Document (#29346)

Author
Bruce, H.
Title
¬The user's view of the Internet
Imprint
Lanham, MD : Scarecrow Press
Year
2002
Pages
223 S
Isbn
0-8108-4366-8
Footnote
Rez. in: JASIST. 54(2003) no.9, S.906-908 (E.G. Ackermann): "In this book Harry Bruce provides a construct or view of "how and why people are using the Internet," which can be used "to inform the design of new services and to augment our usings of the Internet" (pp. viii-ix; see also pp. 183-184). In the process, he develops an analytical tool that I term the Metatheory of Circulating Usings, and proves an impressive distillation of a vast quantity of research data from previous studies. The book's perspective is explicitly user-centered, as is its theoretical bent. The book is organized into a preface, acknowledgments, and five chapters (Chapter 1, "The Internet Story;" Chapter 2, "Technology and People;" Chapter 3, "A Focus an Usings;" Chapter 4, "Users of the Internet;" Chapter 5, "The User's View of the Internet"), followed by an extensive bibliography and short index. Any notes are found at the end of the relevant Chapter. The book is illustrated with figures and tables, which are clearly presented and labeled. The text is clearly written in a conversational style, relatively jargon-free, and contains no quantification. The intellectual structure follows that of the book for the most part, with some exceptions. The definition of several key concepts or terms are scattered throughout the book, often appearing much later after extensive earlier use. For example, "stakeholders" used repeatedly from p. viii onward, remains undefined until late in the book (pp. 175-176). The study's method is presented in Chapter 3 (p. 34), relatively late in the book. Its metatheoretical basis is developed in two widely separated places (Chapter 3, pp. 56-61, and Chapter 5, pp. 157-159) for no apparent reason. The goal or purpose of presenting the data in Chapter 4 is explained after its presentation (p. 129) rather than earlier with the limits of the data (p. 69). Although none of these problems are crippling to the book, it does introduce an element of unevenness into the flow of the narrative that can confuse the reader and unnecessarily obscures the author's intent. Bruce provides the contextual Background of the book in Chapter 1 (The Internet Story) in the form of a brief history of the Internet followed by a brief delineation of the early popular views of the Internet as an information superstructure. His recapitulation of the origins and development of the Internet from its origins as ARPANET in 1957 to 1995 touches an the highlights of this familiar story that will not be retold here. The early popular views or characterizations of the Internet as an "information society" or "information superhighway" revolved primarily around its function as an information infrastructure (p. 13). These views shared three main components (technology, political values, and implied information values) as well as a set of common assumptions. The technology aspect focused an the Internet as a "common ground an which digital information products and services achieve interoperability" (p. 14). The political values provided a "vision of universal access to distributed information resources and the benefits that this will bring to the lives of individual people and to society in general" (p. 14). The implied communication and information values portrayed the Internet as a "medium for human creativity and innovation" (p. 14). These popular views also assumed that "good decisions arise from good information," that "good democracy is based an making information available to all sectors of society," and that "wisdom is the by-product of effective use of information" (p. 15). Therefore, because the Internet is an information infrastructure, it must be "good and using the Internet will benefit individuals and society in general" (p. 15).
Chapter 2 (Technology and People) focuses an several theories of technological acceptance and diffusion. Unfortunately, Bruce's presentation is somewhat confusing as he moves from one theory to next, never quite connecting them into a logical sequence or coherent whole. Two theories are of particular interest to Bruce: the Theory of Diffusion of Innovations and the Theory of Planned Behavior. The Theory of Diffusion of Innovations is an "information-centric view of technology acceptance" in which technology adopters are placed in the information flows of society from which they learn about innovations and "drive innovation adoption decisions" (p. 20). The Theory of Planned Behavior maintains that the "performance of a behavior is a joint function of intentions and perceived behavioral control" (i.e., how muck control a person thinks they have) (pp. 22-23). Bruce combines these two theories to form the basis for the Technology Acceptance Model. This model posits that "an individual's acceptance of information technology is based an beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors" (p. 24). In all these theories and models echoes a recurring theme: "individual perceptions of the innovation or technology are critical" in terms of both its characteristics and its use (pp. 24-25). From these, in turn, Bruce derives a predictive theory of the role personal perceptions play in technology adoption: Personal Innovativeness of Information Technology Adoption (PIITA). Personal inventiveness is defined as "the willingness of an individual to try out any new information technology" (p. 26). In general, the PIITA theory predicts that information technology will be adopted by individuals that have a greater exposure to mass media, rely less an the evaluation of information technology by others, exhibit a greater ability to cope with uncertainty and take risks, and requires a less positive perception of an information technology prior to its adoption. Chapter 3 (A Focus an Usings) introduces the User-Centered Paradigm (UCP). The UCP is characteristic of the shift of emphasis from technology to users as the driving force behind technology and research agendas for Internet development [for a dissenting view, see Andrew Dillion's (2003) challenge to the utility of user-centerness for design guidance]. It entails the "broad acceptance of the user-oriented perspective across a range of disciplines and professional fields," such as business, education, cognitive engineering, and information science (p. 34).
