knowledge etc., are relative and change over time
(e.g. see James and Prout, 1997). Sometimes change is gradual, taking place over
hundreds of years, such as movement away from regarding children as simply small
versions of adults (Ariès, 1973). The emergence at the end of the nineteenth century
of the concept of adolescence as a stage between childhood and adulthood would be
another example of such shifts in perception (Gillis, 1981).
Because such changes are relatively gradual it appears that successive
generations have similar experiences. But there are also the more short- to medium-
term changes. For example, in Britain the 1980s saw a lengthening of the period
during which young people are financially dependent upon the family. This was
because of the longer time spent in both education and training due to the pressures to
acquire qualifications and from youth unemployment.
It is worth noting that in these discussions of social construction the exact
details of how childhood and youth are changing are themselves debated. For
instance, one view is that there has been a move from children having autonomy and
responsibility to being more protected, making less decisions and experiencing
making more restrictions in their daily activities (Vestby, 1994). Another view is that
we see more autonomy experienced by children, more domestic democracy and the
individualization of childhood - but also increased regulation and risk management of
children by adults (Livingstone, 1997 - referring to Giddens’ analysis). These two
characterizations cover some similar points, but they are not identical.
50
Changes such as those shown in the examples above provide a wider context in
which to appreciate parents’ and children’s contemporary behaviour. But we also
have to take into account changes in expectations of children’s consumption of ICTs
and developments in their experiences of these technologies. For example, in different
time periods (and in different cultures2 ) we might anticipate variations in adults’
understanding of how children will make sense of media images or content, as well as
their views about what children have to be protected from or can be exposed to. We
have a more concrete illustration of changing expectations in a study commenting on
Norwegian debates about the minimum age that children should be to have access to a
mobile phone (Ling and Helmersen, 2000). After the mobile had spread widely
amongst the teenage population, the new phenomenon in the late 1990s was mobile
acquisition by pre-teens. This created some unease, as shown in interviews with
parents about the age at which it was appropriate to have a mobile. In fact, even some
contemporary teenagers commented that nowadays children were receiving mobile
phones when they were ‘too young’, given that these youth had only acquired a
mobile themselves when they were first in their teens. A number of participants
thought that the start of secondary school was a better time for children to have their
first mobile. The researchers added that during this period in the late 1990s the mobile
phone became an ‘appropriate’ coming-of-age gift for children, suggesting a broader
social (though perhaps temporary) fixing of the correct age for the consumption of
this technology.
Yet children are not simply passive in this whole process. Part of the changing
experience of childhood is that children are always growing up with new ICTs. In one
British study we are reminded children can themselves play an active role in the
changing conditions of childhood ‘through their imaginative responses, their creative
51
play, their micro-practices of daily life…(and their) pioneering of new media
practices’ (Livingstone and Bober, 2003, pp.6-7).
The social construction of parenthood
There has been less study of the social construction of parenthood, although it has
been referred to by some in the literature on media (Buckingham, 1991; Vestby,
1994). In parallel with the above discussion of the social construction of childhood, to
talk of parenthood as a social construct means that the experience of parents can all
change somewhat over time. This includes their expectations of what counts as being
a ‘good parent’, the expectations they feel they should have of their children and how
they should approach the parental role. For example, one claim is that there is now an
ideology of parenthood implying that parents should have a more detailed
involvement in their children's lives, including an increasing expectation that they
should protect their children from the flow of impressions and experiences (Vestby,
1994). It has been argued that this has altered the very process of growing up.
On the other hand, in parallel with one of the arguments made about the social
construction of childhood, other writers emphasize that the family has become less
authoritarian, a development which has received some attention especially in French
studies of ICTs (Jouet, 2000). More democracy and effort to involve children in
decisions may partly explain the greater leniency shown in efforts to control
children’s use of ICTs such as the TV (Pasquier, 2001).
However, these processes constructing what good parents should be like are not
monolithic in their consequences. We can see this in examples of media use, where
parental control varies by country. One cross-national study showed that parents in
Sweden and Italy were less strict and rigorous than both those in Belgian Flanders and
those in France. Parents in the first two countries had more lenient parenting styles,
52
granting more freedom to children and this included their approaches to regulating
children’s media use (Pasquier et al, 1998). There is also variation within countries.
For example, British studies have shown that working class parents regulate their
children’s TV watching less (e.g. Buckingham, 1991) and a more recent European
study of children has shown the similar influence of socio-economic status across
countries (Pasquier, 2001).
As in the case of childhood, we can also see people being active in the very
process of constructing parenthood. For instance, one Israeli study of people’s views
about the mobile phones pointed out how, through their complaints about children’s
use of the mobile, they were actually constructing what appropriate adult behaviour
should be like. They were at the same time indicating how ‘good parents’ should
control their children’s use of their mobiles (Lemish and Cohen, 2003).
The ways in which new pressures on parents affect they way they deal with
ICTs has been addressed in a number of writings. Some claim that there are now
higher expectations than in the past that parents should spend ‘quality time’ with
children, which can translate into spending time watching TV with them. Since the
early 1980s many parents have felt the expectation that they should acquire
microcomputers so that their children should not be ‘left behind’ (Haddon and
Skinner, 1991; Skinner, 1994). In the 90s, parents experienced a similar sense of guilt
that led them to provide their children with Internet access (Haddon, 1999a). At the
same time there have been discussions of how much parents should be expected to
provide guidelines for their children’s use of the Internet, both in the sense of making
their children aware of safety issues and supporting their children’s on-line literacy.
And to the extent that parents sometimes find this task to be difficult, the further
53
question arises as to what means could be found to support parents in managing their
parental role (Livingstone, 2001).
Parent-children relationships and ICTs
Bedroom culture and activities in supervised spaces
There appears to have been a number of interrelated shifts in the experience of many
children, in the West at least, that are relevant for understanding children’s
relationship to ICTs. One change is related to arguments about children’s greater
absence from unsupervised public spaces (Büchner, 1990; Livingstone, 2002). It has
been argued, perhaps truer in some Western countries than in others3, that many social
activities that in the past took place in public are increasingly taking place in the
home. The home is itself becoming more public, more open to outsiders (Wellman,
1999). Children also experience this, having their friends around to interact with in
their homes, in their own rooms (Livingstone, 2002).
This socialising in the home has been identified in a European study of children
as ‘Bedroom Culture’. Observing that this is a European and North American
phenomenon, partly depending on wealth, this research showed the high proportion of
European children, especially teenagers, who had their own room (e.g. 82% of 15-16
year-olds). Indeed, the majority of 15-16 year-olds claimed to spend at least half their
waking life in their rooms (Livingstone and Bovill, 2001a).
A number of factors shape this experience besides general affluence, some more
country-specific than others. For example, in Britain the influence of the lack of
leisure alternatives for children and youth outside the home has been commented
upon (Bovill and Livingstone, 2001). In addition, the last decade or two has also seen
the process, again perhaps true in some countries or areas than in others, whereby
54
there has been a growing concern for children’s safety in public spaces. The UK study
of children and ICTs described how parents felt under pressure to keep their children
indoors (Livingstone and Bovill, 1999; Livingstone 2002). Reflecting these concerns,
we now have a situation where the vast majority of children in Britain are now driven
to school.
However, children’s mobility is complex. They spend time not just in their own
homes but also in those of their friends. Although this is less well documented, one
German study observed that certainly middle-class children spent a fair amount of
time in organized post-school activities (Büchner, 1990). In this context, the European
P-903 study commented upon the practice across countries of parents ferrying their
children around to their friends’ homes and to various events and activities (Klamer et
al, 2000).
These are the background developments against which we can appreciate
children’s relations to ICTs. If we return to the bedroom culture, the researchers in the
European study of children observed how children’s bedrooms have become
increasingly ‘media-rich’. Children have gained more and more access to various
personalized ICTs. In the 1960s (to take the dates relating to Britain) children,
especially teenagers, increasingly acquired their own record-players and radios, which
in later years evolved into music systems. Since then many children have been
provided with or acquired their own TVs, VCRs and PCs.
This multiplication of ICTs within the home and their individual possession is at
one level a solution to the domestic competition for communal resources. Different
household members, including children, want to watch different programmes, to
access computers or even to make phone calls at the same time. But in more recent
years the practice of granting children access to a range of personal ICTs also reflects
55
the need to provide alternatives if children are to be kept off the streets (Livingstone
and Bovill, 1999). That said, parents do not always approve of these personalized
ICTs, especially of television. But some nevertheless recognize the positive benefits.
For example, personal ICTs allow and maybe encourage children to be more
autonomous. And, indeed, if children have their own personal ICTs this can mean the
parents have more privacy as well as choice - for example, when watching TV (Bovill
and Livingstone, 2001).
Turning now to communications, British studies showed that by the 1990s some
children had started to acquire their own fixed-phone handsets. Although the
European study of children found that such personal phones were still rare, at the
extreme end almost half the children in Sweden had them and in Israel and Italy 40%
of the children surveyed had their own phone handsets (D’Haenens, 2001). We have
seen more examples of children accessing the Internet from their own rooms,
although that same study showed that Internet access in children’s bedroom is still by
no means the norm, being only true for under 10% of households (D’Haenens, 2001).
Mobile phone sales have benefited from concerns about the times when children
are out of the home, if only by offering parents some peace of mind. Sometimes this
has been the reason why parents initially provided their children with the technology,
although Norwegian studies have also pointed out that some parents have
occasionally resisted acquiring mobiles for their children for what they see as the
unjustified purpose of status display (Ling and Helmersen, 2000).
Parents’ concerns about children’s ICTs
The issue of the surveillance of children by parents is most clearly seen in the history
of what type of and how much domestic television children were allowed to watch.
Therefore, although similar issues have re-occurred with the arrival of videos, video
56
games, home computing and more recently the Internet, we can probably get some
idea of what is generally important to parents through looking at their reaction to TV.
British studies in the 1990s found that many parents were not so worried by
particular concerns about content on television. It was more important to influence
children’s viewing in order to achieve some kind of ‘balance’ in the children’s lives.
They did not want their children to neglect some activities, including socializing with
peers, at the expense of others. Using the metaphor relating to food, parents want
children to have a ‘balanced diet’ (Livingstone, 2002), which was one reason for
parents regulating the overall time that their children spend watching TV, using the
PC or being on-line (Haddon, 1999a). The European study of children and screen
media reached a similar conclusion. Although content was a public issue, and hence
in a sense part of the social construction of what parents should be attentive to, it was
actually not so much of an issue in private. If anything, it concerned mostly younger
children. There was more regulation of time spent watching TV where it was felt to
distract children and youth from other activities like sleep and homework (Pasquier,
2001). In the US, equivalent parental concerns have been voiced about the amount of
time teenagers spent on the PC in general (Frohlich et al, 2001) and on the Internet in
particular (Lenhart et al, 2001).
Apart from this time issue, parents’ concerns about children and the Internet
have been characterized in terms of content, contact and commercialism (Livingstone,
2001; Buckingham, 2002; Lenhart et al, 2001 for the US). ‘Content’ clearly relates to
some of the same long-standing concerns about what children might encounter on
television – such as sexuality and pornography. Because it is unregulated, another
type of Internet content that has been highlighted is material found on race-hate sites.
Clearly some parents are worried about these various types of content. But there seem
57
to have been relatively few studies measuring in more detail the level of parental
concern and who exactly is concerned about what (an exception being one Israeli
study4)
Although receiving less attention in the popular media, researchers also
examined some parents’ apprehensions about commercialism on the Internet
(Livingstone, 2003). This covers not only children’s exploitation by advertising
(Lenhart et al, 2001) but also the fear that marketers are targeting children on-line in
order to get information about the family (Turow and Nir, 2000). A British study of
children and screen media commenting upon the fact that parents were concerned
about commercialism noted that worries about adverts creating the desire in children
to buy things were actually greater than concerns about television violence upsetting
children (Livingstone and Bovill, 1999).
As regards ‘contact’, British domestication studies in the 1990s already showed
the interest parents had in monitoring children’s telephone behaviour. Parents
sometimes wanted to know who their children were speaking to on the phone. Being
conscious of phone bills, some parents preferred such phoning to take place in
locations where the phone’s use could be monitored. As a result, in certain households
there were attempts to deny children the use of the phone handsets or cordless phones
in private spaces like bedrooms (Haddon, 1997a).
One Norwegian study made a similar point. Some parents did not allow their
children to have a mobile phone because they wanted to oversee the children’s
activities (Ling, 1998). More generally, concern about paedophiles has created some
parental anxiety about their children making contact with strangers on-line5.
Yet, by no means all parents are so restrictive as those in some of the examples
given above. We will see below that allowing children private access to
58
telecommunications has sometimes been seen as a way of allowing them to take a step
towards independence. And there were additional benefits from allowing children
their own handsets, phone lines or mobiles – such as relieving parents of the job of
having to pass on messages to their children.
Parents monitoring children
For many children surveillance by parents has increased. This is because in their
leisure time children are often either in the home or at other supervised locations. But
in other ways, direct surveillance by parents of children’s ICT use in general has
become more problematic.
Bedroom culture has itself created some practical problems as regards
monitoring media use (Bovill and Livingstone, 2001). So too has the arrival of new
technologies. One French study observed that in contrast to the TV, but as in the case
of the original home computer, many parents are acquiring access to the Internet at
home for their children without themselves having a developed knowledge of what is
possible via the Net (Lelong and Beaudouin, 2001). Moreover, even when parents had
some experience of the Internet, their children often used it in different ways from the
parents. For example, children more frequently used facilities like Instant Messaging
and Chat, with which the parents were less familiar. The researchers went on to point
out that (besides creating problems for monitoring children) this meant that many
parents were not in a strong position to influence their children’s use of the Net, apart
from broadly negotiating the maximum amount of time children should spend on-line.
A related point is made in the European study of children and screen media. With new
technologies parents cannot rely on their own childhood experiences when making
rules about use (Bovill and Livingstone, 2001).
59
The arrival of the mobile phone has also somewhat complicated parental
surveillance. On the one hand, it offers more monitoring potential of a certain kind.
Parents can phone to check up on their children when the latter are out of the home. In
this sense, the mobile has been referred to as a ‘digital leash’ (Ling, 1997) although
teenagers sometimes allowed such parental surveillance simply in order to gain
possession of a mobile phone (Green, 2001). Sometimes teenagers accepted parental
arguments about safety as being legitimate (Green, 2001). Yet, at other times they
resisted such monitoring (e.g. by diverting the calls sent to them by the parents
directly to the mobile phone’s voice mail6 - Ling and Yttri, 2002).
