Academic journal article Development and Society

The Missing Gap between Internet Use and Benefits: Seniors' Limited Internet Experiences and Social Marginalization*

Academic journal article Development and Society

The Missing Gap between Internet Use and Benefits: Seniors' Limited Internet Experiences and Social Marginalization*

Article excerpt

Korea's IT development has been predominated by technology diffusion alone including technology infrastructure, online service access and number of Internet subscribers. There seems to be no doubt that Korea's continuous effort to promote technology spread will promise social integration and development nationwide. This paper challenges such mislead thinking of IT for development by emphasizing the actual experiences of Internet use to meet the end users' needs. Observation is made through listening to the stories of a marginalized group of seniors who have participated in IT education programs at a Senior Welfare Center. Findings suggest that having acquired IT skills did not necessarily enable seniors to extend their personal relationships and social involvement in everyday life. Rather, their use of the Internet was restricted due to the ongoing social marginalization prevalent within their present situation. Policy implications are provided that information policies for disadvantaged groups such as seniors must go beyond technology access and skills provision to include other basic social policies to complement and support people's information use relevant for their social need and circumstances.

Key Words: IT Development, Social Inclusion, Social Marginalization, Technology Determinism, Internet Use, 'Digital Divide,' Information Policy, Older People


As the Internet and other online technology is spreading vastly into many people's everyday lives and changing the ways they cope with social problems, optimistic perceptions of the new technology as a key tool to empower people and bring social development has been predominant in the contemporary society. Social policies initiatives, in haste, are linking online to increase social integration, and take its opportunity to reduce and even prevent social exclusion. Such technology driven actions perceive technology as a conduit for social inclusion and 'an important dimension of social exclusion' (Phipps, 2000; Selwyn, 2002; Silverstone and Haddon, 1998). Thus, the ability to use the Internet is regarded as 'the indispensable grammar of modern life' and a fundamental factor to ensure citizenship in society (Wills, 1999: 10).

Alternative viewpoints reassess the role of the new technology for social development, suggesting '[n]o specific factor, much less information, can be singled out as a main cause of development' (Menou, 1993: 20). From this perspective, causal relationships between information use and benefits involve the 'complexity of real-life situations' and other 'noninformationrelated internal and external factors' (20). This emphasizes multiple situational factors surrounding the 'users' social context, and to consider what kind of information is sought for what purpose, based on the needs and the circumstances of the people considered (McConnell, 1995; Menou, 1993). From this perspective, '"real access" ... goes beyond just physical access and makes it possible for people to use technology effectively to improve their lives' (, 2001: 5). Moreover, the nature of the 'digital divide' as a new form of social problem has been reconceived as a multidimensional phenomenon, rooted within a pre-existing social marginalization (Norris, 2001). Social marginalization, in modern society, is considered as a relative concept, which appears differently to different people in a multifaceted way depending on the context (Atkinson and Davaoudi, 2000). As a result, it is essential to consider the purpose of use and its diverse activities based on the users' situational context.

In this respect Korea's IT development based on government policy to promote technology infrastructure and online access deserves to be reconsidered. Korea, in general, is well-known for its success in moving towards an 'online society', taking a world lead in the nation's Internet savvy, Internet use, online services, broadband access, and wireless communications (Kim, 2006). …

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