The UCP's effect an business practices is focused mainly in the management and marketing areas. Marketing experienced a shift from "product-oriented operations" with its focus an "selling the products' features" and customer contact only at the point of sale toward more service-Centered business practice ("customer Jemand orientation") and the development of one-to-one customer relationships (pp. 35-36). For management, the adoption of the UCP caused a shift from "mechanistic, bureaucratic, top-down organizational structures" to "flatter, inclusive, and participative" ones (p. 37). In education, practice shifted from the teachercentered model where the "teacher is responsible for and makes all the decisions related to the learning environment" to a learnercentered model where the student is "responsible for his or her own learning" and the teacher focuses an "matching learning events to the individual skills, aptitudes, and interests of the individual learner" (pp. 38-39). Cognitive engineering saw the rise of "user-Centered design" and human factors that were concerned with applying "scientific knowledge of humans to the design of man-machine interface systems" (p. 44). The UCP had a great effect an Information Science in the "design of information systems" (p. 47). Previous to UCP's explicit proposed by Brenda Dervin and M. Nilan in 1986, systems design was dominated by the "physical of system oriented paradigm" (p. 48). The physical paradigm held a positivistic and materialistic view of technology and (passive) human interaction as exemplified by the 1953 Cranfield tests of information retrieval mechanisms. Instead, the UCP focuses an "users rather than systems" by making the perceptions of individual information users the "centerpiece consideration for information service and system design" (pp. 47-48). Bruce briefly touches an the various schools of thought within user-oriented paradigm, such as the cognitive/self studies approach with its emphasis is an an individual's knowledge structures or model of the world [e.g., Belkin (1990)], the cognitve/context studies approach that focuses an "context in explaining variations in information behavior" [e.g., Savolainen (1995) and Dervin's (1999) sensemaking], and the social constructionism/discourse analytic theory with its focus an that language, not mental/knowledge constructs, as the primary shaper of the world as a system of intersubjective meanings [e.g., Talja 1996], (pp. 53-54). Drawing from the rich tradition of user oriented research, Bruce attempts to gain a metatheoretical understanding of the Internet as a phenomena by combining Dervin's (1996) "micromoments of human usings" with the French philosopher Bruno Latour's (1999) "conception of Circulating reference" to form what 1 term the Metatheory of Circulating Usings (pp. ix, 56, 60). According to Bruce, Latour's concept is designed to bridge "the gap between mind and object" by engaging in a "succession of finely grained transformations that construct and transfer truth about the object" through a chain of "microtranslations" from "matter to form," thereby connecting mind and object (p. 56). The connection works as long as the chain remains unbroken. The nature of this chain of "information producing translations" are such that as one moves away from the object, one experiences a "reduction" of the object's "locality, particularity, materiality, multiplicity and continuity," while simultaneously gaining the "amplification" of its "compatibility, standardization, text, calculation, circulation, and relative universality" (p. 57).
Bruce points out that Dervin is also concerned about how "we look at the world" in terms of "information needs and seeking" (p.60). She maintains that information scientists traditionally view information seeking and needs in terms of "contexts, users, and systems." Dervin questions whether or not, from a user's point of view, these three "points of interest" even exist. Rather it is the "micromoments of human usings" [emphasis original], and the "world viewings, seekings, and valuings" that comprise them that are real (p. 60). Using his metatheory, Bruce represents the Internet, the "object" of study, as a "chain of transformations made up of the micromoments of human usings" (p. 60). The Internet then is a "composite of usings" that, through research and study, is continuously reduced in complexity while its "essence" and "explanation" are amplified (p. 60). Bruce plans to use the Metatheory of Circulating Usings as an analytical "lens" to "tease out a characterization of the micromoments of Internet usings" from previous research an the Internet thereby exposing "the user's view of the Internet" (pp. 60-61). In Chapter 4 (Users of the Internet), Bruce presents the research data for the study. He begins with an explanation of the limits of the data, and to a certain extent, the study itself. The perspective is that of the Internet user, with a focus an use, not nonuse, thereby exluding issues such as the digital divide and universal service. The research is limited to Internet users "in modern economies around the world" (p. 60). The data is a synthesis of research from many disciplines, but mainly from those "associated with the information field" with its traditional focus an users, systems, and context rather than usings (p. 70). Bruce then presents an extensive summary of the research results from a massive literature review of available Internet studies. He examines the research for each study group in order of the amount of data available, starting with the most studied group professional users ("academics, librarians, and teachers") followed by "the younger generation" ("College students, youths, and young adults"), users of e-government information and e-business services, and ending with the general public (the least studied group) (p. 70). Bruce does a masterful job of condensing and summarizing a vast amount of research data in 49 pages. Although there is too muck to recapitulate here, one can get a sense of the results by looking at the areas of data examined for one of the study groups: academic Internet users. There is data an their frequency of use, reasons for nonuse, length of use, specific types of use (e.g., research, teaching, administration), use of discussion lists, use of e-journals, use of Web browsers and search engines, how academics learn to use web tools and services (mainly by self-instruction), factors affecting use, and information seeking habits. Bruce's goal in presenting all this research data is to provide "the foundation for constructs of the Internet that can inform stakeholders who will play a role in determining how the Internet will develop" (p. 129). These constructs are presented in Chapter 5.