The mobile phone has in other senses further increased children’s capability to
organize their social life beyond the surveillance of parents (Ling and Helmersen,
2000). While from the viewpoint of the parent, this decreases their ability to monitor
children’s communications, from the viewpoint of the child it increases their own
privacy.
Children becoming independent
As part of a larger French project examining the theme of youth gaining independence
(‘autonimisation’) one study emphasized how important the phone was in the
processes by which young people gained autonomy, although children’s use of the
phone also led to tensions (Martin and de Singly, 2000). These arise not only because
of the cost of calls made by young people (to be discussed in more detail in the
chapter on managing relationships) but also because of the time lost in making calls
that could have been used for studying (from the parents’ perspective). Some youth
participating in that French study referred to this tension as ‘the war of the telephone’,
a conflict between the pressure on youth to be attentive to the family and to their
studies versus the demands by youth themselves for a zone of liberty of movement
60
and expression. In principle, the vast majority of parents agreed with the need for
youth to move progressively towards independence, but at any one time the degree of
independence wanted by youth did not always match that wished by their parents.
This process of becoming independent is not solely a matter of conflict. If we
return to the theme of bedroom culture described earlier, a Norwegian study viewed
children’s self-contained media-rich bedrooms as a way of parents gently allowing
children’s emancipation (Ling and Thrane, 2001). In a similar way, providing mobile
phones can be a gesture through which parents offer children more independence. It
allows young people a discrete space, even if an electronic one, enabling parents and
children, for example, to check in with each other when youth are exploring new
spaces (Nafus and Tracey, 2002).
More generally, Norwegian researchers saw adolescents’ adoption of mobile
phones as one defining episode among others in the process of becoming independent,
a chance to get a ‘foot in the door of adulthood’ (Ling and Helmersen, 2000, p.23). In
particular, paying for one’s own mobile phone calls was seen as a symbolic
confirmation of adulthood7. Meanwhile, those same studies argued that, although the
mobile phone has now spread to the pre-teens, it was still easier for parents to justify
teenagers having a mobile as their schedules and interactions became more complex
and as they moved around more compared to when they were younger (Ling and
Helmersen, 2000).
Parental strategies for controlling children’s ICTs
Methodological issues create problems as regards assessing parental control of
children’s ICT. For example, many studies have drawn attention to differences
between children’s and parents’ reporting of how much parents regulate what
programmes and how much television their children can watch. In a British study
61
75% of mothers claimed to regulate their children’s TV watching whereas only 41%
of children said they did; meanwhile 73% of fathers of claimed to do so whereas the
children reported that only 35% of the fathers regulated what they watched
(Livingstone and Bovill, 1999). Qualitative research has suggested the same
differences, reflecting the fact that some parents try to give the ‘right answer’ as
‘good parents’. The same is true for the Net. US research has indicated that there are
already gaps between parents and children’s reports of how much parents supervise
children’s Internet use (National School Boards Foundation, 2001; Lenhart et al,
2001). Obviously the more pressure there is for ‘good parents’ to control Internet use,
the more this particular problem of measuring that regulation may arise.
Meanwhile, in various studies parents themselves observe that one strategy of
control, relying on outside institutions to regulate media, has become less of an option
with the proliferation of media channels (with video, satellite etc. that children could
access, for example, at friends’ homes) and with the arrival of, what is perceived as
being the unregulated Internet
If we turn now to details of how parents actually try to influence their children’s
use of ICTs, we might again learn some lessons from more established media such as
TV. One British study underlined how parents preferred talking to children about TV
rather than actually attempting to constrain children’s viewing. In that study, the first
approach used by parents was what has been termed ‘evaluative’. This entailed
discussing particular programmes with children to show them how to make sense of
what they were seeing. The second most popular strategy was ‘conversational’, which
entailed a more general discussion of programmes. ‘Restrictive’ strategies, i.e.
limiting children’s viewing, only came third (Livingstone and Bovill, 1999).
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In a later study of young people’s use of the Internet by the same researchers,
examples of restrictive regulation included limiting the time that children could spend
on-line, installing filtering software8, keeping the password secret so that the parent
had to be called if the child wanted to go on-line, and banning or blocking certain
activities such as e-mail and chat. Examples of what the researchers call ‘unobtrusive
monitoring’ included positioning the PC in a public place within the home, spot
checking from time to time on what the child was doing and checking to see what
sites had been visited (Livingstone and Bovill, 2001b). This strategy of unobtrusive
monitoring has also been popular in the US (Frohlich et al, 2001; Frohlich and Kraut,
2003). In one survey by the American Pew organisation, over two-thirds of computers
used by youth to access the Internet were located in a space such as the living room,
study, den or family room as opposed to one third being located in a private bedroom
(Lenhart et al, 2001).
As regards the mobile phone, Norwegian qualitative research described how
parental control was a process of constant negotiation (Ling and Helmersen, 2000).
Here one particular issue was cost, with parents and children negotiating how usage
would be financed, a negotiation itself influenced by the arrival of pre-payment tariffs
(Ling and Helmersen, 2000).
In the light of all these options open to them, how anxious are parents? This is
difficult to evaluate, and will vary by ICT and according to the state of contemporary
moral panics (or public concern). But in the case of TV, while parents have spoken of
the difficulties of effectively restricting children’s viewing, it is worth noting that they
were often not so worried about children watching unsupervised in their bedrooms.
Many regarded their children as being sensible and discriminating media users
(Livingstone and Bovill, 1999). In the case of the Internet, a US study indicated that
63
overall parents were satisfied with children’s use and trusted their children when they
explored the new medium (National School Boards Foundation, 2001).
Children’s resistance to parental controls
What of the children’s perspective? If we return to the example of television, British
studies have shown that despite parental attempts to influence what their children
watched on television, the children themselves gained social status from watching
adult material on TV (Buckingham, 1991, 1996). More generally, qualitative studies
in France and Italy have also stressed how children do forbidden things as a way of
showing that they are grown up - and this applies equally to media consumption
(Pasquier et al, 1998).
Given various reasons why children have a different perspective from parents it
is not too surprising that a number of studies have documented children's strategies to
access programmes that their parents did not want them to watch or to watch for
longer than their parents preferred. Hence, accounts of children’s resistance to
regulation by parents have been characterized as an ongoing ‘guerrilla war’
(Buckingham, 1991), with children frequently ‘avoiding’ rules (Pasquier et al, 1998;
Pasquier, 2001) and seeking to escape surveillance (e.g. by watching when parents
were not around or by watching at someone else’s home).
In general, we see some of the same themes emerging in relation to other ICTs
such as the mobile phone9. For example, while in certain senses young people
collaborated with parental monitoring of their behaviour through the mobile, in others
they resisted it. Sometimes they developed ‘parent management strategies’, such as
giving excuses like ‘the battery ran out’ when they made themselves uncontactable by
their parents (Green, 2001). Meanwhile, a Japanese study described a phenomenon
also found elsewhere, whereby youth often made an effort to keep their parents ‘in the
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dark’ about the content of their personal e-mails and voice calls (Ito and Daisuke,
2003). All the youth involved in that study preferred calling friends on mobiles rather
than the home phone, despite the higher cost of doing so.
Finally, as shown in British research, children sometimes found parental
monitoring to be an invasion of their privacy, an invasion of their personal space,
which could leave them frustrated. Once again, they employed a variety of tactics for
evading this control, enjoying the challenge of outwitting adults. (Livingstone and
Bober, 2003). If we look at the US, the Homenet study found that the ‘contention for
computing time is a heated issue in many of the families we visited’ and sometimes
could lead ‘to an atmosphere of deception and mistrust’ between parents and children
(Frohlich and Kraut, 2003:153). To give an idea of the scale of conflicts over ICTs, in
one US survey 40% of parents said that they had had arguments with their teenage
children about the latter’s use of the Internet (Lenhart et al, 2001). The American
research underlined the fact that parents think there are far more dangers associated
with the Internet than do their children.
Youth, peers and ICTs
Youth as General Telecoms Users
Since a number of studies have emphasized the particular importance of telecoms to
youth at this stage in their life, we can start by addressing some common assumptions
about the degree to which teenagers make calls on the traditional phone line. One
early US study suggested that teenagers dominated the phone and that they were the
heaviest users in households (Dordick and LaRose, 1992). However, the problem with
taking such results at face value is that these claims were based on the evaluations and
perceptions of parents - which may not totally correspond to reality. As we shall see
65
later in the chapter on relationship management, parents may evaluate the calls of
their children as being unnecessary or think they make too many calls for their age.
Such assessments can influence parents’ estimates of their children’s usage.
In fact, a small-scale study researching teenagers in Australia challenged the
stereotype that teenagers in general were heavy users (Skelton, 1989). Reviewing
earlier American studies, Skelton agreed that teenagers with boy- or girlfriends could
generate calls of long duration. And there was often a peak in phone calls when
teenagers initially came home from school. Yet overall, teens did not generate
massive amounts of calls. Various French studies would tend to support her view,
indicating that younger, as well as retired people, actually use the phone less than the
25-60 age group (Claisse, 1989; Perin, 1994).
More recently, a French study has tried to distinguish different patterns of phone
use amongst youth (Martin and de Singly, 2000). The researchers developed a
typology from the survey data consisting of four categories. The first was those young
people who were very family-orientated, who experienced a high level of parental
control (which they accepted) and a low level of sociability with friends. They used
the phone least. The second group consisted of those who experienced completely the
opposite situation to the above, and used the phone a good deal. The third group were
the youth whom parents tried to control, but who did not always accept parental rules.
They were very sociable with their peers and used the phone the most to evade
parental control and stay in touch with their friends. Finally there were those whose
parents did not try to exercise so much control, who simply enjoyed being at home, in
their own rooms and who had a low sociability score. They used the phone less than
the previous two groups.
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The chief point to derive from this research is not so much the detail of the
study (since, in general, different empirical studies might throw up slightly different
typologies). More important is the finding that there is a certain amount of
heterogeneity amongst youth. In the above study we can see that differences in the
experience of teenagers can arise from various factors such as home- vs. peer-
orientation, degrees of parental control, differing reactions to this etc. - all of which
can influence telecoms behaviour. In a similar fashion, when discussing the use of
screen-based ICTs, various writers have underlined the differences amongst youth
both in terms of more standard socio-demographics and related tastes, values,
attitudes and orientations (Buckingham, 2002) and in terms of other factors such as
media styles (Bovill and Livingstone, 2001; Livingstone, 2002). Appreciation of this
variation is sometimes missing in discussions of youth in general.
Finally, and as part of the on-going reflection gender through this book, there is
the question of whether boys and girls have fundamentally different patterns of
communication. The evidence has been mixed. Early French research found that
amongst schoolchildren and teenagers there were few gender differences in the
balance between ‘intrinsic’ (social) and ‘instrumental’ (functional) calls. These
differences did not emerge until student days and were only consolidated in adulthood
(Claisse, 1989). However, later Norwegian research found that teenage girls made
longer calls and even at this stage the girls were developing a different style of
communication compared to boys. The latter reported that they ‘gave messages’ when
making calls, whereas the girls reported ‘chatting’ (Ling, 1998). Once again, we can
see some of the systematic differences in communications that are starting to occur
among young people.
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Participating in the peer group
The early Australian study of teenagers first drew attention to the significance of the
phone for sustaining interaction with friends outside school time (Skelton, 1989). This
theme of youth using telecoms to manage participation in peer groups has been
recurrent in research ever since. Notwithstanding the heterogeneity noted above, in
general it has been argued that this is a period in life when the social networks of
many young people are growing and when it is important to ‘be available’ to peers. In
fact, being rung up is a measure of popularity (Ling, 1998; Ling and Yttri, 2002).
Therefore, if we want to understand the adoption and use of this new technology at
this stage in life it is important to look beyond individualistic decisions in order to
appreciate ‘individuals aligning themselves with the peer culture in which they
participate’ (Ling and Helmersen, 2000, p.20).
US Internet studies have described how young people used Instant Messaging to
arrange meetings, to talk to friends who were on-line at the same time, but also to hear
if anything interesting was ‘happening’. There were parallels with previous
generations spending time in certain public spaces, such as a shopping mall, waiting
for something to happen. They now appeared to be ‘hanging out’ on-line (Rainie,
2001). Both US and British studies have pointed out that some teenagers kept this
channel upon while doing other things on the computer, such as homework (Lenhart
et al, 2001; Livingstone and Bovill, 2001b). Peers also exchanged addresses of web-
sites that they had found as well as images captured from the web. They sometimes
created mini-networks on-line by linking home pages via hyperlinks. And they
influenced each others’ value judgements, for example in terms of deciding what it
was worth going to see on the Web and what counted as a good web-site address
(Millerand et al, 1999).
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In many countries the mobile phone has also become tool to support peer
networking. Indeed, for some young people the mobile phone was especially useful
precisely because of the amount of time that they were out of the home at this stage in
their life, when they could not be easily reached by the fixed home phone line (Ling,
1998). Because of this, a number of Norwegian youth commented that nowadays they
would be out of touch if they did not have a mobile and they would not ‘know what is
happening’ (Ling and Yttri, 2002). In general, and enhanced later by the use of the
text-messaging, the mobile has created more moment-by-moment awareness of what
other peers are doing10.
Text messaging (SMS) reflected that same on-going effort made by young
people to maintain a place in a their social networks, as they asked questions such as
‘what’s happening, what’s going on?’ As in the case of voice calls, the number of text
messages received was itself a measure of one’s popularity, as was the number of
names in the dialling register (Ling and Yttri, 2002). When they did not receive
messages young people could now felt excluded and rejected – they felt that
something was wrong (Taylor and Harper, 2001b).
A certain amount messaging was undertaken for practical purposes, such as
arranging a rendezvous, inviting people to a party, asking what’s on at the cinema,
etc11. But the purpose of other messages lay not so much in the content but rather in
the act of having made contact. Teens reinforced a bond through demonstrating that
they had thought of someone enough to send them a message, to give them the gift of
a call. A similar observation has been made in a British study of e-mail
communication by young people. The content of messages can be repetitive and
trivial but the main point sometimes appears to be keeping in touch rather than
communicating information (Livingstone and Bovill, 2001b).
