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Technology adoption across the digital divide the case of berkeley freshmen
Technology adoption across the digital divideThe case of Berkeley Freshmen

Main arguments
Main Arguments

Using the case of the “technological careers” (DiMaggio and Celeste, 2004) of Berkeley Freshmen, I argue that the binary nature of technology adoption is inadequate to understand or articulate the digital divide.


  • Background

    • Diffusion/Adoption Theory

    • Digital Divide Research

  • Case: Berkeley Freshmen

    • Methods

    • Results

    • Discussion

  • Issues and Next Steps

Classical diffusion research
Classical diffusion research

  • Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers

    • Adoption is “a decision to make full use of an innovation as the best course of action”

    • Diffusion is “the process in which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system”

  • Diffusion considers some aspects of the rich communication infrastructure that might influence an individual, but ultimately adoption is treated as a binary variable

The problem technology adoption is not binary
The problem: technology adoption is not binary

“ When exclusive emphasis is placed on owning or having access by using these dichotomous have/have-not comparisons, the assumption is that either all haves will incorporate the technology into their everyday lives in the same manner and to the same degree or that the difference in the quality of Internet connection among the haves is unimportant. In other words, these measures introduce an element of technological determinism that ignores the social context in which the technology is incorporated.”

(Jung et al, 2001)

Why this is important
Why this is important!

  • In development work (and work addressing the digital divide) adoption is a more complicated process that doesn't have an necessarily expected outcome

  • A more nuanced understanding of what it means to adopt a technology can help bridge the digital divide and improve development projects

Digital divide and internet diffusion research
Digital divide and Internet diffusion research

  • Three phases of Internet diffusion research (according to Chen and Wellman, 2003):

    • Early 1990s: Internet will level the playing field OR the Internet reproduces all inequalities

    • Late 1990s: more rigorous empirical research that demonstrated a “digital divide” along gender, ses, ethnicity, age and geographic location

    • After 2000: Internet scholars start to develop a more realistic picture of what the digital divide means and what is the impact of the Internet.

The new agenda
The “new” agenda

  • Innovations can bundled, adoption decisions may not be independent (Feder et al., 1985; Rangaswamy and Gupta, 1999)

  • National policy influences adoption (Feder et al, 1985)

  • “Openness” of a society in terms of civil liberties (Beilock and Dimitrova, 2003)

  • Not everyone who adopts a technology continues to use it (DiMaggio and Celeste, 2004; Anderson, 2005; Lenhart and Horrigan, 2003)

  • People use technology in different ways (DiMaggio and Celeste, 2004; Robinson et al., 2003)

  • Focus on skills (Hargattai, 2003)

  • Focus on the quality of Internet connection (Jung et al., 2001)

Alternate adoption measures
Alternate adoption measures

Model of Adoption of Technology in Households (MATH) incorporated: attitudinal belief structure, normative belief structure and social control structure (Shih and Vankatesh, 2003) (Still predicts a binary adoption)

Internet Connectedness Index (ICI) looks at goals, and activities related to the Internet and the centrality of the Internet to individuals (Jung et al., 2001)

Internet use as a continuum to better understand non-internet users (the truly unconnected, net evaders, net dropouts and intermittent users) (Lenhart and Horrigan, 2003)

The second-level digital divide measures internet skills, particularly looking at search skills (Hargattai, 2003)

Framework communication infrastructure
Framework: Communication Infrastructure

  • I am going to focus on the Communication Infrastructure framework in relation to the adoption process (Jung et al, 2001; Jung et al, 2005)

    • Stress is not necessarily on ownership of a technology, but an individual's relation to that technology

    • Use the Internet as part of a communication infrastructure including your personal relationships, institutions large and small, and the mass media

Methodology multi method
Methodology: Multi-Method!

  • Collected qualitative and quantitative data

    • Allows us to see what the larger trends are

    • Gain a depth of understanding and stories to explain some of the trends

  • Quantitative questions focused on a list of technical activities

    • When students first started using

    • From whom they learned how

    • Frequency of use

  • Qualitative questions

    • Focused on students' “technological careers” (DiMaggio and Celeste, 2004)

    • The role of technology in their lives

Data gathered
Data Gathered

  • Qualitative data:

    • 22 interviews in March 2005 with Berkeley Freshmen

    • 8 focus groups with a total of 32 Berkeley Freshmen in March of 2006

      • 4 focus groups of students from the “lowest income” families making $35,000 or less

    • 8 interviews with 18 and 19 year olds at Ohlone College (sanity check)

  • Quantitative data:

    • Office of Student Research survey to incoming freshmen in August of 2005 (2934 responses)

    • Survey to Ohlone students (50 responses)

Weaknesses of data
Weaknesses of data

  • Looking at income

    • “Income is the most important factor that affects Internet diffusion” (Wellman and Chen, 2003)

    • Also good to look at parents' level of education

    • Ethnicity and being first generation also seem to be issues?