Bruce begins Chapter 5 (The Users' View of the Internet) by pointing out that the Internet not only exists as a physical entity of hardware, software, and networked connectivity, but also as a mental representation or knowledge structure constructed by users based an their usings. These knowledge structures or constructs "allow people to interpret and make sense of things" by functioning as a link between the new unknown thing with known thing(s) (p. 158). The knowledge structures or using constructs are continually evolving as people use the Internet over time, and represent the user's view of the Internet. To capture the users' view of the Internet from the research literature, Bruce uses his Metatheory of Circulating Usings. He recapitulates the theory, casting it more closely to the study of Internet use than previously. Here the reduction component provides a more detailed "understanding of the individual users involved in the micromoment of Internet using" while simultaneously the amplification component increases our understanding of the "generalized construct of the Internet" (p. 158). From this point an Bruce presents a relatively detail users' view of the Internet. He starts with examining Internet usings, which is composed of three parts: using space, using literacies, and Internet space. According to Bruce, using space is a using horizon likened to a "sphere of influence," comfortable and intimate, in which an individual interacts with the Internet successfully (p. 164). It is a "composite of individual (professional nonwork) constructs of Internet utility" (p. 165). Using literacies are the groups of skills or tools that an individual must acquire for successful interaction with the Internet. These literacies serve to link the using space with the Internet space. They are usually self-taught and form individual standards of successful or satisfactory usings that can be (and often are) at odds with the standards of the information profession. Internet space is, according to Bruce, a user construct that perceives the Internet as a physical, tangible place separate from using space. Bruce concludes that the user's view of the Internet explains six "principles" (p. 173). "Internet using is proof of concept" and occurs in contexts; using space is created through using frequency, individuals use literacies to explore and utilize Internet space, Internet space "does not require proof of concept, and is often influence by the perceptions and usings of others," and "the user's view of the Internet is upbeat and optimistic" (pp. 173-175). He ends with a section describing who are the Internet stakeholders. Bruce defines them as Internet hardware/software developers, Professional users practicing their profession in both familiar and transformational ways, and individuals using the Internet "for the tasks and pleasures of everyday life" (p. 176).
This book suffers from two major shortcomings: the failure to explain how the metatheory is actually used to analyze extant research data, and the failure to explicitly link the data presented to the conclusions drawn. The analytical function of Bruce's metatheory is clearly stated, but no explicit explanation or example is given to show how he actually accomplished this analysis. Granted, it is impractical given the volume of research data involved, to show how every bit of the data in Chapter 4 was derived. However, several examples of how the metatheory was applied would have been useful in understanding its actual function in the study at hand as well as its potential utility any future studies. More serious is the lack of explicit linkage between the data summary presented in Chapter 4 and the conclusions given in Chapter 5. Each chapter is presented as stand-alone entities containing no citations or internal referencing to connect the data with the conclusions. This leaves the readers with no ready means to evaluate the concluding construct of the user's view of the Internet in light of the data from which it was ostensibly derived. The readers must either go back and laboriously construct the connections themselves, or just take the author's word for it. Because the goal of the book is to create a convincing construct of the user's view of the Internet for others to understand, follow, apply, and improve upon in the "next generation of Internet development," the burden of proof is an the author, not the readers (pp. ix, 183). This oversight may not be so crucial if the author were presenting an exploratory essay designed primarily to stimulate thought and expand our perceptions. However, given that the book is intended as a scholarly work (otherwise why the tremendous effort in analyzing and summarizing vast quantities of research data in Chapter 4?), the lack of explicit linkage between the data and the conclusion is not only puzzling, but simply unacceptable. In summary then, the book is strong in its theoretical and metatheoretical development, presentation of the research data and scope of the literature review, and clarity of the concluding construct of the user's view of the Internet. If these items are of particular interest to the you, then this book may be worth your while. Otherwise, the failure of the book to provide an explanation of how the Metatheory of Circulating Usings is applied in analyzing extant research data, coupled with book's failure to link explicitly the data presented with the conclusions severely undermines this reviewer's confidence in the author's conclusions."
Theme
Internet

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