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In this vein, a number of European studies have commented on youth texting as
a ‘gift relationship’ (e.g. in the UK, Nafus and Tracey, 2002; in Norway, Johnsen,
2003)12. Coming from an anthropological tradition, this approach sees gift-giving and
gift-receiving as an activity for cementing the social relationships between people.
When applied to youth, their rituals of exchange – though the mobile in general as
well as texting - can provide a way of ‘demonstrating and testing out the trust that
exists in their relationships’ (Taylor and Harper, 2001b, p.18). For example, one
British study described how the very act of leaving a mobile phone around on the
table, so that friends can pick it up and explore its features, can represent an
expression of trust in others. Then there is the practice of allowing others to use one’s
phone to make calls13. In fact, sometimes young people talk of feeling obliged to
make their phone available to friends, otherwise they would be thought less of. Later,
the person who borrowed the phone has to return the favour either in kind or by
another means (buying credit for the friend’s phone, buying a meal) (Taylor and
Harper, 2001b).
Gift-giving, then, entails the obligation to reciprocate. We can see this in the
case of text messaging. When young people sent messages they expected an answer,
often straight away (in contrast to the argument that because text involves asynchronic
messaging people can answer when it suits them)14. Thus, we have examples of
young people phoning up to ask ‘what’s wrong’ when they did not get a reply to their
text message, asking why they were being ignored. As the researchers put it, the
recipient of the message was ‘obliged to meet the challenge of the donor’ (including
answering messages that arrived in the early hours of the morning when they were
asleep!) (Taylor and Harper, 2001b, p.11).
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Peer orientation is also highlighted in what could be called ‘communication-
related practices’. These are the activities that go beyond ‘using’ the technology in the
sense of sending a message or making a call (Haddon, 2003a). One example would be
showing a message to a friend, which in itself was an act of sharing, of gift-giving and
which helped to reinforce that friendship (Taylor and Harper, 2001b; Kasesniemi and
Rautianen, 2002 on observing Finnish youth). It may involve actually sending the
message to the other person’s mobile. In fact, this can happen even when the young
people concerned are talking to each other at the same table, as they go through the
ritual of saying when they have sent messages to, or received them from, each other.
Of course not all messages are shared. Nor are all messages shared with everyone.
Some are so transitory that they lose their meaning quickly when seen out of context.
Others are too personal or risky to show (although sharing personal messages can
create added intimacy). But certain messages are capable of being made more public
amongst peers, like jokes.
However, just as there were understandings about (and attempts to influence
usage of) ICTs within the family, various rules exist among peers about texting. There
are perceptions of what is the right and wrong way to go about things. For example,
even though texting often does not involve the use of formal grammar there, some
young people objected to the overuse of capital letters or the lack of any punctuation,
which could make messages difficult to read15. And there are understandings about
when it was inappropriate to use texting as opposed to using other means of
communication. An illustration of this would be when young people thought that it
was not right to end a relationship, to ‘dump’ someone, through sending a text
message (Taylor and Harper, 2001b).
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Lastly, we can appreciate the influence of peers on young people’s decisions
through considering the role of fashion16. Norwegian research has argued that at one
point in time it became fashionable for young people to have a pager not just because
of its functionality but because it having the device itself symbolised belonging to a
group. Later the mobile phone was acquired because of this symbolic role (Ling,
1998). Yet, fashion considerations did not merely influence the decision to possess a
mobile. They also shaped perceptions of what brands of mobiles were appropriate, the
desirable age and size of models and, indeed, the choice of operator whose network
was being used. These were all ways of demonstrating ‘street cred’ (Taylor and
Harper, 2001a). Being aware of such factors was part of the successful mastery of
personal display (e.g. it was not ‘cool’ to show off) (Green, 2001; Ling and Yttri,
2002).
Youth and communication choices
We now turn to the question of how people choose from their communications
repertoires through looking at the case of young people sending and textual messages.
Sometimes, that decision relates to the fact that other communications options, such
as mobile calls, are blocked. Thus itself shows us why it is worthwhile taking a
holistic view and considering all the communications possibilities when we want to
make sense of choices. In perhaps a rather extreme example, but one which shares
some common elements with other countries, Japanese researchers have argued that
mobile e-mail in Japan was popular amongst youth partly because of the strong
regulation of voice telephony in schools and public places (Ito and Daisuke, 2003). In
schools, where mobiles tended to be officially banned, young people nevertheless
used their mobiles (under the desk) to pass on emails illicitly during lessons. The
prohibition was equally strong in many public spaces. One could find many ‘no
72
mobile phone’ signs in trains and buses and there were regular announcements to this
effect. As a result, almost none of the participants in this study made or received voice
calls in these settings, but instead used mobile e-mail extensively.
Turning to more positive reasons for the choice of text, part, but only part, of
the popularity of text messaging amongst many youth lies in its low cost (relative to
speaking on the mobile phone). Given the financial circumstances of many young
people and the need to be frugal when they take responsibility for their telecoms bills,
both analysts and teenagers interviewed across a range of studies have commented on
the importance of the economic considerations (Ling and Yttri, 2002; Fortunati, 2001;
Johnson, 2003). In addition, the price of a text message entailed a fixed cost, known
in advance, whereas how long a phone call might take, and hence its cost, was not
known so precisely. Hence texting appealed because it allowed young people to have
a more detailed knowledge of and control over their expenses.
The more intrinsic virtues of texts can be seen in the literature dealing with
young people and dating. For example, one Norwegian study described the ritual
whereby, after meeting face-to-face, young people often exchanged mobile numbers.
This was sometimes followed up with a text message, perhaps asking a question or
making some non-committal remarks as a way of showing interest in someone.
Resorting to text could avoid having to deal with the embarrassment and fluster that
can occur in a face-to-face approach (Ling and Yttri, 2002). A British study made a
related observation about young people using the Internet for dating (Livingstone and
Bovill, 2001b). In the US, 17% of participants in one survey had asked someone to go
out with them via Instant Messaging and 13% had broken up with someone through
an instant message (Lenhart et al, 2001).
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The advantage of text, be it text messaging, email, IM or whatever, is that it can
allow teenagers the time to compose what they want to say carefully, especially if it
involves delicate matters (Kasesniemi and Rautianen, 2002). To use Goffman’s
framework, they can ‘arrange face’ and even to confer with a jury of their peers (Ling
and Yttri, 2002). Several researchers have drawn attention to the fact that text
messages sent through whatever medium allow youth to put into writing things that
they would not dare to say aloud (Kasesniemi and Rautianen, 2002; Ling and Yttri,
2002; Fortunati, 2001; Lenhart et al, 2001).
Finally, a number of researchers have drawn attention to the advantages of the
actual language used by young people when texting or sending instant messages. In
the case of texting, the creative use of language and signs was admittedly due in part
to the amount of space available for writing messages and the effort involved in
keying in messages on a mobile phone. However, the use of codes can also be meant
to exclude older generations from understanding them - acting as a kind of slang with
in-group meanings (Ling and Yttri, 2002; Talyor and Harper, 2001a). In fact, it has
been pointed out that sometimes this can also provide good camouflage for illicit
practices such as sending messages in class (Ling, 1998). A related point has been
made about teenage use of the Internet – that some teens use a form of language, a
code, which marks their identity when chatting on-line (Millerand et al, 1999).
Conclusions
By starting with the social and historical construction of childhood and parenthood we
can ask what factors influence certain judgements that adults, especially parents,
make. These include deciding the ‘appropriate’ age or stage for children to have
access to different ICTs, to certain content or to a particular medium of
communication. What shapes parents’ beliefs about the way in which children
74
experience and make sense of the world and what counts as ‘maturity’ in different
contexts? How do judgements change over time about what children should do or be
exposed to, as in the example given earlier of the mobile phone being adopted by pre-
teen children? What influences expectations of how parents should behave? Given
that parents are not passive in this process, to what extent do parents resist these
discourses and on what grounds do they do so? To what extent and in what areas are
they unclear about how to act? When do they feel guilty? What sources of support or
guidance do they seek to manage their role as parents? And with what success do they
do so?
In principle the broader lesson to draw from this discussion is that one can ask
about the social and historical construction of the experiences of any social groups.
For example, in later chapters we will encounter the domestication research on
teleworkers, single parents and the young elderly (Haddon and Silverstone, 1993,
1995a, 1996). But how we live these roles and what we expect of them is influenced
by wider discourses and representations, by institutional and financial arrangements
as well as a range of other factors (including the ICTs available to them). For
example, contemporary young elderly can have some different experiences from the
young elderly of 40 years ago.
Moving back the central focus of the chapter, we saw how parent-child
interactions around ICTs were affected by developments in children’s mobility and
their presence in or absence from different public and private spaces. This provides an
example of how new issues can emerge because of changing social trends as well as
because of changes in the technology available in the household. Ultimately much of
this particular research has focused on the home, although we would have to ask how
widespread children’s ‘media rich bedroom culture’ is within an international context
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as well as among different sub-groups of children. Looking outside the home, there
are still questions about variations in the extent to which children participate in
various organized activities, and about how they occupy and behave in different
public spaces like the street, the shopping mall or in the informal times and spaces
within school life. After all, these are all places where they can encounter, experiment
with, make sense of and develop collective practices relating to ICTs.
The material on youth and ICTs allows us to look beyond the home and family
to make sense of behaviour, or young people’s interests, by examining the
particularities of their social network. The main focus was on the way the (existing)
high degree of peer orientation amongst this group can shape relations with ICTs.
More generally, we see in the example of ‘hanging out’ using IM as one way in which
old practices can find new forms through technologies. And while gift-relationships
can be used as a framework for looking at the interactions of older groups, the various
gifting relationships relating to mobile phones are especially useful for making sense
of a range of young people’s practices. Moreover, in the course of looking at these
examples, qualitative research in particular has forced us to look beyond narrow
definitions of ‘use’ (e.g. using the mobile to make certain calls). It is important to
reflect on what people do with their technology, when not ‘using’ it in the narrow
sense – i.e. how they interact around the object.
Finally, as we have more and more ICTs, including modes of communication,
available to us, we can look holistically at the whole ensemble and ask about the
relationships between the different technologies and options. This will be explored
more fully in the later chapter on careers. But it means that instead of asking why we
use a particular technology or mode of communication we can ask why we choose it –
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given there are alternatives. The use of textual messaging by youth provides a few
examples of the type of factors affecting those choices.
Endnotes
1. There are other themes in the children and ICTs literature, such as questions of
identity formation: for example, how children construct their identity as gendered
subjects through the use of ICTs (Buckingham, 2002).
2. In this respect, Livingstone (2002) noted some national differences in conceptions
of childhood even within the European study, particularly in relation to the degree of
autonomy seen as being appropriate for children of different ages.
3. For example, Livingstone observed that there were some similarities between the
UK and US, but also some differences between the UK and Germany. If we look
further afield, one Japanese study pointed to the relative smallness of Japanese homes,
and the fact that young people rarely had private rooms but often shared a room with a
parent or sibling. They rarely met friends at home, since they were worried about
offending parents by being too rowdy. Hence, Japanese youth socialised chiefly on
the streets, or in spaces ‘run by indifferent adults’ such as fast food restaurant,
karaoke spot or family restaurant (Ito and Daisuke, 2003). A Korean study also
explained that young people do not really have the type of personal space in the home
implied in the discussions of bedroom culture (e.g. their rooms are accessible to other
family members without permission) (Yoon, 2002).
4. This study found that 27% of parents were concerned about sexually explicit
images on the Internet, 31% about violence depicted there and 46% about on-line
material interfering with their children’s values and beliefs (Ribak, 2003).
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5. In the Israeli study, 60% of parents were concerned that adults would take
advantage of their children when on-line. But this probably reflects a particular high
profile event in that country when one teenager was lured to his death by terrorists
through the Internet.
6. Children sometimes want to avoid the embarrassment of inopportune calls from
parents. One Finnish study noted how parents’ use of texting to check that their
children were OK was a less intrusive means of monitoring than by voice
(Kasesniemi and Rautianen, 2003).
7. In a longitudinal study by British Telecom, 41% of the children paid the whole bill
and just over a third (34%) paid some of the bill. Even for younger teens, financial
independence is becoming important. Of course, some parents encourage young
people to pay for their own pre-paid cards as a way of introducing their children to
independent financial management.
8. Two fifths of parents in the US used filtering software (Lenhart et al, 2001)
9. Apart from relations with parents it is worth adding that there are also institutional
constraints on young people’s use of the mobile - for example mobiles are banned in
some UK and Japanese schools and confiscated if found (Green, 2001; Ito and
Daisuke, 2003). This is not just because of the ringing in class but also because they
might be stolen (Green, 2001). Of course, in practice youth sometimes resist these
controls as well, for example, by making calls on their mobiles in the ‘private’ spaces
within schools (one girl informant in this UK study reported that when she went into
the toilets she found a whole group of girls talking on the phone).
10. Instant Messaging plays something of a similar role on the Internet (Lenhart et al,
2001)
11. The examples come from Finnish research by Kasesniemi and Rautianen, 2002.
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12. While not particular to youth, another dimension of gift-giving analysed in French
research is in giving out one’s mobile phone number to others, and the expectation of
reciprocity. Thus exchanging numbers can reflect and become a token of the trust that
has been built up between people (Licoppe and Heutin, 2001).
13. This can happen if the credit on one person’s prepayment card is used up, in
which case he or she can borrow the phone from other peers. The way in which
mobile network charges are organised means that it is sometimes cheaper to use a
friend’s mobile because he or she is on the same network as the person being called.
14. Similar observations were made in a Japanese study of youth (Ito and Daisuke,
2003). The participants discussed the expectation of receiving a reply within thirty
minutes, the criticism they might expect if they were late in replying, and what
counted as legitimate reasons for not replying. The researchers argued that this
constituted a new kind of discipline on youth, a pressure to be so available to peers,
but they also drew attention to the strategies for negotiating non-availability. For
example, sending an e-mail about one’s intention to take a bath was a ‘kind of virtual
locking of the door’ on peers.
15. The abbreviations and shorthands could also make it difficult to understand the
intent of messages, especially if humour or sarcasm was involved (Eldridge and
Grinter, 2001)
16. For an extended discussion of the nature of fashion and mobile phones, see Ling
(2004).
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Chapter four: Managing relationships through and around ICTs
The previous chapter reminded us how the individual’s use of ICTs, in this case that
of child and youth, takes place in a wider social context of their relationships with
parents and peers. It showed how the use of even personal ICTs could be regulated by
others. This influence can be missed in studies that emphasize individual motivations
and choices as shaping patterns of behaviour.
