Simon paper (short version for Advancing the Consumer Interest)

Simon paper (short version for Advancing
the Consumer Interest)

Consumer Interests Annual Volume 42, 1996

Consumers and Cyberspace: Inequitable Distribution of Information

Alice Simon, Ohio Wesleyan University

Although the quality of information
available on the Internet has been
questioned, cyberspace has truly
opened an information highway.
However, even if the marginal cost of
obtaining information is relatively
low, the initial direct costs for getting
on-line can prevent access for many
consumers. Access to the Internet is a
function of the ability to afford
hardware and software as well as the
indirect cost of time to learn a system.
In addition, for some, technophobia,
defined as the fear of new technology
or using new technology, can reduce
the likelihood that access to the
information highway will be achieved.

Consumers most prone to
technophobia are relatively older,
have negative attitudes towards
computers in general, have had little
exposure to them, are female, and are
in relatively lower socio-economic
classes than consumers who are more
comfortable using computers.
Increased exposure to computers tends
to reduce computer anxiety and
aspects of technophobia. Hence, a
counter argument can be made that if
one is prone to technophoba and does
not have access to computers, the
likelihood of overcoming
technophobia and gaining access to
the information highway is slim. Even if the direct costs of gaining
access to the information highway are
coming down, the indirect cost of
access, measured by some degree of
technophobia, will prevent access to
certain groups, creating a cycle of
information poverty. National data
reveal that the poorest students have
the least access to computers at home.
Minority students are also least likely
to have access to computers at home.
Income and computer usage are also
negatively related. Hence, those
without access are least likely to gain
access.

Other research on technophobia
measure attitudes toward a variety of
new technologies, including voice
mail, FAX machines, and the like.
This research focuses on the uses of
personal computers and whether they
are in fact accessing the information
highway. Sample consists of parents
of 5th graders and measures their
attitudes and usage of computers,
along with various demographic
characteristics. Preliminary results
indicate that even for those who use
computers at work or at home, usage
is primarily for word processing and
games, with very little usage of the
Internet, even for e-mail.

The purpose of this research is to
determine the extent to which
technophobia may exist. This study
also measures the specific ways in
which households who have home
computers make use of them; whether
they are simply modern typewriters or
an entry into cyberspace and
consumer information. National
statistics for 1993 reveal that the
highest percentage of computer usage
by students at school occurs in grades
1 through 8; 68.9%. However, with
the exception of Kindergardeners, the
lowest percentage of students using
computers at home, 24.7%, were also
in grades 1 through 8. Given the
possible lack of reinforcement of
computer exposure from school in the
home, it was thought that a potential
group of technophobic parents might
exist, or at least the characteristics of
such a group could be identified.
Further, most other research on
technophobia has focused on college
students and the relationship between
computer anxiety and academic
performance.

Some research has focused on the
elderly in general, or on relatively
older professionals in primary labor
markets. Little research has measured
the degree to which those of prime
working age across a variety of socio-economic levels may be affected.
Assuming that the parents of fifth
graders, for the most part, are of prime
working age, the sample was selected.
There are five elementary schools
within the sample district. To
measure the extent to which these
parents might be technophobic, a
series of attitudes questions were
asked using a typical Likert scale
ranging from 1 for strongly agree to 5
for strongly disagree. The specific
statements used in the questionnaire
were adapted from studies designed to
measure computer attitudes and/or
computer anxiety. (Gardner et al.;
Igbaria and Chakrabarti, Nickell, &
Pinto, Shashaani) Statements were
selected based on their validity and
appropriateness for this study.

