Old and New Media: Access and Ownership
Introduction In a world of multi-channel television, interactive video and electronic games, the personal computer and the internet are becoming central to the daily lives of children and young people. Yet little is known about the meanings, uses and impacts of these new technologies. Leen d'Haenens, associate professor at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, looks at some of the key findings from a major study of children and the changing media environment in Europe. It suggests that there are consistent patterns of media access and ownership which cut across national differences, but that cultural, economic and gender differences are crucial for understanding the diffusion and significance of new media and information technologies among young people today.
It is an open
secret that the internet is the fastest-growing communication tool we
have known. Where radio took 38 years and the personal computer 16 to
touch the lives of some 50 million people, the World Wide Web has expanded
to this level in just four years. This suggests that the pace of technological
change is increasing. What are the implications of these changes for
children and adolescents in Europe? More particularly, what impact has
this new media age made in childrens' homes and bedrooms, and what criteria
govern this change?
In Sweden almost one in five individuals over age 15 have access to the internet from home. In France the equivalent number is almost one in 50. Yet statistics can be misleading. In Finland, statistics for access to the internet from home may not look impressive, yet these figures mask the extensive public provision of internet facilities in this country. The figures for free public access may eat into the figures for personal access at home. Indeed, the policy climate in which these media have emerged will also influence the quality and range of access throughout Europe.
Social and economic factors
ownership of old and new media is clearly influenced by a number of
factors. This research helps us begin to address this complicated issue.
The research also shows that, predictably, many more boys than girls have a personal computer in their bedrooms and that such personal ownership increases steadily with age. Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Nordic countries and Israel lead the way in internet access amongst families with children. Socio-economic status is also important, with the most affluent families being two to three times more likely to have access than those with the lowest income. This discrepancy is particularly marked in Switzerland, France and the UK where families in the highest grade are five times more likely to have internet access than those in the lowest grade.
What do children want?
However, there are striking national differences in the popularity of both television and computers. Confirming the UK's strong television culture, around half or more British children in every demographic group say that they would miss television the most. In stark contrast, television did not figure at all among the top three choices of either boys or girls in Switzerland, and personal ownership by children of their own television set is also much rarer in Switzerland. In the UK and Denmark as many as two in every three children have their own set.
Challenging assumptions and
By examining the kind of media found in boys' and girls' bedrooms, it became clear that boys are earlier adopters of new interactive media than girls. This is particularly marked when it comes to computers and games machines. Girls are more likely to possess books of their own, and the survey indicates that these discrepancies reflect the interests of the girls and not parental prejudice. When asked what media they would miss the most, only in Israel does the PC figure amongst the girls' top three choices, where it is more often than not the top choice for a boy. However, parents do seem more inclined to buy a multimedia PC if they have a son as opposed to a daughter.
Socio-economic status has considerable influence over family ownership of a number of media: video recorders, cable or satellite television, telephones, books and computers are all less frequently found in low socio-economic status families. There is only one exception--in over half the countries high socio-economic status families are less likely to have games machines.
Thus for Swiss and British families a love of books seems to be related to socio-economic status. On the other hand, in France, a highly hierarchical society comparable to Switzerland or the UK, all families, regardless of socio-economic status, are equally likely to have books somewhere in the home. British children stand out as screen-entertainment fans, with the highest percentage of children having a television set in their own rooms and the lowest percentage owning books. The leading position of countries such as Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Israel in access to the internet is the product of a multiplicity of factors, including the needs of more isolated, small language communities as well as commercial and government policy.
Does access mean use?
This feature has been adapted from Chapter 3 in the book Children and their changing media environment, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Moira Bovill, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.