Following the main emphasis in British domestication research to date, this
chapter starts by more generally looking at the home context in which individuals
‘consume’ technologies. This is a space where various household members have
commitments, routines and general demands on time and space as well as values,
hopes and concerns. These all interact and shape that consumption. For example, non-
users of ICTs, partners as well as parents, might nevertheless act as ‘gatekeepers’
influence the very adoption process and subsequent patterns of usage.
First, we explore what lessons can be learnt from research looking at the
tensions around and the regulation of the traditional fixed phone. We will do this
mainly by exploring how and why people try to control outgoing and incoming calls.
Why is this an issue within households? And what types of control strategies are
used? In fact, here we see one of the few attempts to turn the more qualitative
orientation of the domestication approach into quantitative measures in order to have
some understanding of the scale of these types of household processes.
Apart from parent-child relationships, gender relations in the home have long
been identified as a major consideration affecting the experience of ICTs. What has
research suggested about the aspects of relationships between males and females in
the home that might relate to different gender usage of ICTs such as the Internet?
Meanwhile, the telephone literature has pointed to gender divisions of labour in the
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field of communication, specifically in terms of women’s traditional role of managing
relationships with the outside world. In which case, one question is whether new
modes of communication and new practices accompanying them have any bearing
upon this gendered pattern of behaviour.
We turn next to a study of communications with the extended family, partly
because much of the discussion of maintaining social networks and providing social
support emphasizes the positive dimensions of ICTs role in communication. But if we
want to approach this with a more critical eye we could ask what conflicts of interests
and obligations are involved in maintaining this particular familial social network.
Lastly, the chapter looks at debates on ‘sociability’ within the home – referring
principally to North American discussions. It shifts the focus to the consequences of
ICT use, asking specifically whether time spent on-line detracts from time spent with
family members.
Controlling communication
The mid-1990s British domestication studies provided qualitative evidence of how the
cost of telephony was an issue in many households (Haddon, 19941). Norwegian
studies have since further illustrated the arguments that take place within the home
about the phone bill, especially concerning the use of the phone by teenagers (Ling,
1998; Ling and Helmersen, 2000; Ling, 2004). The British qualitative studies
suggested that while telephony costs were less of a problem in those relatively more
affluent households with few economic worries, it was very much an issue for more
than just the poorest in society (Haddon, 1994). For example, many of the middle-
class households studied had limited disposable income, since the parents had
committed their money to high mortgages or children’s private education. Such
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lifestyle choices meant they still had to be careful about their expenditures, including
spending on telephony.
Nevertheless, in those British studies concern about phone costs was most acute
among those living on low incomes, namely many of the single parents studied and
some elderly people living solely on state benefits. These were the very people for
whom the phone could be vital in the event of emergencies or as a social lifeline when
they felt trapped in the home in the evenings. Worry about phone bills led to both
groups steering outgoing calls to times when cheaper tariffs operated, when this was
possible. Ringing up various state agencies and the local council about problems
related to living on a low income generally had to be done in the daytime. Calls were
also rationed, both in terms of the number of calls and their length. Often, children’s
use was rationed, with the instigation of rules about what counted as necessary and
unnecessary calls. In such households, children obviously had less access to a
communications resource than many of their peers and experienced some sense of
disadvantage. Despite such measures, the phone bill often remained a source of
anxiety, always threatening to spiral out of control.
Large phone bills could sometimes become a very serious concern indeed in
the case of communal living arrangements or when families had other people sharing
their household: such as lodgers or au pairs. The studies picked up horror stories of
huge bills arriving due to illicit use of the phone. Bills could also be an issue between
partners, and one that had been exacerbated sometimes by the introduction of itemised
billing. More frequently, as in the Norwegian studies, phone bills were a source of
heated debate between parents and teenage children, especially concerning the costs
relating to the latter’s social calls - more so when money was tight.
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But it was not just the cost of calls that could be a source of discontent. A
French study noting the ‘war of the phone’ was already discussed in the chapter on
children. In addition, where one household member took over the phone, blocking the
phone with their frequent or long calls, this denied access to others. Again, the
Norwegian studies provided examples where blocking was a source of tension (Ling,
1998).
Incoming calls were problematic for other reasons2. In the British studies,
participants sometimes made reference to the various unwanted phone calls from
acquaintances whom they preferred to avoid. But even apart from these, there were
times when people found incoming calls in general to be intrusive upon their peace
and privacy. In the light of feminist writings on the way in which women network
over the phone, it is worth adding that this was not just a male response to the outside
world invading the haven of the home. Women too, especially those who were major
users of the phone for work or at work, could suffer from ‘phone fatigue’. They
wanted a break from the demands of the telephone and sometimes would rather
interact with their partners or children. There were periods when incoming calls
interfered with the routines of the home, coming at unsociable or simply inconvenient
times - such as late at night or early in the morning, or when parents were getting
children off to school or nursery or putting them to bed (also discussed in more depth
in Lacohée and Anderson, 2001).
The whole issue of the disruptiveness of calls arose most acutely in the study
of teleworkers for a variety of reasons. Here there was a frequent assumption on the
part of employers or clients that because teleworkers were home-based they could be
contacted about work issues outside of normal core working hours - i.e. at evenings
and weekends. While this was not deemed to be a problem by some teleworkers, for
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others it was disruptive to family life. Home was no longer a place to retreat from
paid labour. On the other hand, friends sometimes did not appreciate that, even if they
were at home, teleworkers still had to get through their workload. Incoming social
calls to teleworkers could be a distraction from that work. In addition, the sheer
volume of calls into the home often increased with the arrival of telework, meaning
that other members of the teleworker’s household would occasionally feel pestered by
the phone.
Finally, the British studies in general found that other household members could
resent the number of calls coming in for someone who was at the heart of large social
networks (such as, but not only, teenage children). They could also resent the fact that
they had to take on the role of secretary, forever answering calls and taking messages
for that person.
The British studies showed how strategies to handle conflicts about outgoing
calls entailed both social and technological solutions. Persuasion only worked some of
the time. But there were plenty of examples of parents who managed to ration their
children’s calls, limit them to times when low tariffs operated or succeed in defining
‘necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’ communications. Where such persuasion did not work,
the issue could remain an on-going sore point. Or else parents resorted to other
strategies such as charging children for telephone use or deducting pocket money to
pay for their calls3.
Another tactic involved attempting to control the location of the phone. One
variation of this involved not allowing children to have access to extensions or
cordless phones, and placing the main phone handset in a relatively public place
within the home, such as a hall. As we saw in the chapter on children, this meant that
calls could be more easily monitored. Alternatively, some of the parents who were
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studied tried to make the location as uncomfortable as possible. It must be added,
though, that determined teenagers appeared to be able to settle down to long phone
calls even in the most awkward of spaces. Some parents utilised call-barring: stopping
either incoming or outgoing calls at some points of the day, or allowing only local
calls. And as an extreme measure, one parent even resorted to sabotaging his teenage
daughter’s handset4.
The five-country Telsoc survey attempted to map in quantitative terms the
extent to which these issues existed in households and the extent of efforts to control
outgoing communication (Haddon, 1998a5). It is worth spending just a little time to
look at the detail because this aspect of consumption is only more rarely covered in
quantitative studies. It underlines, too, the importance of focusing on the household,
not just the individual.
One first question in the survey asked whether household members received
complaints about their phone calls for a variety of reasons6. Here, the existence of
complaints was taken to indicate that phone use was an issue. In addition,
complaining was in itself a verbal means of trying to influence other people’s usage.
While only a minority in each country mentioned any specific complaints, these were
sizeable minorities ranging from 13-32%. The same complaint, about cost, was the
most important one in all the countries. In the European sample, females received far
more of every complaint compared to males. Meanwhile, a substantial proportion of
children, rising to nearly two-thirds of British 14-17 year-olds, received complaints
about cost of their phone calls. The finding about children might have been
anticipated from the previous research cited above, but the scale is perhaps a little
surprising - that so many children across Europe receive complaints.
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A second question asked about whether people made an effort to control the
use of the phone7. In the European sample, nearly two-thirds tried to use cheaper
tariffs or else tried to limit their own use. Clearly, while the various national telephone
companies are usually interested in encouraging greater use of the phone or related
services, a high proportion of consumers are already exercising some restraint upon
their usage.
As regards incoming calls, a substantial minority (37%) did find calls to be
disruptive. However, there was a wide range in responses to the perception of
disruptiveness across the countries. Perhaps this reflects some cultural variation in the
extent to which different nationals value a domestic life uninterrupted by the
intrusiveness of the outside world. There were questions in the survey about the
various strategies that interviewees used to control incoming calls8. In contrast to the
case of controlling outgoing calls, only a very small proportion of people in all the
countries used any of the strategies frequently.
Another strategy for controlling calls was available to those with an answering
machine: filtering calls9. This is particularly interesting because this application was
not the basis upon which the technology had originally been marketed. Filtering calls
- checking who calls before deciding whether to answer - involved quite a radical
change in practice. The answering machine was sold on the basis that it could take
calls when people were out, but it was being used to take them even when they were
at home. Generations have learnt to answer the phone when it rang – indeed, many
have sometime talked about the psychological difficulty involved in ignoring the
ringing phone. Nowadays forms of filtering are more commonplace, e.g. the caller
line identification service enabling one to check the identity of caller. Indeed, some
young people reported sending mobile phone calls to their voice mail immediately
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they saw on the screen who was calling. But originally filtering by answering machine
was a practice that was not intended by the technology developers. Or at least it was
not promoted by them. In this sense, the practice of filtering illustrates people’s
appropriation of a technology, a practice learnt through experimentation, but probably
also learnt through informal channels of personal communication (i.e. people telling
each other what they have learned to do with the device). In fact, the survey found
that by the mid-90s the practice was widespread. In the European sample, half of the
people with answering machines used the devices at some time to filter calls.
Gender relationships in the home and ICT usage
There have been a number of different types of explanation accounting for gender
differences in the take-up and use of ICTs. For example, when the first home
computers appeared, one explanation of the reticence of women to use them related to
questions of general gender identity. The connotations and symbolism associated with
the machine at that time were, it was argued, opposed to constructed notions of
femininity (Turkle, 1988). This line of argument about the (mutual) social
construction of gender and of technology is one tradition of gender analysis that can
be found in various guises (Berg and Aune, 1993; Frissen, 1996, Rommes, 2002). For
example, several writers have tried to account for a re-occurring pattern whereby a
number of ICTs, including the Internet, were male dominated when they first
appeared but later the amount of use by males and females became more even. These
writers suggest that when women initially perceived these ICTs as ‘technologies’ they
were less comfortable with them. But when they later redefined them as ‘tools’ for
achieving some purpose in which they were interested, this helped them to feel more
at ease (Cockburn and Omrod, 1993 (on microwave ovens), Singh, 2001 and
Rommes, 2002 (on the Internet)).
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Other hypotheses about gender and adoption of ICTs relate more directly to
gender relations specifically within the home, coming closer to some of the interests
within the domestication approach. For example, a review of French studies
concluded that the appropriation of ICTs by females seemed to be more
circumscribed. They had less knowledge of techniques. They mainly used the
technologies for functional purposes. And they were reticent to enter into a dialogue
with the machine. The review argued that in order to understand this pattern it was
important to examine what was happening in relation to wider gender roles. This
included the continued greater involvement of women in domestic labour, which
limited the spare time they had available to use ICTs (Jouet, 2000).
We might, in this light of this plea to look at general gender roles, consider an
earlier study of the women’s relation to the VCR. This argued that women resisted
learning to use the device. Women exhibited a ‘calculated ignorance’, in order to
avoid acquiring yet another domestic task - one of setting the video to record
programmes for other family members (Gray, 1992). Or to take an example from a
later Israeli study of mobile telephony, it was women rather than men who
emphasised the importance of being reachable by other household members,
reflecting a role of managing the home (Lemish and Cohen, 2003).
A different account, but still one focusing on gender relationships in the home,
came from a French study of people learning to use the Internet (LeLong and Thomas,
2001). After a discussion of male monopolization of the Internet, the authors added
that women were frequently wary of getting involved in home use, even when they
were competent. The women talked about the expertise of the main user (e.g. women
said that their male partners knew about the Internet better than them). That expertise
was also recognised in the fathers’ ability to set rules about children's use, defining
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what was tolerated, forbidden and what the priorities should be in using the Net. But
at the same time other family members had a right to claim certain services from the
male expert - to ask him to do something for them on-line.
In fact, when the Internet first arrived some of the males interviewed had
actually been enthusiastic about getting other household members to learn to use it.
But this project was usually abandoned. In part this was because female partners
showed less interest but it was also because, it often seemed to the researchers, they
females did not want to enter into the situation of being a novice in relation to the
(male) expert (a process also observed in one of the examples given in a Dutch study
by Rommes, 2002). For the authors this was important, in the light of discourses
about unequal access, if as a consequence it helped to maintain a gendered division of
labour10.
Managing relationships with the outside world
Some of the earliest empirical analyses of traditional telephony drew attention to the
fact that the women make more of the social calls that bind households into social
networks (Rakow, 1988; Moyal 1989), a role also observed in later British and French
studies (e.g. Lacohée and Anderson, 2001; Mercier, 2001). The latter French study
puts this into context by pointing out that women are responsible for maintaining
social links in general and do so with letters as well. So this behaviour is not unique to
the phone (Mercier, 2001). These studies repeatedly find that, overall, women call
more often, for a longer time, take more pleasure in calls and treat the telephone more
as a medium for conversation, compared to men who treat it more as a tool. That said,
a more nuanced picture of how gender patterns change over the life course will be
provided the chapter eight.
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So what happens with the arrival of the mobile phone and e-mail – the latter
especially through access at work? While many people had always made private calls
from the workplace, the French study cited above found that these technologies led to
an increasing number of such private communications11(Mercier, 2001). Some of the
quotes from the qualitative interviews also provided examples of people saying that
when they had a few minutes free at work they might send a social e-mail. Or if they
had a few minutes to spare in the workday (and plenty of ‘free’ minutes on their
mobile that go with the tariff package) they might make a social call on the mobile
phone.
Part of the reason for this increase in male social communication was that they
simply have more access to the technologies, especially e-mail, through work. As the
researcher pointed out, if that were the only factor, would this changing balance of
calls between males and females be only transitory? As women also obtained more
access to these technologies, would they take back their traditional role as
‘ambassadors of the home’?
