Potential of Internet Use

Jonathan Lillie

JOMC 340 - Mass Communications & Society

[On-line] Available:

Summery of Sections: The purpose of this paper is to begin to explore the personal empowerment benefits that individuals can experience through use of Internet technologies. The introduction of this paper summarizes the major themes that are connected in this research: the importance of participation in mass communication processes, the potential for empowerment through these processes and how the Internet can be an environment where empowerment can take place. The summery of background literature reviews concepts from computer-mediated communication research, cultural studies, development communication studies and reception studies that have informed my background knowledge and my research methods. Next, drawing concepts from these fields, I suggest several definitions and models of empowerment which I have used to structured my research questions and methodologies. The last section briefly describes the specific methods that I used, the results of my primary inquiry, discussion of results and the implications of this study and future research.

Summery of Important Internet Terms:

Computer-mediated communication (CMC). Computer-mediated communication is any person-to-person communication that is conducted over large physical and/or perceptual distances using computer and telecommunications technology and limited to the exchange of alphanumeric words and images.

Cyberspace. The term cyberspace, which originates from the William Gibson science fiction novel Neuromancer, refers to the conceptual space occupied by people using CMC technology.

Flame. A flame is a piece of electronic mail or a Usenet article, the content of which is violently argumentative or critical.

Internet. The Internet is a concatenation of many individual campus, state, regional and national Networks (such as the National Science Foundation's NSFNet, the U.S. Defense Department's ARPANet and the U.S. Army's MilNet) into one single logical Network, all sharing a common addressing scheme.

Lurking. Refers to the act of viewing other peoples' conversations in a useNet room (for example) but not participating yourself.

MUDs. This stands for Multi-User Dungeons, which are text-based technologies that allow users from different locations to participate in a common game or text-based world (through CMC), where they can interact with other users who are logged onto the host computer. Generally the environments are game oriented.

Surfing. Browsing through different sites and pages on the World Wide Web.

Usenet. Usenet is an international Network of machines that exchange articles categorized into a number of different topic areas known as news groups.

Virtual community. A virtual community is a social aggregation that emerges in a CMC environment when enough people carry on public discussions for long periods of time with significant amounts of human feeling, thus forming webs of personal relationships that exist in cyberspace.

WELL. The acronym WELL is short for the term, "Whole Earth `Lectronic Link, "which is a computer conferencing collective located in the San Francisco Bay Area and structured somewhat similarly to Usenet.


Implications of Participation & Empowerment

Participation is a term whose importance in mass communication, development strategies and cultural studies has emerged since the late 60s in the forefront of cultural analysis of empowerment movements within marginalized groups throughout the world. For mass communications research, the term participation can have at least two connotations. The first and most common definition refers to active audience participation in decoding and negotiating their interpretations of a media text at both the individual and identity group level. The outgrowth of this theme emerged with growing criticisms of effects research whose dominant theories of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, direct effects and limited effects theories, were not supported by experimental results. Uses and gratifications research, one of the outcomes of this unrest, "sought to replace the image of the audience member as a passive victim, thought to be the implication of effects studies, with one of a person who could actively bend programs, articles, films and songs," to his or her own purposes and interpretations. One of the more recent branches of uses and gratifications studies, reception studies, focuses on the dominate and oppositional, culturally charged readings that individuals and groups can have for various cultural "texts." Furthermore, some reception scholars emerging from the development school of cultural and communication studies suggest that the infusion of culturally biased western media products into the markets of the developing world present a form of cultural imperialism. From this view-point, the importance for regions, cultures and subgroups to appropriate means of cultural production, particularly mass media technologies, has been stressed. Thus, for these scholars, participation refers to audience inclusion in the process of producing cultural texts/ mass media messages.

The importance of this type of appropriation has been stressed by many development planners since the 60s. For many of them, grassroots participation in the development process is necessary for sustainable development. Yet, until recently, the principle development model put to practice was that of stimulated linear growth to bring developing nations up to par with the industrialized world. The failure of this equation to propel these nations into an industrial renascence excaborated the need for target populations to be integral participants in the development process. Increasingly, some scholars have posited that the goal of participation should be empowerment, which is seen as peoples' abilities to take active control of their lives.

