Computer and internet usage in rural clubs : are members digitally divided? Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/z603r1497

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  • Lower rates of computer adoption and usage in rural areas has been called a "digital divide." This work explores the current state of connectivity within a rural town of the Pacific Northwest with a quantitative and qualitative overview of computer usage and access within civic and activity clubs, ranging from town's Rotarians to its bowling leagues. An Anthropological Rapid Appraisal Process (RAP) leverages focus groups, mini-surveys and ethnographic methods within the clubs to explore the topography of the digital divide. Civic clubs with younger, higher-income, better-educated members have higher rates of e-mail penetration (93%-56%) while activity clubs fare far worse on average (28%). Research establishes a link between club demographics and e-mail penetration rates, by showing that older clubs report less e-mail usage. This work explores the conditions that exacerbate the digital divide as well as highlighting those which may mitigate it. Variables include the presence or absence of technological leadership and the nature of ties to corporate and/or national organizations. Additionally, research shows that rural settings limit and structure the opportunities for computer skill acquisition. Civic clubs are increasingly reliant on computer-mediated communication (CMC) and computer-mediated information (CMI) sources and correspondingly, also upon the computer proficient members who can manage websites, or create and distribute electronic bulletins. "New media" is challenging traditional club norms and favors the contributions of more technological literate members, while handicapping the participation of non-computer using members. Beyond the hyped-up prospects of increased efficiency and communication amongst geographically dispersed members of such clubs, the technology is also creating new forms of exclusion. Recommendations include: 1) a technology decision-making process that ensures consensus among club members by including non-users; 2) creative capacity-building to support computer usage; and 3) by-laws which ensure that members are not marginalized because of a current or chronic lack of computer usage. This work grounds expectations of new technology, by providing a factual account of computer usage within clubs and exploring how clubs are using computers to facilitate their activities.
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