However, this is not the only factor. Another, he argued, was that while women
preferred the transparency of the phone, the way it felt ‘natural’, men actually took
some pleasure in interacting with the technology. Using e-mail required some
technical competence. The multiplicity of functions on the mobile differentiated it
from the fixed phone. One parallel that comes to mind was the social communications
of ham radio users. The latter enjoyed the very act of achieving communication
through using the technology.
The French study described how the characteristics of communications by
mobile and e-mail often followed a ‘masculine model’. These were due partly, but
only partly, to the work contexts in which the calls were made (including the other
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activities people were involved in when working, the ambience of this space, etc.).
Such a context encouraged speed, efficiency and an emphasis on the functionality of
the exchange, treating the media as tools rather than as channels for developing a
conversation. This form of communication often involved conveying precise
information. It rarely entailed making contact just to have a chat.
Given the above discussion of gender roles and managing social relationships
outside the home, it seems an appropriate moment to add some critical reflections
arising from another French study (Segalen, 1999). This qualitative study looked at
the contact between three generations, all of whom were adult (indeed, some of the
youngest had children themselves). In the study, the generations were called the ‘old’,
the ‘pivotals’ and the ‘young’.
Looking at phone communication between the grandparents and their adult
children (the old and the pivitols in this generational chain), usually contact was
between mothers and daughters. Given the latter were often working and even had
grandchildren of their own, there were many examples when calls were kept short,
apart from exceptional circumstances such as sickness and births. Calls were often
made to check how the grandparents were getting on, especially if they were alone.
Meanwhile the grandparents were often hesitant about calling because they thought it
might disturb their children. Nevertheless, they appreciated receiving phone calls,
especially if they did not have a large circle of siblings to call. Some of the children
(the pivotals) observed that their parents complained that they did not call them
enough. The children sometimes resented this demand as being a burden.
Turning to relations between the grandparents and grandchildren (the old and
the young), this was often mediated by the pivotals. The grandparents might be in
direct contact with certain grandchildren with whom they were particularly close. But
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some grandchildren once again saw calls to grandparents as a duty and a burden.
Sometimes, because of the gap of two generations, some social mobility had taken
place and the generations no longer shared the same values or mutual expectations.
Some grandparents were so removed from their grandchildren in every sense of the
word that they did not understand the behaviour of this age group and sometimes they
were annoyed at the degree to which the young spent time calling friends.
Occasionally, the telephone relationship, instead of bringing the generations together
could further poison the rapport between the two sides. Some grandparents preferred
to send a card for birthdays rather than call. Some calls from grandchildren to
grandparents seemed like formal ritualised acts, devoid of content and emotion.
Rather than bringing the generations together, they marked the distance between
them.
Lastly, the authors considered relations between the parents and the adult
children (the pivotals and the young). Again, much of the contact was between mother
and daughter. This was often very positive, preserving independence while
maintaining contact. But for some of the young such contact was again felt to be a
duty. Some parents now complained they were not called often enough by their
children, whereas the children thought that they did call them enough. In particular,
the sons were the ones least likely to call, which sometimes led to more bitterness and
complaints. For some children dealing with the in-laws (pivotals) could also be
difficult if the culture of that family was different. Meanwhile, some of the male
children, in particular, considered the calls from their mothers to be an interference in
their private lives. When they did talk to their mothers, what was for the females ‘idle
talk’ or ‘chatter’ was perceived as ‘twaddle’ or ‘ramblings’ by the males. In other
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words, telephoning (or its absence) could itself be an object of conflict leading to
rancour and bitterness.
Sociability within the home
There are multi-level, originally North American-based, debates about the effect of
Internet use on various forms of social relationships. Many of these relationships are
with people outside the home. Hence, this aspect will be covered in chapter five on
social networks. But we can take note even at this stage that several different
elements, and several different debates or discourses, are at work here. These include
debates about whether the Internet increases isolation or leads to more sociability, and
the consequences for social well-being and ones quality of life. They cover
discussions about sources of social support in daily life. And they deal with issues of
civic involvement and participation in society and communities. As well as measuring
our links to others beyond the home, the discussions refer to evidence concerning
measures of psychological experiences such as loneliness, stress and depression.
Amongst these discussions, albeit with a lower profile in the overall debates, are
references to what we might call, for want of a better word, ‘sociability within the
home’.
This concern about technology’s impact on family life actually has a longer
history than the Internet. For example, we have the literature claiming that television
had led to a decline in family activities (Nie, 2001). We should pause here to draw
attention to how this theme reoccurs within other chapters. In chapter three, on
children, we saw the specific concern about the impact of ICT use on children’s time
for other activities. But that discussion, again, included a package of elements such as
children’s general sociability (with other children) and their time for creative and
imaginative play. Meanwhile, in chapter nine, on the careers of ICTs, we will look at
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the issue of time displacement, where the arguments concern how technology is
taking time away from other activities in daily life.
What is being considered in this section is specifically time ‘for the family’ (or
for partners). Taking the North American figures, if people are now spending 10-15
hours a week on-line there is the question of where this time is coming from. One
approach, backed up by empirical studies, has been to argue that only part of it comes
from displacement of other activities. Some of it must come from social time spent
with others, including the family (Nie, 2001)12.
Before the Internet emerged as a mass market, related concerns occurred in
discussions of the effects of early computers (e.g. Turkle, 1984, reflecting upon its
consequences for teenagers and hackers). These anxieties were picked up in media
coverage referring to ‘computer addiction’ and even to ‘computer widows’13 (i.e. the
female partners of very enthusiast male computer users, who spent a large amount of
time at their machines). Worries about the antisocial, solitary nature of Internet,
reflected the particular concern about males, especially, devoting more time to their
engagement with technologies rather than using that time to develop their social
skills.
The first point to make in response to these concerns is that, literally, not all the
time interacting with the PC was an isolated activity. The US Homenet study and
Israeli research both described the degree of sociability around the PC in the home,
noting the various occasions when it can bring families together (Frohlich and Kraut,
2003; Mesch, 2003).
Turning now to the more recent Internet debates, one first observation is that a
range of different measurements appears to be involved here. Sometimes we are
looking at self-reports of a decline in sociability (i.e. asking people whether they think
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there has been a decline after adoption). Some studies compared non-users with users,
or users who used the Internet for different amounts of time, looking to see if there
were differences in the time they spent with their family. Sometimes we are looking at
(relatively small-scale) panel studies, charting the time use of the same people as they
move from being non-users to users (Kraut et al, 1998).
If we look more closely at what is being measured, the Homenet study
measured ‘family communication’ in terms of (self-reported) minutes spent
communicating with family members (Kraut et al, 1998). That research found the
greater use of the Internet was associated with a subsequent decline in family
communication. In other studies ‘time spent with family’ was measured (which is
obviously slightly different from ‘family communication’). In some surveys, Internet
use appeared to correlate with less time spent with the family (Nie, 2001; Nie et al,
2002). Yet others found no significant differences in ‘family conversation time’
(Robinson et al, 2002). A British longitudinal study involving time use dairies focused
on time spent on different activities, including various activities in the home. This
concluded that there was no evidence that people who now have Internet access were
spending less time in ‘social’ activities in the household (Anderson and Tracey, 2001,
2002). But of course, in itself, measuring these social activities is yet another different
measure of sociability in the home.
A second observation about this mixed evidence is that, apart from the range of
different measures being employed, there are methodological issues that have been
discussed in these debates. For example, there are problems with the self-reporting of
time use (Gershuny, 2001; Nie et al, 2002) and because of this, with the reporting of
changes in time use. From its qualitative interviews, the above British study found
that in general, participants found it difficult to answer questions about time
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displacement and ‘even the heaviest users felt that any displacement was marginal at
most’ (Anderson and Tracey, 2001, p.264).
Next, as researchers would acknowledge, there is the fundamental problem in
estimating change in people’s lives (i.e. impacts) from a survey that is made at one
point in time (Robinson et al, 2002). This compares different groups of people (e.g.
Net and non-Net users). The problem is that they might be different kinds of people in
other respects, apart from just being on-line or not. Internet users might simply have a
different social profile from non-users. For example, they might have been less (or
perhaps more) sociable within their families in the first place, before they even went
on-line. Therefore, if there were to be an apparent association between Internet use
and being less sociable, this would not prove that the first necessarily caused the
second. Even in the early Homenet study, the researchers argued that in principle
other variables could be at work influencing both family communication and Internet
use. One attempt to deal with this problem is via multivariate analysis, to control for
other factors being at work, such as education, age, marital status, etc. (Nie et al,
2002). The difficulty is that there might still be factors at work that are not
anticipated. It is for this reason that some analysts have argued that the only way to
avoid this whole problem is by charting changes relating to the same people over time
in longitudinal studies (Gershuny, 2001).
It is worth pointing out that a further, emerging, methodological problem may
arise as regards measuring time on the Internet. It is one thing to calculate blocks of
time when we log on because they show up more clearly in time use dairies.
However, if we move more and more to a situation where the Internet is always on,
some Internet use might become more fragmented, as we spend a few seconds or
minutes here and there checking things or sending quick messages.
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This leads into the question of whether time spent with other is the (only)
appropriate measure of sociability? As in chapter two’s discussion of how the
unevenness of experience of ICTs is measured, should we not be asking about the
nature of that experience, rather then just the time involved? Let us take an example to
demonstrate a principle. In chapter three on children and ICTs, some of the writers on
the social construction of childhood argued the households have become more
democratic, less hierarchical and now give more voice to children. In which case, one
could argue that even if, hypothetically, time spent on family sociability were to have
declined, the experience of the remaining time is nevertheless qualitatively better than
when children were ‘seen and not heard’. In other words, time itself is not the only
consideration if we start to think about the quality of the interactions that constitute
sociability.
Finally, while this whole debate shows a concern about potential declining
time for family sociability, the latter is not treated in a critical manner. In other words,
family sociability is automatically treated as a good thing that we might be losing
through technology. The French study discussed in more depth in chapter three on
children and ICTs might cause us to reflect just a little upon this. These researchers
looked at (early) teenage use of the phone and in an empirically based typology
identified the heaviest phone users as being those whose parents were trying to exert
the most parental control of their behaviour. The teenagers were actually using the
phone to escape interaction with their parents, to escape ‘family sociability’,
preferring to interact with their friends even if they could not physically be with them
(Martin and de Singly, 2000). This example, as well as the others discussed in this
chapter, returns us to a theme of the entire book. Family or household interaction is
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complex and can be viewed from different perspectives. In which case, any evaluation
of changes in this interaction needs to reflect this.
Conclusions
Looking at the interpersonal relationships around ICTs, including the tensions and
issues that emerge, helps us to understand actual patterns of use. While technologies
may have potential to be used in a variety of ways, we can also start to appreciate the
social limitations on that use.
We saw this in the attempts to regulate calls from and to the traditional
domestic telephone. But now that the mobile phone and Internet have become more
widespread we should ask what effect this has had on strategies aimed at controlling
outgoing and incoming communications. How has managing communication become
more complex? What bearing have new communications options had on the issues
around the home phone that were described above? In what ways have they
exacerbated or reduced any tensions? Or, indeed, has the arrival of these
communications options raised new issues of control and led to new, or on-going
experimentation with strategies for managing communication in everyday life? We
will return to some of these questions in the chapter seven when considering
behaviour in public spaces.
While gender is addressed at various points throughout the book, it receives
more attention in this chapter, especially in terms of social relationships in the home.
If we turn specifically to gender and communications, here at least we are starting to
see research considering the consequences of mobile phone and e-mail for managing
relationships with the outside world. This asks whether gender roles might be
changing. Once again we see the tensions involved in interpersonal relations in the
study of communication with the extended family. This, in fact suggests complex
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gender relations - for example, when even the communication between mothers and
daughters can be problematic. To what extent and in what ways, if at all, has the
spread of the mobile phone and Internet had any bearing upon some of these
particular communications?
Lastly, we saw the question about the social consequences of the Internet:
whether it has affected sociability within the home, whether time spent on-line has
detracted from time spent with family members. It is not that new a concern.
Antecedents existed in the fears voiced in relation to the television and computer.
Clearly there are a host of methodological issues behind these debates. But in
addition, the whole issue of family sociability needs also to be treated with a more
critical eye. This fits in with the attention that has been given to interpersonal tensions
as one key theme of this chapter.
Endnotes
1. This paper was based on the study of teleworkers and single parents, reported
elsewhere in this book.
2. Although this chapter is primarily about the traditional fixed phone line, it is worth
adding that the issue of controlling (potential incoming) communication emerges in
relation to the mobile phone. For example, many people selectively give out their
mobile numbers, they sometimes decide not to carry the mobile or the manage calls
by switching them to voicemail (Licoppe and Heutin, 2001).
3. In one case, exasperated parents ended up installing a second line for their children,
and made them pay for calls between themselves. The result was that disagreements
over bills then took place amongst the children rather than between the parents and
children.
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4. One parent got so frustrated that he disabled his daughter’s handset so that she
could not make outgoing calls from her bedroom. However, she managed to
sometimes evade that control by initiating calls on the main phone and then switching
them to her bedroom phone to continue her conversation there at leisure.
5. While the original chapter reporting this is in Italian (Fortunati, 1998), the English
version is available at http://members.aol.com/leshaddon/Date.html.
6.The four separate questions concerned whether people received complaints (a)
because of the cost of their calls, (b) because they made or received too many calls,
(c) because they blocked the line and (d) because they made too many unnecessary
calls.
7. The three questions asked were: (a) whether interviewees made their own calls at
the times when cheaper tariffs operated; (b) if they limited their own use; (c) if they
tried to persuade other people in the household to limit their calls.
8. These were (a) blocking incoming communication in some way (e.g. by leaving the
phone off its resting place (‘off the hook’) so that the call could not arrive, turning the
ringer off etc.), (b) not answering calls, (c) getting someone else to answer calls and
(d) asking people who phoned into the home to avoid calling at certain times.
9. This involved hearing who was calling before deciding whether or not to answer or
instead to let the caller leave a message (also discussed in Lacohée and Anderson,
2001)
10. A related point was raised in a Dutch study by Rommel (2003). In this qualitative
study, women who attended an Internet course had tried learning from their partners
but it had not worked out – hence they went on the formal course instead.
11. Plant (2002) also argues that males were making more social calls now because of
the mobile phone.
