Articulating ICT Use Narratives in Everyday Life

Articulating ICT Use Narratives in Everyday Life

Deirdre Hynes (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK), Tarja Tiainen (University of Tampere, Finland), Emma-Reetta Koivunen (University of Helsinki, Finland) and Minna-Kristiina Paakki (University of Tampere, Finland)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch007
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Abstract

The most common definition of the information society lays emphasis upon spectacular technological innovation and the transformative effects of new information and communication technologies. The key idea is that breakthroughs in information processing, storage, and transmission have led to the application of information technology in virtually all, public and private, sectors of society (Webster, 1995). By the 1990s, to admire and indeed enthuse over new ICTs had become highly fashionable and popular. Such technological enthusiasm has become so pervasive that it has seeped not only into political and policy discourses, but also into the whole spectrum of the media and fora of public communication (Preston, 2001). In addition, discourses of the information society are often dominated and shaped by male commentators (e.g., Castells, 2000; Gates, 1995; Kelly, 1999; Negroponte, 1995). For example, when compiling a collection of the dominant players of international information-society discourse, Cawley and Trench (2004) were hard-pressed to find female commentators, succeeding only in finding 3 out of a total of 18 critics.1 We argue that the focus on the artefact, and thus technological celebration, takes precedence over the largely ignored field of technological uses and consumption issues. Hence, we present a study that analyses the individual user experiences to challenge the stereotypical user traditions represented by the information-society discourse. We wish to present a counternarrative that shifts the emphasis from technical expertise, and technological and transformative benefits of artefacts to more individual-user-focused narratives. As a result, this brought about a dual-narrative process through which the respondents described their experiences. We found that when people described their uses, consumption patterns, and domestication2 experiences of ICTs, they tended to do so by employing contrasting frames of reference. These frames of reference we have termed the objective lens (or narratives) and subjective lens (or narratives). Through what we term objective narratives, we found that some respondents would describe their use through official and technical frames of reference. For example, they employed primarily dominant information-society jargon to frame how they made sense of technologies and their use experiences. Through subjective narratives, we found that respondents would describe their use and experiences from primarily a personal perspective to explain how the technology fitted their lives, the role it played in their everyday routines and habits, and the associated meaning and significance of the artefact. While these contrasting narratives are not mutually exclusive or contradictory, it became clear from the interviews that a pattern of use narratives was emerging. We found that such narratives slightly reinforced traditional gender roles in which men tend to talk about technologies in highly technical terms of reference, while women portray themselves as technologically helpless or ignorant (Gill & Grint, 1995; Gray, 1992; Lie, 1995). Although we did not look for or find stable gender categories, the emergent gender narratives seem to renew the existing gender roles that link masculinity and technology (Vehviläinen, 2002). With the development of computer technologies, we have witnessed a shift from IT to ICTs. This has resulted in a redefinition of the computer as an artefact: from a mere computational device to the newly emergent multimedia-enhanced computers, or what Paul Mayer (1999, p. 1) calls a “meta-medium.” Today, the conceptualisation of the computer is more problematic. It may be thought of as the Web or Internet, computer games, CD-ROMs (compact disc read-only memory), reference works, e-mail, and a diverse range of applications for displaying and manipulating text, images, graphics, music, databases, and the like. Spilker and Sørenson (2000, p. 270) argue that computers are no longer “primarily about programming, systems, control and calculation,” but instead “a gateway to communication and cultural activities.” The shift in identity has opened up or unlocked the conceptualisation of the computer. Therefore, it is possible for wider audiences and previously excluded groups (such as the elderly and women) to translate the computer into something meaningful in their everyday lives. As a result, we were not solely focused on the computer as a separate technology, but instead on the wide range of information and communication technologies that are available in the domestic setting.

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