Uses and Gratifications and Internet Profiles: A Factor Analysis
Is Internet Use and Travel to Cyberspace Reinforced by
BY SHARON A. ANGLEMAN
ARKANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY, DECEMBER 2000
There is little doubt that the Internet has become a significant global medium (Seongcheol, 1998). Computer-mediated communications (CMC) have increased our informational and interactive capabilities in unimaginable ways (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). These technologies require a greater knowledge of the elements influencing people’s use of this medium and of how its use affects their behavior (Papacharissi & Rubin). History has shown that new media often create new gratifications and motivations, therefore the uses-and-gratification approach (U&G) would be a logical model for this line of study. This research seeks to use the U&G approach to explore the intended uses of the Internet and the expected and latent gratifications.
It is difficult to imagine any communication today that is not mediated by some sort of technical data processing. The transfer of information has evolved into a digitally structured process allowing almost limitless methods of distribution. This phenomenon has created a new source of study for researchers in a variety of fields. Understanding why users are attracted to the Internet, as well as what they do on the Internet, will help advance research in areas ranging from advertising to education to psychology.
As the constraints of "linear" communication disappear, writers and media structures are becoming secondary. Opinion leaders may no longer play as large a role as they were once thought to (Watson & Hall, 1997). The media consumer is no longer at the passive end of marketing and dissemination methods, but is instead, a participating member in the exchange of messages and transfer of material. The technology driving the Internet has created a "spatial expansion of communities" and a "temporal intensity of social life" (Rammert, 1999). It is important to understand how the nonlinear content of the Internet differs -- or mimics -- other media and to understand why it is used. The logical or deductive process of understanding may not sufficiently grasp the unique relationship between users and the non-linear matrix of "new media."
A firm understanding of individual motivations may also help media researchers to better understand media effects. Changes have been measured in everything from personal relationships, socialization, courtships and leisure activities to advertising, journalism, banking, research and education. Consumers, students, business-owners, medical patients, activists, poets and lovers all find something of value on the World Wide Web.
But what keeps us coming back? As new users explore the Internet, their uses for the Internet typically increase until a variety of activities are conducted online. Users expect to have certain needs met when they go online, and most often those needs are satisfied. To better understand effects, however, research should consider whether completion of the intentional goals are the reinforcers for continued use, or if latent gratifications are the real motivators for continued and/or increasing use. How is this one medium meeting our diverse needs, and what effect does it have on our expectations and perceptions?
As the Internet works it way into the typical private home, more and more choices in media use are available – streaming video, movies on demand, social forums, Internet radio, digital newspapers, magazines and even complete books. Most of the research examining the Internet and its uses is still in developmental stages. No other media has incorporated more cultures, belief systems, communications methods and global considerations than the Internet. Because media choices are effected by individual needs for information and stimulation (Krcmar & Greene, 1999), it is important to consider the psychological and social/cultural needs that contribute to media choice (Katz, Blumler & Gurevitch, 1974). The Internet’s potential is so large, it may ultimately define the culture its use produces (foreword by Krueger in Heim, 1993). Researchers need to examine individuals’ needs and behaviors to more completely understand what media contributes to "creation and satisfaction" (Katz et al.).
During the 1940s research attempted primarily to describe behaviors and categorize responses. Early researchers rarely looked at correlations between observed gratifications and the psychological origins of the satisfied need (Ruggiero, 2000). Even through the 1960s, researchers focused on the intended, or sought-after gratifications, rather than the gratifications actually received (Rayburn, 1996). During the late 1970s, theoretical development helped researchers recognize that affected or cognitive states influenced media usage (Ruggiero). Stress and boredom resulted in contrasting choices of media, and research by Katz and Lazarsfeld (1956) suggested that selectivity in media choice may actually "empower" media users.