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12. But other US studies find contradicting results. In one, 88% said the Internet had
little impact on time with family (or friends) (Katz et al, 2001). In another, more than
half of Internet users actually reported more communication with family after going
on-line (Howard et al, 2001). In yet another, 92% of users said that they spent the
same amount of time together with household members as before (UCLA, 2000).
13. In fact, one British study looked specifically at this issue in response to these
media claims. The findings might lead us to reflect on current debates about the
Internet, especially when they concern heavier users of the Internet. Basically, people
who developed intense relationships to ICTs such as the computer were likely to have
had equally intense involvement in other activities before the PC arrived in their life
(Shotton 1989). The heavy users of this study had not actually changed their patterns
of sociability. They had switched from old interests and hobbies to being computer
enthusiasts. Moreover, their partners had already known that they had this orientation
when they had first formed a couple.
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Chapter five. Social Networks and ICTs
Just as it was important to look beyond the individual in order to appreciate the
influence of other household members, so it is important to consider the general
influence of wider social networks, as we did more specifically in the case of youth
peers. This provides another context for understanding an individual’s actions,
choices and experience of ICTs.
We start by asking in what different ways social networks have a bearing upon
people’s interest in and appreciation of ICTs. When do social networks actually
supply the ICTs that enter people’s homes? In what different ways do they then
support actual usage?
Next, the chapter considers extending the domestication framework beyond the
home, asking what we would need to know to appreciate the processes by which ICTs
are ‘domesticated’ by social networks.
The remainder of the chapter makes a link to North American debates seen in
the previous chapter on the social consequences of ICT. But now it examines
concerns about the effects of the Internet on people’s relationships with their social
networks. Part of that discussion related to concerns about the solitary nature of
Internet use. So first we must once again ask whether such use is always solitary or
indeed asocial. In this respect, what can we learn from such claims about previous
ICT use – especially computer use? And then what do the balance of findings now
suggest about the influence of Internet use on people’s relation with their social
networks, taking into account some issues around the method and measurements
involved?
The other part of this debate concerns the question of whether the
communications options enabled by the Internet leads to on-line communication
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displacing off-line communication. Is such a displacement actually occurring? How
should we evaluate the quality of on-line compared to off-line communications and its
role in our lives? This in turn leads to further questions. To what the extent do people
build strong relationships through on-line contact? Does these lead to off-line contact?
To what extent does communication via the Internet help to sustain social networks?
And what types of relationships does it help to maintain or support? Lastly, by way of
contrast, does mobile phone communication suggest a very different outcome from
the Internet debate. Might the very weak ties that exist with strangers around us
diminish further because of the mobile?
Social Networks supporting ICT acquisition and use
Social networks can provide one route by which we acquire ICTs. Such networks
provide a means through which information about technologies and services can be
disseminated. They can actually stimulate interest, as when people mention that they
do not want to be left behind by their other network members. British research
observed that if some people in social networks own a technology this increases the
likelihood of other people in the same network owning that technology (Tracey,
1999).
Social networks can enable people to gain familiarity with technologies. One
European five-country qualitative study of the Internet showed that even many non-
users had actually tried out the Net or had seen it in action at the homes of friends and
family1 (Haddon, 1999a). Some non-users had even asked people in their social
network to look up things for them on-line and through this process they came to
appreciate the Web’s usefulness. A Canadian qualitative study drawing attention to
the same processes referred to the role of the ‘warm expert’ in many people’s stories
about how they acquired ICTs. These warm experts were friends or relatives who had
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relatively more expertise than the people interviewed, but who were also close to
them and willing to help a novice (Bakardjieva, 2001)
However, the opposite side of the coin is where social networks are not able to
support interest. Some people in the European study moved in social circles whose
members were not interested in or familiar with the Internet. For example, sometimes
their work colleagues were not required to use the Internet for work. Or else they had
retired and many of the people of their generation were not familiar with the on-line
world. As a result, even if they showed some interest themselves it was difficult for
them to know where to start. There was no-one to turn to for help (Haddon, 1998c).
Social networks influence ICT adoption in yet other ways. People acquire ICTs
from members of their networks (Bakardjieva, 2001). This is perhaps especially true
of relatives, and more so of close family. British studies from the early 1990s pointed
to the small gifts that people can receive from relatives, such as phone handsets
(Haddon, 2000b). And a number of the young elderly studied had acquired more
expensive ICTs, such as VCRs, as presents from their adult children (Haddon and
Silverstone, 1996). Later research made similar observations about mobile phones and
even computers (for example, when someone in the extended family upgraded and
passed on the old machine). Sometimes the recipients would not have considered
getting ICTs if they had not received them as a gift (Tracey, 1999).
After acquisition, social networks can continue to support the use of ICTs. For
example, numerous studies have indicated how members of social networks can
provide practical support, such as helping to set-up equipment and software or solve
technical problems (Haddon, 1999a; Tracey, 1999; Lelong and Beaudouin, 2001;
Bakardjieva, 2001). In fact, in British research even some teleworkers mentioned that
their social networks were important in this respect. Their workplace-based technical
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support staff could not always support employees who worked at home (Haddon and
Silverstone, 19932). Once again, if this expertise does not exist in a particular person’s
social networks, such technical difficulties can be difficult to overcome.
Apart from supporting usage, social networks can also influence the form it
takes (Tracey, 1999). We saw this in the earlier chapter on children and youth. Young
people’s perceptions of what counted as interesting websites to visit could be
influenced by their peers. As one analyst put it, the social network members who help
people to learn about the Internet are passing on what they had discovered, including
‘their definitions of the new technology crystallised from their own experience’
(Bakardjieva, 2001, p.7).
If we turn specifically to the case of telecoms, the European P-903 study
showed that the structure of social networks could influence usage in the sense of
having a bearing upon their members’ communication patterns3 (Smoreda and
Thomas, 2001). Meanwhile, the 5-country qualitative study of the Internet found that
lack of access to certain social networks could be restrictive. If one is the only person
accessing the Net within one’s social networks then this can limit the range of use
since there is no-one to act as a guide to the types of things that can be achieved on-
line (Haddon, 1999a).
Researchers have tried to differentiate further the influences within social
networks, rather than just talk about the role of social networks in general. To give a
flavour of this type of analysis, some have looked at the different influence of friends
vs. family or the special relations between adult children and their parents. Sometimes
overlapping with this, others analysts have focused on strong and weak ties, with one
review arguing how weak ties - meaning the members of one’s network who are not
close, such as acquaintances - were useful for providing access to new resources and
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ideas (Tracey, 1999). Looking at communications patterns, yet other researchers have
explored contact with local vs. distant social network members, changes in social
networks over the life course (such as teenagers’ and young adults’ larger circles of
friends) and the impact of residential relocation on social networks (Smoreda and
Thomas, 2001).
Finally, it is worth observing that many of the approaches to analysing social
networks that have been outlined above stress how individuals and households are
influenced by their networks. Looked at another way, the implication is that
individuals and households support their own social network’s experience of ICTs.
Some of their own usage is on behalf of friends, relatives etc. More generally, giving
support, advising and showing their expertise within these social networks itself
constitutes part of people’s very experience of these technologies.
The domestication of ICTs in social networks
To illustrate the process of how ICTs found a role within social networks of peers we
will consider the history of the first home computers in the UK during the early
1980s. Part of their appeal, leading to a boom in 1983, was fuelled by the
futurologists, politicians, technology enthusiasts and media analysts who portrayed
these machines as an icon of the coming IT revolution. Many people purchased these
early computers because they were concerned not to be passed by. Parents certainly
did not want their children to miss out (Haddon and Skinner, 1991). But one then has
to make sense of the fact that for many years the main use of these machines was
actually for playing games. Even suppliers were concerned about the extent to which
those devices were becoming just games machines4.
Electronic games first appeared in public arcades and were originally adopted
by some arcade owners as replacements for pinball. It was here that (some) male
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youth collectively developed the culture of game-playing, competing to get high
scores, learning tricks and strategies from others and swapping tips. When home
games machines appeared and later when home computers became a platform for
playing games, this culture continued. For example, interviews with British youth
revealed that many of the boys who were playing games in the 80s played at times in
isolation. But they also talked about games at school. They swapped games. They
compared notes as regards tactics. And they passed on the information about ways to
cheat or get around games problems - information that was starting to appear in game
magazines. By contrast, while girls may have played games, on the whole these other
layers of interaction were absent amongst their social networks. Games were not the
same topic of conversation as they were for boys. The general reason for looking at
such game- and computer-related interactions and practices is they help explain
gender differences in the popularity of games and home computers at that time
(Haddon, 1992). For the purposes of this section, it underlines the importance of
considering the experience of consumption and relationships outside the home that
was first discussed in the chapter on youth.
Later research on mobile telephony amongst youth, reported in chapter three,
has also emphasised the importance of peers as contributing to the popularity of the
mobile amongst this group. It drew attention to collective, mobile phone-related
practices that were in many ways the equivalent of the computer-related ones outlined
above. Sometimes, it has been argued that particular sub-cultures within youth played
a major role in creating interest. For example, Japanese researchers reported how the
‘Kogyaru’, street-savy high school students, ‘in the early nineties and then with
mobile phones in the later half of the nineties pioneered and popularised recreational
uses of mobile communication, first with pagers’ (Ito and Daisuke, 2003).
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If one wants to extend the domestication framework to ask how social processes
amongst networks help shape the consumption of ICTs, there are some immediate
challenges. Friendship ties, or the sometimes looser relations between young people,
are very different from the relationship between family members. Friendship
networks are usually not so bounded, as it is not always clear who is part of a group.
While the relationships involved can be intense, they are often much weaker than
family ones. They have a shorter history and are in many cases more temporary,
without the depth that comes when people’s biographies are so intertwined as in the
case of the family. They do not occur in the same, shared space of a home although
they may involve the colonization of certain public spaces. And they do not entail the
equivalent financial relationships that exist in families. On the other hand, as in
families, these relationships do have some shared histories and to varying degrees
elements of shared identities. They have their own politics and understandings of
what is appropriate. And they involve the use of strategies for managing relationships
vis-à-vis peers.
Bearing this in mind, we can at least pose the question of how ICTs such as
mobile phones are domesticated within such social networks. At this stage, without
the longitudinal study of such change, we can only ask questions. For example, what
are the processes by which ICTs acquire meaning within such groups (over and above
the marketing of firms)? What, for example, leads mobiles or particular mobiles to
become fashionable (or not)? What forms of negotiation take place within social
networks and how do collective practices emerge? Are there rules about use and if so
how are the policed? What type of subsequent career do mobiles have within a group
context? In other words the general types of question one would pose within a
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domestication framework can be applied when trying to investigate how social
networks network come to consume ICTs.
The Internet’s effects on sociability in social networks
There are two concerns about the possible negative effects of the Internet on social
networks:
1. As a solitary activity, time spent interacting with the Internet may detract from
time spent socialising with others.
2. People may use the communication facilities of the Internet to socialize with
others on-line at the cost of the time they would otherwise spend interacting
with those whom they normally see face-to-face (and speak to by phone). Part
of this concern is related to fears that the quality of those on-line interactions
and relationships are not as good as off-line ones.
This section will deal with the first of these arguments, but it will become clearer
why it is important to mention the second from the start. We will start with some
observations about asocial Internet use, then briefly review some evidence and reflect
on the methodological issues.
The previous chapter touched on a number of reasons why we should be a little
wary of assuming that computer or Internet use is always an antisocial activity. In the
chapter on children and youth, the fact that young people interacted with each other in
media-rich bedrooms showed this. Canadian and British studies have also discussed
young people’s sociability in front of the screen when on-line (Millerand et al, 1999;
Livingstone, 2001). We can develop the point further by adding that even time spent
alone in front of the screen can have a bearing upon time spent socialising later on. If
we go back to the early British study of the home computer, we saw a whole range of
computer-related activities at school and in other venues outside the home. In relation
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to the Internet, we saw how it was peers who shaped values about what counts as
good sites and sharing information about these. Admittedly, both of the above
arguments relate specifically to young people. Yet, these observations of social
dimensions relating to time spent on-line still need to be made.
When we now look at contemporary Internet studies what we at first find is
conflicting evidence. For example, one US survey based study reported that heavier
Internet use leads to decreased time with (family and) friends (Nie, 2001). Another
much publicized piece of research, the Homenet study, initially reported that Internet
use led to a decline in local social networks and greater loneliness (Kraut et al, 1998),
although a follow-up study of this same group showed that this general effect later
disappeared (Kiesler et al, 2000; Kraut et al 2002)5.
In contrast, and stressing the sociability benefits of the Internet, we find the
studies citing evidence that Internet use actually led to increased communication with
local friends6 (e.g. Kavanaugh and Patterson, 2001; Howard et al, 2001).
Alternatively, we find responses to particular survey questions which suggested that
Internet use actually had little impact on time spent with friends (Katz et al, 2001).
They neither increased nor decreased contact with people either in person or by phone
(Wellman et al, 2001). In a review that goes far beyond the space that can be allocated
to the subject in this book, the authors argued that on balance it looks as if the Internet
expanded the interactions with our social networks (Katz and Rice, 2002b)
As regards the methodologies of Internet studies, the issues are the same as in
the previous chapter on sociability within the family, given that the same studies often
consider both friends and family. Therefore, we find discussions of the best measures
(Nie, 2001), arguments that not all the studies use representative samples (pointed out
in Katz et al, 2001) and doubts about using data from self-reports (Kraut et al, 1998).
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Given that they actually attempt to measure change in behaviour over time, most
surveys use cross-sectional and not longitudinal data, opening the door for the
potential problem discussed earlier. There might be an association between variables
but causality is harder to prove. We might add that, understandably, many measures
of the phenomena being studied are possible. One study alone measured how many
times people met friends last week, the time spent with friends and the time spent
going out socially (Katz et al, 2001). One dilemma, as in the case of the digital divide,
is that one can appreciate the scope for conflicting, or at least non-comparable,
evidence. On the other hand, approaching the issue with a range of different measures
can provide a more nuanced picture of what is a complex issue.
The situation is also made more complicated by some mis-match between
certain arguments and evidence. As these debates sometimes acknowledge, the
Internet consist of more than one element. One crude division is between those parts
that have been characterised as ‘interpersonal’ (e.g. e-mail, chat) and those
characterized as ‘informational’ (e.g. the things one can do on the Web) (Kraut et al,
2003)7. Whenever the above studies measure Internet users (as opposed to non-users)
or the amount of time spent on the Internet overall, they effectively package together
the interpersonal and informational uses, just measuring ‘use’. This is despite the fact
that at the start of this section we saw that one concern (the Internet can make us more
antisocial) is really about informational uses while the other concern (that
communicating with distant others detracts from local interaction) focuses on that
interpersonal use of the Internet.
