Getting the true measure of social change
Impact of technology on lifestyles
“Mobile phones are more widely utilised across all strata of society, in terms of income and education, than the PC,” says Ben Anderson of the University of Essex, UK. “Government departments may want to think in terms of text messages rather than Web pages,” if they want a more inclusive communication channel.
Anderson is giving an example from the results of the e-Living IST project, which was completed at the end of June 2004. The project attempted to find out if social behaviour changed as people adapted their lifestyles to the use of different technologies. For example use of mobile phones instead of landlines, switching from dial-up Internet access to broadband, etc.
He offers a second example. “People who download music for free from the Web are more likely to buy music online than those who do not do free downloading.” He explains that the results show that the downloaders appear to be adhering to a ‘taste and buy’ model of buying behaviour. Which, if true, suggests that the music industry’s attempts to clamp down on the downloading sites could be the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot!
The project partners carried out a telephone survey of 1700 people picked at random across six countries; Bulgaria, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway and the UK. These subjects were interviewed, in their own language, to establish a baseline of ICT usage behaviour in 2001. They were then re-interviewed a year later in 2002. Success rates in obtaining these second interviews varied from 60 per cent in the UK to 80 per cent in Bulgaria.
Anderson stresses the methodological soundness of the e-Living project approach. He believes that the ‘cohort study’ method, of measuring the changes experienced by the same group of subjects over time, is necessary if the resulting statistics are to be meaningful. He notes that many European statistical studies, based simply on a snapshot at a fixed point in time, have an inability to measure real impact. “It has to be the same people you follow over a period of time, if you want to see real trends. You need to base your policy decisions on real evidence.”
Teleworking not always increasing
Among the interesting statistics emerging from the survey were some on teleworking and social change. The survey showed that people who telework do not reduce the time they spend commuting in total. They simply choose to live further away from the office, and as a result travel further, if less frequently.
Anderson also noted the constancy of the ratio between those who use technology to telework, and those who do not. The ratio between the two categories remains constant over time, he says, because of a high level of churn between one category and the other. The statistics showed that, over the course of the year, 30 per cent of respondents moved from working at home to working in an office, thus keeping the percentage of telework take-up about the same. “The trends are not always one way,” he says.
Dr Ben Anderson
University of Essex
Source: Based on information from e-Living
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