THE CONTENTIOUS GAP
With the rise and widespread application of the internet, social scientists rapidly emphasized that some people were better able to gain control over these technologies than others. This so-called digital divide between the haves and the have-nots was seen as a new feature of contemporary inequality – as a reproduction or transformation of existing social disparities. Motivated by these concerns about social inequality, it is argued in this paper, research on the digital divide has been theoretically and empirically blinkered. Even though the focus changed from simplistic questions of having access or not, towards the more informative dimension of usage and skills, the same socio-economic bias was maintained. In this paper, we therefore theorize that appropriating the internet (or not) is less related to socio-economic position or usage and skills, and is more culturally informed than theories about a digital divide allow for. To empirically test our assumptions, we used the internet-based community project ‘Telebrink’ as a case study for our quantitative and qualitative research. Based on a survey among Dutch citizens involved in this project (N = 251), we studied the explanations for (not) using these applications by testing hypotheses about the influence of skills and knowledge on the one hand and culture, i.e. moral evaluations of online social life, on the other. Our statistical analyses show that cultural attitudes, i.e. moral beliefs regarding social interaction, are most strongly explaining the appropriation of social internet technologies. Enriched with our qualitative data confirming those results, it is concluded that how people feel and think about this technology in social life is of major importance. In short: culture matters!
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Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands 2: 3:
Publication date: September 1, 2013