The balance of offline and online interaction
One review of some of the consequences of the Internet for social networks
summarized the pessimistic perspective that ‘online activity replaces strong social ties
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in the unmediated world with weak online ties’ (Rice, 2002, p.117). The first point we
might address is whether this replacement is actually occurring. An ‘online tie’
appears to refer to people we do not meet with off-line. And while the statement itself
does not necessarily claim that on-line interaction is with distant others, there seems
to be an assumption that this probably is the case in many of the arguments reviewed.
As a starting point, we might look at the research on telephony, space and
communication. Let us take basic voice telephony, which like the Internet has the
technological potential to connect us globally. Most fixed-line phone calls are actually
local and most phone calls are to people we already see on a regular face-to-face
basis8. For example, one French study showed how proximity and personal contact
could lead to more phone calls. In other words, we do not resort to the phone chiefly
because distance makes it difficult to meet people (Smoreda and Licoppe, 1999)9.
Most phone calls not only help to organize face-to-face meetings but they supplement
them - we phone people more whom we see, as reflected in patterns of local telephone
traffic10.
To an extent, the same appears to be true of Internet interaction. British
quantitative and qualitative studies of the Internet would reinforce that emphasis on
the importance of proximity and of contacting people we already interact with off-
line. Adults often use e-mail (and chat) to supplement face-to-face meetings,
contacting ‘local’11 friends not only for organising meetings but also in terms of gift-
giving, sending little messages to people to indicate that they are still thought about
during the time between meetings (Haddon, 2000c12). A review of studies of
children’s use of the Internet finds similar results about the dominance of on-line
contact with peers who are already known (Livingstone, 2001, 2003)
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In such cases, using one medium of communication as opposed to another is not
always an either-or choice. One does not simply displace the other. Both are
increasingly part of a larger communications repertoire, and many people choose from
this repertoire to suit the circumstances13, albeit with constraints sometimes operating
on those choices (Haddon, 2003a). Subsequent international empirical research would
appear to confirm this, noting, in fact, positive correlations between face-to-face
contact, telephone contact and e-mail contact (Chen et al, 2002).
But even when these communications are with those who are at a distance,
many calls and messages are still to people whom we know off-line first and in some
cases with people who we will meet occasionally, such as relatives (discussed further
below). For example, the qualitative component of the European P-903 study showed
how the Internet appeared to facilitate contacts with all kinds of people one already
knew: kin, friends, and acquaintances (Mante-Meijer et al, 2001) and this was
reflected in a whole range of other studies, showing ‘Internet communication
complements real-world relations’ (Rice, 2002, p.118).
Lastly, contacts that start on-line do not always remain so. True, many do. In
this respect a variety of studies have observed that some encounters on-line are short
term and primarily ‘forms of mutual entertainment’ (Miller and Slater, 2000). Yet
people can also form strong social bonds on-line and this can also lead to off-line
contact (Kraut el al 2002, using US survey data; Miller and Slater, 2000 based on
qualitative research in Trinidad; Kanayama, 2003, based on a qualitative study in
Japan; Haddon, 2000c using British qualitative study; Rice, 2002 and Katz and Rice,
2002b, both reviewing further studies).
While on-line communication can lead to such off-line contact there still
remains a question of how significant it is. That partly depends on how you evaluate
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the evidence. One review of US surveys commented that ‘over 10% of those who
indicated they had met someone on-line went on to meet them in person and the vast
majority (85%) indicated that it was a positive experience’ (Katz and Rice,
2002b:327). But others have pointed out that developing strong relationships on-line
is comparatively rare (Kraut et al, 2002). This means that even if, in a minority of
cases, on-line contact leads to off-line contact one can at least pose the question of
how meaningful and deep a relationship this is.
The quality of on-line communication
The other part of the concern outlined above is about ‘weak’ on-line ties. This is the
view that the quality of on-line interactions and relationships is less than that of
offline ones. One review of research indicated how this assessment of the inferior
quality of computer-mediated communication has not only been an assumption in
social psychological research but also in more popular discourses. The evaluation is
largely because of claims about the limited ‘bandwidth’ of textual communication and
the anonymity of the media (Watt et al, 2002). The reviewers observed that an
equivalent critique of the quality of the medium was also made about new media in
the past, such as the telephone.
If we take a particular example of evidence cited in this debate, US researchers
reviewed a number of quantitative studies – of business people, of students, of
Homenet trial participants’ relations with social networks and of those participating in
on-line communities. They compared how these groups evaluated on-line and offline
relationships (Cummings et al, 2002). The conclusion was that computer-mediated
communication, and in particular e-mail, was less valuable than face-to-face contact
and the telephone for building and sustaining close social relationships. In particular,
from looking at listservs on the Internet the researchers concluded that some of the
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on-line communities studied in earlier Internet research, which seemed to be very
active, might well have been interesting cases. But they seemed to be the exceptions
rather than the rule.
Perhaps, though, we need to develop a more complex assessment of this issue of
quality. The Trinidad study described examples where there was surprisingly rich
banter on-line and the researchers were impressed by just what emotions could be
expressed through text (Miller and Slater, 2000). A Japanese study of an elderly on-
line community made a similar point, observing that the participants were used to
text-based communication. They could express emotion though the use of such
devices as archaic language styles, dialect and poetry (Kanayama, 2003). Two
reviews of a range of studies also pointed out how on-line communication could be
made very personal and socially rich. In fact, it might not be any less personal or
‘real’ than face-to-face communication (Rice, 2002; Watt et al, 2002).
A different way of approaching this issue would be to note that the emotional
closeness of on-line contacts might not be what is important for some purposes. We
might consider here communication with communities of interest, where weak ties
may nevertheless be meaningful. Indeed, it can be quite important simply to know
that there are others out there in similar circumstances, for example, facing a
particular health problem, and that they can share experiences (Bakardjieva and
Smith, 2001).
Finally, when we start to consider contact with people we already know, on-line
communication may be good enough to help maintain relationships. For example, a
number of the American studies found that using the Internet increased contact with
distant friends and relatives (Boneva, 2001; Kraut et al, 1998, Howard et al, 2001; an
AOL survey reported in Rice, 2002). In one piece of research nearly a third of
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interviewees (31%) said that they now had more communication with family
members whom they previously did not contact often (Howard et al, 200114). The
Trinidad study also reported that the Internet led to more contact with such distant
relatives (Miller and Slater, 2000). In particular, on-line communication could take on
even more significance for migrants and diaspora. The Trinidadians living abroad
used it to stay in touch and the researchers pointed in particular to the role of e-mail
for ‘reactivating family ties that had fallen into abeyance’ (Miller and Slater, 2000:
56). Meanwhile, a Canadian study looking at the motivations for going on-line
described how e-mail and on-line chat were seen as practical ways to restore and
maintain contact with family abroad (Bakardjieva and Smith, 2001)
Looking beyond relatives, British qualitative studies showed how e-mail
enabled people to maintain contact with other socially distant parts of the network
when that might otherwise have been lost. E-mail has even been used to resurrect
contact with previous social networks, such as old school friends (Haddon, 2000c)15.
In fact, in one AOL survey, 41% of participants reported that they had renewed such
contacts (Rice, 2002). Meanwhile, one Canadian study found evidence when people
move house to a new area, ex-neighbours living some distance away can still use the
Internet to provide on-line social support (Hampton and Wellman, 2001).
The mobile phone and patterns of sociability
Various writers have drawn attention to the psychological withdrawal of mobile
phone users from the immediate physical social space and those co-present through
a preference to interact with spatially ‘distant’ others (Fortunati, 1997). In some
respects this is takes us in a different direction from claims about the effects of the
Internet on sociability. Like the traditional fixed phone, the mobile phone often
gives us more contact with people who are socially close to us, who we may well
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see regularly, and who are network members with whom we have strong ties. This
can be seen in patterns of mobile phone traffic and was also found in a study of
Japanese webphone use (a mobile phone capable of Internet access and sending e-
mail), where e-mail communications were once again sent to well known persons
(Miyata et al, 2003)
This type of communication is indeed sociable. Norwegian research has argued
how such intensive communications where ‘one has a running sense of the other’s
location and situation’ can reinforce such social ties (Ling, 2004). But it is a certain
kind of sociability that excludes other forms. The author referred to the notion of a
‘walled community’ to convey the idea that when communication is increasingly
aimed at a limited number of people we know well, this limits our opportunity to
‘establish new ties in one’s co-located situation’. As French researchers arguing in a
somewhat similar vein have pointed out, since people’s attention is limited, this shift
in the balance to a more ‘connected’ relationship with an intimate few can be at the
expense of making the effort to interact with strangers (Rivère and Licoppe, 2003).
Both the French and Norwegian research drew upon the work of Sennett (1986),
describing the growing incivility within society. This leads to the question of
whether such a process of interacting with a few close others detracts from the
public sphere itself and from the social capital of society (Ling, forthcoming).
Conclusions
This chapter started by indicating the various ways in which social networks can have
a bearing upon people’s experience of ICTs. They do this through stimulating initial
interest, through providing a way to become familiar with technologies and services
as well as appreciate their usefulness, through recommendations and gifts and through
assisting and shaping usage. However, if social network support can be a resource,
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lacking the networks that perform these roles can itself contribute to the unevenness
of experience discussed at the start of this book.
The next step was to make the network itself the focus of attention, rather than
the individual or household within it, just as some general studies of social networks
do. Then we can ask how social networks as collectivities adopt ICTs, and how
practices relating to these technologies emerge. In other words, we could extend the
domestication framework by asking about domestication by groups other than the
household. We saw this demonstrated on a large scale with the example of gender and
games, looking even beyond more narrowly defined networks of people who know
each other. This illustrated the point that it was sometimes important to look at
relations outside the home in order to explain some social phenomenon. In this
instance, it helped account for gender differences in the early usage of home
computers arising from the different meaning that games had in networks of boys and
girls.
The final section looked at the specific debates about the effects of the Internet
on our relationships with social networks, which stressed the potential displacement
of some interactions by others. The first concern was that the Internet might reduce
people’s sociability by cutting down the time they spent interacting with their social
networks. This raises some by now familiar methodological debates, to which we
might add that to measure simply ‘use’ of the Internet or time spent interacting with
the screen may be misleading. Using the Internet (or other ICTs such as the computer)
may not always be as antisocial as is portrayed. Teenagers could be sociable in terms
of interacting in front of the screen as well as talking about the Internet when not on-
line.
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The second concern is that the Internet could lead to people spending more
time interacting with distant others to the detriment of face-to-face contact, couched
in terms of weak mediated on-line ties displacing strong off-line ones. Again, there is
a question about how fruitful it is to pose the question in this way. Much Internet
based communication is actually with people we already know. The medium has
become just one more channel in our overall communications repertoire, used
alongside other channels. Moreover, it is questionable whether we should simply talk
about ‘weak’ mediated on-line ties. The picture is more complex. Whatever its
‘quality’, communicating on-line can be useful for some purposes and it can exhibit a
richness in certain circumstances.
Endnotes
1. This study took place in 1998 in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the
UK. Commissioned by NCR, it involved twenty in-depth household interviews in
each country.
2. As in the case of the single parent and young elderly studies, this research from
1992-3 involved dairies and two sets of interviews with twenty households. The
report is available at http://members.aol.com/leshaddon/Date.html.
3. Use of the fixed phone, e-mail and the mobile related to network features such as
social network size, the percentage of family vs. friends and the percentage of local
network members.
4. By way of clarification, most UK computers sold at that time were cheaper and had
less capacity and functional capability than computers being sold in North America.
This history of computers and games is based on my doctorate research 1984-1988,
involving the use of secondary sources to construct history of computers and games,
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and interviews with people working in the British computer and game industry, as
well as interviews with users, including young people, and observational studies. The
work was supplemented by contemporary survey evidence. The doctorate can be
accessed through http://members.aol.com.Index.html, the history of home computers
appears in Haddon, 1988a, their use by youth appears in Haddon 1992, and the history
of games appears in Haddon 1988b, 1993 and1999c.
5. The authors argue a number of processes may be at work here. One refers to the
specific nature of the early sample – the results may have been different for different
groups. Another process may be that it has one effect in the short term but another in
the longer term. A third is that the first findings may have been influenced by the
nature of the Internet at that time. Fewer family and friends were on-line in 1995-96
compared to the time of the follow-up study in 1998. They also conducted a second
panel study to demonstrate differential effects for different groups. Extraverts and
those with more social support benefited more from Internet access, including in
terms of various relationships with their social networks.
6. European data from the P-903 project would match this. Internet users have larger
social networks than non-users and long-term users report more frequent sociability
with friends (Smoreda and Thomas, 2001). The British Telecom longitudinal study
also found a small increase in social life following take up of the Internet (Gershuny,
2001).
7. The authors themselves are critical of aggregating Internet data and acknowledge
the crudity of this division between interpersonal and informational in order to make a
general point.
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8. This point was also true historically, as Fischer (1992) pointed out in his American
study when reflecting on concerns that the phone favour non-local communication
over local communication.
9. Wellman, in his Canadian study, also observed that his respondents had more
frequent contact with those who lived nearby - both face-to face and by telephone
(Wellman, 1992).
10. In fact, the P-903 data reinforced the results of other studies showing that the
more you see people the more you call them (Smoreda and Thomas, 2001)
11. That acknowledged, one first caveat is that the term ‘local’ could have misleading
connotations, sometimes implying ‘in the neighbourhood’. Over a decade ago one
Canadian study has demonstrated that most friends do not live ‘locally’ in that sense
and emphasized how little face-to-face contact there is now with neighbourhood
social networks (Wellman, 1992). There is an argument that the ‘communities’ in
which we operate (socially, as opposed to spatially, defined) are more spatially
dispersed (Wellman et al, 2001). If the main interest is in social relations in which
there is regular face-to-face contact, these can be maintained over a fairly wide
geographic area, for example a large city, depending on the area over which people
operate in their daily lives. Some people only operate over a relatively small,
contained area while others regularly travel over an area the size of London (as in,
meeting friends ‘up in town’). This has to be borne in mind in discussions of ‘local’
communication.