Results

The response rate for School A was
66.06%, with a total of 98 surveys
returned. The response rate for
School B was 75.3%, with a total of
99 surveys returned. Hence, the total
sample size was 197, divided between
94 males and 103 females. The
majority of these parents were
employed (86.8%), and all were
between the ages of 27 and 59, with
the highest percentage (49%) between
the ages of 35 and 41. Of the 183
respondents who responded to the
household income question, 58% had
total household incomes over $60,000.
Hence, the majority of the sample
were relatively well educated, high
income, and were employed in the
primary labor market. Over 78% of
the respondents indicated that there
was a computer in their household.
Most of these home computers (60%)
first appeared in the household when
the fifth grader was between the ages
of 7 and 12. Fifth graders are usually
aged 10 or 11, hence, the computers
were purchased within the last few
years. Asked whether they used any
computer on a fairly regular basis,
over 74% of the respondents indicated
that they did. Of these, 63% used a
computer fairly regularly both at home
and at work, whereas only 20% of the
computer users only used them at
work. Most had been using computers
between 6 and 10 years (29%)
followed by those who had been using
computers between 11 and 15 years
(23%). Hence, the sample consisted
mainly of experienced, regular
computer users, both at home and at
work. When asked how they learned
to use the computers at work, 50% of
the parents were formally trained
through on the job training programs
or in formal training classes. When
asked what they primarily used
computers for at work, the highest
percentage of usage was for word
processing (42%). When asked about
all the tasks they used computers for
at work, 80% used them for word
processing, 54% for e-mail, but only
19% for Internet information searches.
Sixty-five percent used them at work
for spread sheets or budgets, 23%
used them at work to play games, and
14% used them for CAD. When
asked how they learned to use their
computers at home, most of the
parents (52%) indicated that they
taught themselves through trial and
error or using the written material that
accompanied their computers and
software. The survey did not ask
whether their first exposure to
computers was at home or at work,
which may explain the willingness of
home users to experiment on their
own. However, only 24% of the
respondents who used a home
computer fairly regularly, indicated
that they learned to do so from their
experiences at work. When asked
what they primarily used their home
computers for, most used them for
word processing (58%). When asked
about all the tasks they used their
home computer for, 86% used them
for word processing, 31% for email,
34% for Internet information searches,
51% for spread sheets or budgets, and
83% for games.

Of the 17 statements designed to
measure attitudes towards computers,
10 were used to determine whether a
respondent would be classified as
being technophobic. in general, a
higher percentage of technophobics
tend to be female rather than male;
have slightly less formal education
and lower household incomes than
those of the entire sample;. do not use
computers as regularly as others; and
have little experience using them.
These findings support the notion that
the income distribution may in fact
widen if those with less access to
computers continue to be left behind
because of the direct costs of getting
started or because of the implicit
costs technophobia can create. As
such, it may be wise to promote
programs and/or policies to increase
the exposure of computers in sectors
of the population that would most
likely not have access to them through
work or other contacts. It was also
shown that Internet usage, regardless
of technophobic tendencies, is not
very widespread. Of those who do use
the Internet, usage is higher at work
for those who are comfortable with
computers, whereas Internet usage is
higher at home for those who are
unsure about their computer attitudes.
Most of the users of the Internet both
at home and at work are employed in
professional or managerial
occupations, are relatively well
educated and high income. Internet
users at work are slightly older than
Internet users at home, and have more
computer experience. A higher
percentage of Internet users at work
are female whereas a higher
percentage of Internet users at home
are male.

This data set will be further analyzed
using multivariate techniques to
determine (1) characteristics of
persons that would increase the
likelihood of their being
technophobic, and (2) factors that
would increase the likelihood that
someone would use the Internet. It is
thought that in the estimation of
factors influencing Internet usage,
some measure of one’s degree of
technophobia should be included.
Applying these models to a nationally
representative sample of persons
based on socio-economic
characteristics would be preferable as
results could be generalized to the
population. Although data are
available regarding the characteristics
of Internet users, by definition, these
data are not conducive to the
measurement of technophobia.

Endnotes

1. Associate Professor and Chair,
Economics Department, Ohio
Wesleyan University, Edgar Hall,
Delaware, OH 43015. Internet:
aesimon@cc.owu.edu.