What does it mean to dwell in Cyberspace and why do we go there?
A look at theories and definitions
Part 4


A Project Presented to Dr. O Dr. O. Amienyi, Professor of Radio/TV, and the ASU College of Communications in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of Theory of Mass Communications, November 2000

All that we need…

"We are searching for a home for the mind and heart. Our fascination with computers is more erotic than sensuous, more spiritual than utilitarian. The world rendered as pure information not only fascinates our eyes and minds, but also captures our hearts. We feel augmented and empowered. Our hearts beat in the machines. This is Eros."

--Michael Heim, 1993

Communication almost always serves more than one function (Rubin, Perse & Barbato, 1988). 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.

Uses and gratifications (U&G) theories and research have helped to explain the many reasons why people engage in specific types of communication. Researchers have proposed that media is used to provide structure and to punctuate the environment, to facilitate communications, to learn in a social context, to practice inclusion or avoidance, to provide pleasure and relaxation, to allow expression influence, to determine interpersonal roles and to gain information. (Rubin, Pearce & Babaro, 1988; Ruggiero, 2000; Suler, 1999; Weaver, 1991).

In the 1940s most 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, 2000). 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.

In a study using cluster analysis, Katz, Gurevitch and Hass (1973) identified fourteen different needs fulfilled by media use. Types of usage included television, radio, newspaper, books and film. Among the initial needs recorded were:

  • Strengthening self-knowledge (to know oneself, develop good taste, study)
  • Weaken contact with self (avoid loneliness, pass time, escape)
  • Strengthen social knowledge (government progress, information, officials profiles)
  • Strengthen experience with others (get to know others, participate)

Remember that these uses are defused among several different media, each having its unique attraction and characteristic specific to a need. Only the Internet can facilitate all of these uses in one medium. It can accommodate all of the requests and then some. No other media has incorporated more cultures, belief systems, communications methods and global considerations. The interactive capabilities on the Internet are a large part of what makes this successful.

With the myriad of choices, however, it is difficult to determine which function or motivation for use is primary. In an article addressing healthy and pathological use of the Internet, Suler identifies eight factors relating to the "commitment" level of one’s use of the Internet (1999a). The number one factor used in measuring the quality of use is the number and types of needs that are being addressed by the activity or medium. Suler writes, "The more needs being addressed by Internet endeavors, the more powerful the hold Cyberspace has on a person."

My intent here is not to argue a healthy or unhealthy Internet use, but to demonstrate the degree to which users consciously and unconsciously engage in a media activity. Since the focus in this section is why we go to the Internet, its potentially magnetic attraction to us is especially relevant.

Researchers have looked at a variety of users spending excessive amounts of time on the Internet (Kandell ,1998; Wallace, 1999; Young, 1996). It seems logical to assume that excessive, or even moderate, continued use indicates a fairly important need fulfillment. Rubin cites arguments made by W. Schutz, who in 1966 (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000) suggested three interpersonal needs affecting all aspects of communications: affection, control and inclusion. In 1988, six primary motives for interpersonal communication were suggested: pleasure, affection, inclusion, escapism, relaxation and control (Rubin, Pearce & Barbato, 1988). In 1998, Flaherty, Pearce and Rubin (1998) reported that individuals used computers to satisfy three major needs: interpersonal needs (inclusion, affection, relaxation and control); traditional needs associated with media (social interaction, passing time, information, habit, entertainment); and new media needs (time shifting, meeting other individuals). While the classes and categories of identified needs have broadened as more studies have been completed, affection, inclusion and control seem to continually appear as factors.

Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) recently identified three additional factors they believe influence Internet usage: contextual age (as opposed to using the limitations of chronological age); unwillingness to communicate (the tendency to avoid verbal communications due to factors including low self-esteem, introversion and apprehension); and media perceptions (the lack of social presence on the Internet, informational benefits, interpersonal benefits).

Other recent studies support the suggestion that personality and social environment have an influence on needs and choices. Perceptions, socialization, psychological characteristics and attitudes have been found to influence behaviors and motives (Papacharissa & Rubin, 2000), and thereby can conceivably influence choices in media. Sensation seeking is considered by Krcmar to be one of the more relevant variables in this area of study. This concept is important for online studies because it is directly related to the need for stimulation and has measurable characteristics (Kcrmar & Greene, 1999).

In the research for his article, Exploring links between personality and media preferences, Weaver (1991) found three personality groups displaying substantial relations to media preferences. Individuals displaying ‘high neuroticism’ (anxious, emotional, socially isolated) showed strong preferences for news and information programs, drama and general films such as Mary Poppins and Wizard of Oz. This group also had a tendency to avoid light comedy and adventure. Individuals displaying ‘high psychoticism" (impulsive, nonconforming, un-empathetic) characteristics showed strong preferences for violent programming, tragedy and drama. Weaver’s results for extroverted individuals were inconclusive in this study. One possible explanation for this may be that extroverts are highly active in social events, and therefore may have a majority of needs met through social relationships and activities.

Suler (1999a) discusses another need deserving of consideration: The need for achievement and mastery. All human beings have a basic need to master their environment. Fulfillment of this need results in a sense of accomplishment and the building of self-esteem. In the field of psychology, the operant theory contends that learning is most effective and influential when it is provided in small units. The Internet is a premium environment in which to receive immediate reinforcement for "accomplishments." The accomplishments can be technical or social. You encounter a problem or a function that is unfamiliar. You master it and the computer does something wonderful for you. You learn the "netiquette" necessary for inclusion in a chat room and become increasingly fluent in online lingo. Regardless of the type of achievement, mastery in any of these levels encourages more of the same. The motivation to explore the environment and become familiar with the cyber-surroundings increases with each successful session on the Internet. Mastery of one environment naturally begets desire to master another. The Internet provides a constant challenge for mastery and continually re-enforces use of this medium.

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Feel free to cite material in this study, but please provide this reference:
     Angleman, S. (December, 2000). What Does it Mean to Dwell in Cyberspace and Why do We Go There? A Look at Theories and Definitions. Unpublished manuscript, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro. <http://www.jrily.com/LiteraryIllusions/TheoryResearchPaperIndex.html> (date of access).

For information or comments concerning this study, please contact, Sharon Angleman at sharon@jrily.com Visit my home site at http://www.jrily.com/LiteraryIllusions/ for other journalistic materials.