  • Recall problems

  • (could be a strength) All of the information presented here is about the experience of young people from their perspective

  • Survey, interview, focus group bias towards those checking their email frequently


  • Lowest income students:

    • First experiences with a computer were typically in institutional settings

    • The purchase of a family computer and the Internet was driven by the educational needs of the students

    • Are generally the computer “experts” at home and often mediate their parent's technology use

  • For a computer connected to the Internet, word processing, and email:

    • Lowest income student used them slightly later than other students, and relied on themselves (and sometimes teachers) to learn to use

First experiences with a computer
First experiences with a computer

I believe - in our elementary school we had computers, and we started - they introduced you to a computer. At first it was like painting, you know. Making art on the computers... then writing little short letters.


Family computer purchase driven by the student
Family computer purchase driven by the student

Joseph: I had to install you know the Internet service myself because my parents don’t know anything about computers. So basically I had to set up everything myself and I remember I got it like senior year too. I needed it for school.

Moderator: Yeah. That’s cool. How did you first get your parents to get it for you?

Joseph: Oh it was hard. They didn’t know what it was. I was like “I need it for school. That’s all you need to worry about. Just pay for it.”

Mediating parents technology use
Mediating parents technology use

Yeah, my mom has never used the computer. like we’ve called her over, and we’re like, “Look at this screen. They emailed us these pictures.” Or “Here’s the song you like. I found it online.” But she’s never actually like sat there, or turned it on, or anything.... ...Like whenever she would wanna pay bills online - when she heard you could do that, and she would have to go driving off somewhere to do it or mail it, she’s like, “Figure out how to do it. here’s my credit card.”

- Bob

At what age did berkeley students first start to use a computer connected to the internet
At what age did Berkeley students first start to use a computer connected to the Internet?

Conclusions the Internet?

  • Adoption in this case is a complex issue involving where students use technology, who is helping them use it, and cost of application

  • As the students get older, parents and teachers play less of a role for all students

  • Lowest income students have to be a lot more responsible for their technology usage

    • Some see this as good, because it forces them to learn on their own

    • Implications for issues like the MySpace controversy or regulating game usage?

  • Bundling issues: once students had access to the Internet, and their own computer they decide when to use free applications?

Issues and next steps
Issues and Next Steps the Internet?

  • What are the issues with ethnicity and being first generation, or when students came to this country (especially as it relates to parents level of education and income)

  • What is the influence of national policies about computers in the classrooms?

  • What is the importance of the aspirational quality of technology?

  • Would we have the same findings if we were collecting data from the parents perspective?

References the Internet?

  • Anderson, B. (2005). "The Value of Mixed-Metho Longitudinal Panel Studies in ICT Research: Transitions in and out of 'ICT poverty' as a case in point." Information, Communication & Society 8(3): 343-367.

  • Beilock, R. and D. V. Dimitrova (2003). "An exploratory model of inter-country Internet diffusion." Telecommunications Policy 27: 237-252.

  • Chen, W. and B. Wellman (2003). Charting and Bridging Digital Divides: Comparing Socio-economic, Gender, Life Stage, and Rural-Urban Internet Access and Use in Eight Countries, AMD Global Consumer Advisory Board (GCAB): 1-43.

  • DiMaggio, P. J. and C. E. Celeste (2004). Technological Careers: Adoption, Deepening and Dropping Out in a Panel of Internet Users, Princeton University: 1-46.

  • Feder, G., R. E. Just, et al. (1985). "Adoption of Agricultural Innovations in Developing Countries: A Survey." Economic Development and Cultural Change 33(2): 255-298.

  • Hargittai, E. (2002). "Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People's Online Skills." First Monday 7(4).

  • Jackson, L. A., G. Barbatsis, et al. (2003). "Internet Use in Low-income Families: Implication for the Digital Divide." IT & Society 1(5): 141-165.

  • Jung, J.-Y., Y.-C. Kim, et al. (2005). "The influence of social environment on internet connectednes in Seoul, Singapore and Taipei." New Media & Society 7(1): 64-88.

  • Jung, J.-Y., J. L. Qiu, et al. (2001). "Internet Connectedness and Inequality: Beyond the "Divide"." Communication Research 28(4): 507-535.

  • Lenhart, A. and J. B. Horrigan (2003). "Re-visualizing the Digital Divide as a Digital Spectrum." IT & Society 1(5): 23-39.

  • Rangaswamy, A. and S. Gupta (1999). Innovation Adoption and Diffusion in the Digital Environment: Some Research Opportunities, eBusiness Research Center, Penn State: 1-38.

  • Robinson, J. P., P. J. DiMaggio, et al. (2003). "New Social Survey Perspectives on the Digital Divide." IT & Society 1(5): 1-22.

  • Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations. New York, NY, Free Press.

  • Shih, C.-F. and A. Venkatesh (2003). A Compartative Study of Home Computer Adoption and Use in Three Countries: US, Sweden and India, Center for Research on Information Technology and Organization, UC Irvine: 1-48.

Thanks the Internet?

  • Paul Poling

  • MacArthur Foundation

  • Peter Lyman