Jonathan Donner and Cecile Bezuidenhoudt
The increasingly widespread use of data-enabled mobile handsets presents new challenges for the measurement and theorization of Internet behaviors. The common operationalization of Internet use as an activity performed via a personal computer (PC) with a distinct beginning, middle, and end has come under pressure from two groups—those for whom the PC has become but one of myriad ‘ubiquitous’ access methods, and those who use a PC rarely (or never). Drawing on household survey data from Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania, we explore the strains evident in the traditional survey question “how often do you access the Internet?” Based on our findings, we recommend methodological approaches that offer (a) no implicit/default privilege to the PC and (b) clear conceptual separation between devices, channels, venues, and uses. We conclude by arguing that since the interplay between theory and operationalization is bidirectional, a shift to a more fluid and multifaceted operationalization of “Internet use”, if widely adopted, may help reframe theoretical discussions on what it means to interact with the world’s digital data networks.
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