Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Predictors of Internet Use

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Predictors of Internet Use

Article excerpt

Access to computer-mediated technologies, such as the Internet, has extended our informational and interactive capabilities. These technologies are highly publicized, debated, and regulated media. With the widespread use of such technologies, we require greater understanding of the personal and social attributes that affect why people use computer-mediated communication (CMC) and the outcomes of CMC-related behavior. Computer-mediated communication is communication facilitated by computer technologies, and is defined as "synchronous or asynchronous electronic mail and computer conferencing, by which senders encode in text messages that are relayed from senders' computers to receivers'" (Walther, 1992, p. 52). Considering the widespread use of the World Wide Web, CMC-related activities would also include web browsing.

Some researchers have focused on the interactive and informational dimensions of new technologies, exploring how these newer media might differ from traditional face-to-face communication, and how they might provide additional communication channels. Several attributes of CMC are thought to distinguish CMC from face-to face communication. These include: problems in coordination owing to the lack of informational feedback, the absence of social influence cues in discussion, and depersonalization due to the lack of nonverbal involvement (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984). CMC provides users with a massive information resource and a vehicle for social interaction (Williams & Rice, 1983). It creates a sociocultural network where people can fulfill informational and interactive needs.

Several researchers have begun to examine the unique communicative capabilities of CMC technologies. For example, Williams, Strover, and Grant (1994) recognized that media systems such as personal computers create nongeographically based communities. They suggested that perspectives such as uses and gratifications can help us understand relationships among people and technologies. This is especially the case for how people use technologies to negotiate their identities, social positions, and emotional lives.

A debate similar to what has accompanied the television medium has surrounded this need to understand the interactive and informational potential of CMC. Some have felt that some users must be protected from the possible negative effects of certain Internet resources. Even though little is known about what actually goes on in cyberspace, there has been some research and a lot of speculation. For example, using longitudinal data across 73 households, Kraut et al. (1998) found that greater Internet use related to reduced communication in the household, smaller social circles, and greater senses of depression and loneliness. Following the rationale of Newhagen and Rafaeli (1996), we need a clearer understanding of the relationship between the individual user and the technology before we can more clearly estimate the effects of these technologies.

Following the suggestion of Newhagen and Rafaeli (1996), we considered the uses and gratifications of the Internet. Earlier, Kuehn (1994) examined motives of CMC users in an instructional setting, following a uses-and-gratifications approach. As a psychological communication perspective, uses-and-gratifications theory assumes people communicate or use media to gratify needs or wants. It focuses on motives for media use, factors that influence motives, and outcomes from media related behavior. Psychological characteristics, social context, and attitudes and perceptions influence people's motives and behavior (A. Rubin, 1993, 1994). In addition, interpersonal and mediated communication channels complement and may substitute for each other (A. Rubin & Rubin, 1985). Research has shown that people choose among interpersonal and mediated channels to fulfill interactive and informational needs, depending on availability and individual perceptions of a medium, and the type of need to be fulfilled (A. …

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