12. Also observed in the five-country qualitative study of the Internet (Haddon,
1999a) and in a Belgian study of young adults (Hartmann, 2003).
13. Others have commented on how we can move between different modes as our
relationships with people evolve (Ling, 2000).
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14. And a similar figure, 2% was found in the Pew Survey in 2002 (Horrigan et al,
2002a)
15. One of the striking observations about proximity that emerges from that
qualitative material is how often interviewees referred to their use of e-mail to keep
contact with social network members who lived abroad. This sometimes replaced
phone calls, but it also led to additional communications that arose because of the
existence of the new medium.
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Chapter six: Time and ICTs
Our longer-term social commitments, as well as the wider social structures in which
we operate, have a bearing upon adoption and use. In this respect temporal
constraints, which have consistently received attention in British domestication
studies, are important because they have a bearing for people’s room for manoeuvre
when making decisions about ICTs.
This chapter starts specifically with the following question. How does the time
we reserve for other activities limit or shape the consumption of ICTs? Specifically,
when can time considerations influence the very adoption of ICTs? And in what ways
do they constrain usage, indeed constrain our ability to learn to use ICTs in the first
place? In answering these questions, what type of time considerations should we
examine over and above the total amount of free disposable time available to us?
The next section deals with subjective perceptions of time, since these may
influence the strategies people adopt when organising their time and their attitudes to
and use of new ICTs. Here we ask how researchers on time stress have approached
and tried to make sense of this issue of time perceptions. How has their analysis
contributed to how we might think about the ‘quality’ of time?
Finally we return to the social consequences of ICT use, dealing specifically
with effects of ICTs on how we plan and manage time. After some general
observations about our lack of knowledge of people’s time strategies, this sections
provides some case studies which deal with the degree to which we need to organise
time in advance. This leads to the following questions. To what extent, and for whom
do ICTs enable more spontaneity or alternatively create the need for the greater pre-
planning of time?
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Time influencing the adoption and use of ICTs
Disposable time
If we start with a concept from economics, people sometimes anticipate the
‘opportunity costs’ of using ICTs – i.e. they recognise that they could be partaking in
another activity instead. Anticipation of time costs can affect not only the decision to
use ICTs but also the very decision to adopt them in the first place or to invest in the
skills necessary to use the technology. This was captured in some comments from the
European P-903 study, when people were expressing their reservations about the
Internet (Klamer et al, 2000). One complained ‘It takes time to develop into an
experienced searcher’. Another added ‘If one isn’t selective and doesn’t know what
one’s looking for, surfing, information search and shopping may take too long ...and
consume disposable time.’
This whole issue of disposable time is important because to the extent that we
reserve time for activities this in turn imposes potential limits on the consumption of
ICTs. We can demonstrate this with an example from the five-country qualitative
study of Internet adopters and non-adopters (Haddon, 1999a)1. For many of the adults
interviewed, the time slot when they went on-line was often constrained by working
hours, thus occurring in the evenings or at weekends. Even some teleworkers
followed this pattern. For example, one British interviewee only allowed herself
thirty-minutes to relax and search for whatever interested her on the Internet. This
took place in the time slot after she had completed her day’s work and before she
went out socialising in the evening. For others the time slot might fall after
completing some work-related tasks at home in the early evening, or in the late
evening, relaxing at the end of the day (e.g. through socialising on-line). In other
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words, while some had unpredictable periods of free time, others had more regular
time slots for going on-line.
Occasionally those involved in the Internet industry ask whether the time people
actively spend on-line might increase substantially. One can imagine how it might
increase somewhat, and how the pattern of use might change to frequent short bursts
of activity with the ‘always on’ Internet. But, in the short term at least, how
substantially can Internet time increase for people such as the interviewees described
above if the Net competes against their commitments to and desire to be with family,
with friends and to take part in other activities inside and outside the home?
The Timing of ICT use
A number of ICTs are promoted not so much for saving time as for being able to
time-shift activities. Examples would be VCRs, answering machines and voice mail.
Or else these technologies offer temporal flexibility in that people can use them when
they want to. This includes communicating with people at the timing of their own
choice, without being constrained by fixed time schedules or the pressure to reply to
communications immediately. Examples would include Video-On-Demand, remote
banking and shopping, and (answering) asynchronous communication media such as
e-mails and text messages. Of course, by offering users more flexibility in organising
their lives, this may in turn allow them to combine activities in such a way so as to
save time.
That is the technological promise. Certainly participants in the European P-903
project realised this to some extent (Klamer et al, 2000). However, our ability to shift
time is also constrained by the social structures in which we live, even if we
acknowledge that some people have more flexible temporal patterns than others.
French analysts studying phone communication patterns found that the overall
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distribution of phone calls was still shaped by patterns of work, when shops were
open and when transport and other public services operated. To an extent this remains
so even as there are moves towards twenty-four hour, seven-day a week working and
opening hours. Influenced by the timing of work and of school, French domestic calls
start to rise at 5.00 pm peaking at 8.00-9.00 pm (De Gournay and Smoreda, 20012).
Then there is the question of synchronising time with others. For example, the
French study pointed out that teleworkers and retired people still made many phone
calls in the evening because (apart from the cheaper tariffs) that was when other
people whom they called were at home. In general communications between adults
and their (sometimes retired) parents also took place in the evening. The qualitative
part of this French study showed how calls earlier in the day were often re-directed to
the evening since people wanted a quiet period to deal with phone conversations at
more length (De Gournay and Smoreda, 2001). And of course social codes in some
countries also imply that one should not phone after 10.00 pm (Lelong and
Beaudouin, 2001).
Another French study showed that even Internet users avoided going on-line in
the early part of the evening. They did this both to keep the (single) phone line free
for incoming and outgoing calls and because the early evening was more often
devoted to family times, like having a meal together. Internet traffic rose after
10.00pm. Prior to that, sessions on-line were shorter (Lelong and Beaudouin, 20013).
That particular research went on to examine experiments using terminals other than
the PC for accessing the Internet. As regards using a set top box to access web-TV,
the television watchers in the household would usually impose their timetable on
when the TV set was used for viewing broadcast programmes and when it could be
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used for accessing the Internet. Meanwhile, webphones were only used for the
Internet after 10.00 pm, when ordinary voice phone calls were no longer made.
The influence of time, and timing, on ICT consumption can be further
exemplified from the results of a British qualitative study of managers and
professionals attitudes to and use of cable TV4. Whatever the amount of actual level
of interest the particular household members had in television, work commitments,
children and lifestyle choices meant that the majority of the interviewees often had at
best only a few hours to watch TV during the weekdays and at weekends. Many of the
men, especially, worked long hours at their place of work. After coming home they
expected to spend some time with their families. So parents from this social class
would often not have the chance to begin viewing until 8.00 pm or later - and then
some of these would be going to bed by 10.00 pm or 11.00 pm. It is therefore
understandable that many argued cable was not justified because they did not have
time to watch much TV, or enough TV.
Staying with this example, it is also worth considering one of the selling points
of cable – the number of films it offered. In that time slot noted above, these managers
and professionals could in theory have fitted in watching a film. However, many of
this group also liked to watch the evening news as a priority, either (at this period in
the mid-1990s) at 9.00 pm or at 10.00 pm. This in turn meant that the other TV
programmes they watched (including ones they videoed) were of shorter duration than
a film and they were viewed either side of news. In other words, the timing of their
commitment to the news, and wanting to see it live, blocked the option to watch a
film.
One last example of the constraints on the timing of ICT use relates to social
expectations about communication. There are the social codes as regards replying to
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e-mails and text messages. As was observed above, the technological promise is that
one can reply when it is convenient, offering temporal flexibility. However, in
practice there are often social pressures to reply sooner rather than later, as observed
by participants in the European P-903 study. This is captured in comments such as ‘I
feel obliged to communicate’ and ‘The sender often expects a fast reply’ (Klamer et
al, 2000). And we saw earlier in the chapter on children and youth how they
sometimes felt under pressure to respond quickly to the gift of a communication.
In fact, this pressure can actually lead to a sense of losing control, and even a
counter-reaction, as was described by a female participant in a British qualitative
study (Haddon, 2000c):
I’d say that 40% of the e-mail I get at work is social, I also get an incredible
deluge of work-related stuff. Now my social e-mail is just out of control, over
the last two years there’s just been more and more of it, its so tedious …my e-
mail circle has increased and they’re getting more frequent…it’s quite
outrageous and takes up far too much of my time, it’s becoming quite
annoying, I used to reply straight away, now I leave it for weeks on end
without replying because I just can’t be bothered with it any more.
One might ask more about the factors that put pressure on people to reply, the
expected time scales of replies and how people respond to these pressures in practice.
This last example also draws attention to the way in which the practices of textual
messaging might change over time as people engaged in this type of communication
decide to respond differently.
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Blocks of time vs. Fragmented time
One further question concerns whether people can find blocks of time for using ICTs,
and how large those blocks are, versus the degree to which the time for ICT use is
fragmented. This issue has been discussed in relation to gender, where women, who
still have more responsibility for domestic labour, experience relatively more
fragmented television viewing then men. They often fit viewing in between other
activities. But the picture is made more complicated by other factors. In a qualitative
study of teleworking, both male and female professionals, for whom work was a
career and a priority, organised work into blocks. This was because they needed
protracted periods of concentration in order to carry out their tasks, and it was
reflected in the timing of their use of ICTs such as the computer. Meanwhile, clerical
telework was predominantly undertaken by women who were trying to earn some
extra money for the household while being at home. Work, and hence the use of ICTs,
was temporally more fragmented as these teleworkers alternated between small tasks
(e.g. printing off) and domestic chores (Haddon and Silverstone, 1993).
This issue of the duration of time slots allotted to ICT use can be important for a
number of reasons. In a French study of experiments involving ADSL, the researchers
argued that its flat-rate tariff was actually one crucial factor leading people to devote
longer blocks of time to the Internet. They did not worry about the costs associated
with pay-per-use. The authors thought that this contributed to more sophisticated
usage5 and that spending longer blocks of time on-line facilitated learning. In fact, in
comparison to narrowband access, more people in these households learnt to use the
Internet, in addition to the main expert6 (Lelong and Beaudouin, 2001). We might
speculate as to whether having blocks of time for ICT use also allows for more
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experimentation and a greater chance of achieving success (e.g. in terms of finding
what one wants on the Net).
How attentive are people when experiencing fragmented time? The
phenomenon of multitasking – doing several things simultaneously – would be a
relevant example worthy of further investigation. The fact that many women multitask
of women because of their degree of involvement in domestic labour has been
discussed in various studies. But more generally, the increasing saturation of
households with ICTs has led to many people consuming several technologies at
once. We might think of the examples of listening to music or TV while being on-
line, or children switching between doing homework on a PC and instant messaging
with friends. To take one slightly older example from television, we might consider
the practice of zapping between programmes using the remote control and keeping
track of several narratives simultaneously. To what extent have we trained our
attention to cope with such practices?
Perceptions of time
There has been some research looking at perceptions of time and ICTs. For example,
people’s ‘orientation’ to time (past, present and future orientations) can have a
bearing upon ICT consumption (Silverstone, 1993). And the television schedule can
be used to mark, or give a sense of structure to, the passing of time (Scannel, 1988).
But one theme from the time literature has only been occasionally linked to
ICTs, and that is perceptions of time stress or the sense of time pressure7 that people
sometimes mention (Klamer et al, 2001). In this section we stand back from
technologies for a moment to think more generally about how this time stress has
been conceptualised and explained as well as to reflect upon factors shaping
perceptions of the quality of time. One can at least ask whether such perceived
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pressure has a bearing upon the perceptions and roles of ICTs. For example, under
what circumstances and for whom can ICTs help to alleviate a perceived time stress
problem? Or when are they seen as contributing to that problem, leading to more
pressure?
Time stress
Time stress is a theme in the wider literature on time, also expressed as ‘time famine’,
‘the time squeeze’ or the ‘harried leisure class’ (Southerton, 2001). An apparent
paradox commented upon in some of the time literature is that while time budget data
has demonstrated that those in employment have gained slightly more leisure time (or
rather ‘non-work time’), surveys show that people actually feel more time pressure.
There has been a range of explanations for the widespread experience of
harriedness (reviewed in Southerton, 2001). Some of these make reference to
objective changes in society. While claims that we work longer are empirically not
true, other changes in our time structures provide more plausible explanations for this
sense of being harried. One of these is the weakening of socio-temporal structures as
more work takes place at different times, as we can shop at different times, etc. While
this provides more individual flexibility on the one hand, it can also increase (time)
problems associated with co-ordinating with our social networks (this theme is
followed up below - Southerton, 2001).
Then there are a range of explanations referring to people’s changing time
strategies, themselves based on new expectations. For example, one account referred
to the amount of things people now tried to achieve. In a German study, three-quarters
of those surveyed said that they experienced time pressure precisely because they
were trying to do too much in their leisure time (Garhammer, 1998b). Another
changing strategy involved the speeding up of life as people did things more quickly
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in order to fit everything in. Hence, leisure activities become less ‘leisurely’ (Roberts
(1976), discussed in Southerton, 2001). And in this respect, ICTs may themselves
contribute to this faster pace of life, as observed by this Italian interviewee in the
European P-903 study (Klamer et al, 2000) when he observed: ‘New technologies
allow you to do more activities but they make you frenetic and stressed.’
Apart from the sheer number of activities undertaken it has been argued that the
duration and frequency of these activities are changing. This leads to people feeling
time pressure because they use their time more intensely, perhaps doing several things
at once, or because the large number of separate activities leads to a succession of
short, frequently changing episodes of activity (Bittman, 1998). Multi-tasking has also
been cited as a cause of stress. Or if not actually doing several things at once, then at
least ‘juggling’ activities has also been mentioned in this respect.
The quality of time
Two arguments about the perception of being harried introduce ways of thinking
about the quality of time. The first comes from a UK qualitative study. This argues
that although people referred to the idea of time stress when asked to comment on
their own everyday life, in practice their days were not stressed overall (Southerton,
2001). But what emerged was the fact that there were particular periods when they
felt harried because they had packed many activities into a short time frame: which
the researcher called ‘hot spots’
This compression of activities can be caused by the pressure to fit in with the
time structures of institutions, as in the case of the rush to get children ready for
school in the morning. Hot spots can arise from the problem of co-ordinating with
social networks, occurring when there are small windows of time in which to make
contact. They can arise due to the unpredictability of events which mess up plans. But
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