Internet Use among Rural Residents in North America

Internet Use among Rural Residents in North America

Michael J. Stern (College of Charleston, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch023
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Despite widespread advances in knowledge about how the Internet and other information and communication technologies are used as well as the barriers to access and proficiency with these technologies, there is surprisingly little knowledge on rural Internet use relative to other places. However, in recent years, scholars across a variety of disciplines have made some inroads in this area of study. In this chapter, the author summarizes the historical developments that provide a framework for studying Internet use in rural areas, discusses the state of our current knowledge, describes numerous important studies, scholars, and specific topics in this research area, and concludes with a discussion about future research.
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Research regarding rural Internet use in North America can be summarized or defined effectively as the study of 1) technological diffusion, 2) specific acceptance and usage patterns, and 3) consequences associated with disparities in access to and proficiency with information and communication technologies in terms of economics, medical services, commerce, and the influx of new ideas. Similar to less spatially specific analyses of Internet use, many early studies in and perspectives on rural areas focused on the way that the Internet could enhance social relations and community participation, sometimes referred to as the utopian perspective (e.g., Stern and Dillman, 2006; Wellman, Quan-Haase, Witte, and Hampton, 2001) or conversely damage local ties by providing an outwardly focused tool, which would allow residents to essentially ignore local social ties and responsibilities, labeled the dystopian perspective (e.g., Turkle, 1996; Nie, 2001).

However, perhaps what has made the study of rural places unique is the fact that rural communities, regardless of country, tend to have smaller and more homogeneous populations with relatively lower levels of education and income and, often, these places have at least some degree of geographic isolation. Thus, as the Internet emerged as one of the primary means of communication, some wondered if rural residents, who tend to have more smaller and localized social networks, would ever use or at the very least accept the tool as readily as their cosmopolitan counterparts (Stern and Dillman, 2006).

In recent years a layer of complexity has been added with the technological challenges associated with providing high speed Internet access to rural areas, (Horrigan and Murray, 2006); a situation that runs somewhat parallel to those of the telephone and cable television. In recent years, with the increasing reliance on the Internet for commerce, information on health, home economics, education, entertainment, as well as personal and professional communication, researchers developed interest in the way rural places, perceived as small, closely knit, and homogeneous, would potentially be affected by the Internet in ways that were dissimilar to larger, more heterogeneous urban, suburban, or fringe communities socially, technologically, economically, and in terms of basic adoption and usage.

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