Attitudes and the Digital Divide: Attitude Measurement as Instrument to Predict Internet Usage

By Donat, Elisabeth; Brandtweiner, Roman et al. | Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Attitudes and the Digital Divide: Attitude Measurement as Instrument to Predict Internet Usage


Donat, Elisabeth, Brandtweiner, Roman, Kerschbaum, Johann, Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline


Introduction

"The last half of the 1900s has been characterized by the increasing importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in social and organizational life" (Sawyer & Rosenbaum, 2000). In the now established information society, it is crucial that people have access to the new media and know how to use the new ICTs. Without access to the internet and without the necessary skills that regularly go along with the attitude to use the new information technologies, people can neither inform themselves electronically nor can be informed by organisations and institutions using IT. This is why issues concerning the digital divide are of striking importance in this context, as pointed out by Elizabeth C. Boyd, "As information technology is fast becoming a major tool for disseminating and obtaining information, gaps between those who have access to this tool and those who do not is a major concern"(2002, p. 113).

Research on digital divide focuses first and foremost on the speed of various groups in adopting these new ICTs (Anderson, Bikson, Law, & Mitchell, 1995; Gehrke, 2004; Katz & Rice 2002; Katz, Rice, & Aspden 2001; Norris, 2001; Selhofer & Husing, 2002). The relation of demographics and internet usage is one of the major research questions in the field of digital divide. Phenomena like these can be subsummized under the so-called "first order digital divide" (Dewan & Riggins, 2005). The so-called "second order digital divide" addresses questions about different abilities to use the internet and draw advantages from its usage (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001; Hargittai, 2002, 2003). Less research has been done in a third dimension of adopting new technologies, i.e. the field of attitudes towards the internet, although these attitudes play an important role in adoption and in learning how to use this new medium. Besides analyzing demographic characteristics of users and non-users we want to focus on the question of attitudes, especially of non-users in comparison to users, to acquire a deeper understanding of the process of "digital divide" and the adoption of new technologies.

Former studies investigating the digital divide used theories of diffusion and innovation as explanatory frameworks (Carveth & Kretchmer, 2002). Doubtlessly research like this provides useful and interesting information about the digital divide phenomenon. The explanatory strength of studies like this lies in explaining the causes and consequence of the first order digital divide. If we want to understand the second order digital divide, i.e. why people who theoretically have access to ICTs and Internet do not use these new media, we have to take a closer look at attitudes. This was already emphasized seven years ago by Burkett, Compton, and Burkett (2001). In another publication, they pointed out that "... the impact of computer attitudes on computer knowledge is still a key component to the understanding of information science" (Compton, Burkett, & Burkett, 2002, p. 219).

What do we know about attitudes towards the internet? To answer this question, unfortunately one has to refer to one of the several studies made that observe attitudes in populations of students (Jackson, Ervin, Gardner, & Schmitt, 2001; Li, Kirkup & Hodgson, 2001; Sam, Othman & Nordin, 2005) or even to one of the online-surveys addressing only current users. In our literature review we also found several studies about attitudes towards e-commerce - of course also focusing on a very specific section of the population. These target groups are specific and biased in a dimension of vital importance when discussing phenomena of digital divide: they certainly have a relatively high level of computer and internet literacy compared to the general population of a society. Therefore it is inappropriate to draw conclusions about internet attitudes and behaviour from such selective populations and to generalize from them. …

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