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Internet Usage Patterns in Portugal

The next speaker at ECREA 2010 is José Simões, whose interest is in examining the different media uses of Portuguese families. The key interest here is to understand the conditions and tendencies of access to digital media (as well as other media), and the findings will be compared with similar research being conducted in Texas. This will influence education, industry, policy-makers, and social agents, as well as contribute to public debate in this area.

This starts from questions of digital exclusion and participation, of course; exclusion, in fact, is not just about access, but also about other factors, including resources, skills, choices, and representations of technology. Part of this exclusion may be unwanted or unavoidable, then, but in part, people also may not wish to be included in the first place, because of the choices they’ve made and the attitudes they have. Such constraints and choices may be explained by a range of contextual factors.

The study interviewed members of some 65 Portuguese families (and 26 in Texas) to better understand these factors (and in comparing results from both countries, the different historical backgrounds must be taken into account as well: Portugal was a dictatorship until the mid-1970s, for example). There are vast generational differences in technology use in Portugal, unsurprisingly – computer and Internet use decline relatively quickly with age, while mobile phones are now fairly widespread amongst all but the older age groups (above 60 years or so). This is true also within the same families, where computers remain the domain of kids and young adolescents even where they live under the same roof.

At the same time, there are also clear correlations with education levels, of course – some 85% of Portuguese with higher education use the Internet, for example. At the same time, occupation is not a very clear indicator of Internet use; and women tend to lag behind men in their use of the Internet.

Overall, then, as expected this is not just a matter of simple access to technologies; there are different factors at play here. Age and membership of historical generations in Portuguese history play a clear role, but this also needs to be understood against individual life histories, too. Personal trajectories, life accidents, and individual choices can have a substantial impact on usage patterns.