Volume 3, No 4, 2006
Reshaping Digital Inequality in the European Union: How Psychological Barriers Affect Internet Adoption Rates
In the past years, scholars have assessed the social differences that the Internet has generated from its use (or its non-use). The issue has been largely referred to as Digital Divide, describing the social division between those who are using the technology and those who are not; or in other words, the "haves" and "have nots" of the Internet. Generally, the phenomenon has been explained from a perspective in which infrastructural and demographics aspects are considered as the main barriers to overcome in order to narrow this digital inequality. Albeit partially true, this trend of research does not consider people's perceptions toward the Internet and how they can also explain connectivity, or lack thereof. Analyzing data from 1) the 55th Eurobarometer collected by the EU Commission (N = 16,134); and 2) data collected from the National Statistical Institutes of each State Member of the European Union, this paper suggests that there is a necessity to approach the problem from another perspective. This does not mean that the other trend was wrong, but rather, one explanation of the problem is not enough. Thus, this research enlightens how psychological barriers are involved in impeding EU citizens' complete adoption of the Internet. For instance, perceptions of what opportunities were missed by not accessing the WWW, perceptions of the kind of content that should be on the Net and perceptions of how the Internet would change their daily lives were all factors that indicated that not only demographical or structural obstacles were involved. In a sense, people do not think that they are missing many Job-Training, Consumption or improvement of Social Integration opportunities by not being connected to the Internet. In addition, the content that should be available over the Net is not appealing enough to induce them to seek out Internet access.
Keywords: Internet; Digital Divide; European Union; Mass communication; Socio-technological inclusion; Europe