For cultural studies equitable participation in all aspects of social discourse, economic, political, ideological is necessary for culturally and socially marginalized groups to free themselves from various aspects of oppression. While many theorists have worked to explain how domination, subordination and the possibilities for liberation might function within culture, ethnographers in communication studies have analyzed how culture affects mass media production and reception. In this arena of studies, as with development studies, empowerment theory has emerged to describe individual, group and community processes of liberation from debilitating environments and limitations.

The contributions of these fields to the concepts of participatory development and empowerment will be expanded on latter. The key concept here is that a participation/empowerment equation has been seen by scholars in many fields as the necessary means of liberation from oppressive economic or social situations for marginalized individuals and groups. My paper will attempt to study the implications of participation and empowerment as they apply to the empowering experiences possible through individuals' use of the communication technologies and cultural superstructure/communications commons known as the Internet.

The Internet

The Internet is best described as a Network of computers that allow individuals to participate in a number of communication methods: sending and receiving email, viewing and creating web pages, participating in useNet rooms, etc... Studies have estimated that at the beginning of 1996, 30 million people worldwide had Internet access. By the year 2000 that number could grow to 250 million. The InterNet's rate of growth has frequently been cited as "exponential." In August, 1996, Internet Info reported that commercial domains in the United States had increased over 139 percent during the first half of the year alone. Whether you conceive of the Internet as a global communication tool, a cyberspace of international communities and culture, or both, this new technology has implications for international business and commerce, advertising, journalism, production of dominant and oppositional cultural texts, cross-cultural communication, education, democratic structures, entertainment, sociology, anthropology, the formation of virtual communities, self-expression and identity formation and development, among other examples. You need not "surf" for long on the Net, or "lurk" among useNet rooms to encounter a lot of hyped up positivist or even pessimistic predictions about the current and future implications that the advent of the Internet will have on human civilization.

Many of these opinions laud the democratizing and empowering forms of communication that Internet access can offer through forms of horizontal communication (useNet, email), and individual publication of expressive and cultural texts on the World Wide Web. Figures as diverse and well-known as Tony Benn (former British Minister of Technology) and Timothy Leary have argued that computer-mediated communication technology (the Internet) will provide the means for an effective and truly participatory democracy. Typically these claims argue that the non-hierarchical structure of Internet communications, as well as the lack of visual identity cues that predict social dominance (gender, race, age, class, etc...) are absent in computer-mediated communications (hereafter CMC) such as the Internet. As I will show latter, while early research into CMC supported this concept, more recent studies, particularly feminist research, have begun to document that the engendered nature of human communication does not necessarily dissipate in CMC environments.

The Internet is a product of various technologies, various cultures, various uses and various users. As Bruce Overby explains in his study of social identity in useNet environments, "[c]yberspace . . . can be understood as a vast territory, a space of representations. While human beings have inhabited representational spaces for a very long time, we have never been able to create representations with the ease and flexibility possible in cyberspace." It is this flexibility of expression and the ability to form expressive relationships that have enticed many individuals into this habitat. In the few years since the Internet has enjoyed exponential growth, new subcultures and old subcultures have emerged, taking advantage of all that cyberspace has to offer.

So far, very little research has been done on: the formation of these virtual interest groups and subcultures; what gratifications Internet users are getting out of participating in cybersociety; how individuals interact to form virtual communities and what specific empowerment experiences they might be enjoying due to Internet access and relations. It is the nature of individual empowerment through participation in these cybercommunities and other Internet experiences that this research will consider by attempting to describe the context and forms of individual empowerment in these settings. While there are certainly various uses and gratifications of Internet technologies and cybersociety, the underlying assumption of this research is that people can use the interNet in ways that promote individual empowerment.

Summary of Background Research

My summary of the literature that I have used in this research can be separated into four main topics. I began by looking at research on computer-mediated communication, specifically, early social psychology studies, more recent feminist research of CMC and cultural anthropology analysis of cyberculture. From there I considered concepts from cultural studies concerning communication as mean of cultural production. The ideas of marginality, hegemony and the possibilities for individual and group emancipation from these forces are mentioned as they fit into an analysis of the concepts of participatory development as described by ethnographer, and communications scholar, Lucia Vargas and authors more specifically concerned with defining and framing empowerment. In the final section I discuss how uses and gratifications, reception studies and ethnography have been applied to researching media production and reception. In conclusion I propose applying empowerment typologies as an analytical framework for researching and describing individual empowerment through participation with CMC and cybersociety.

For many decades, mass communications researchers have recognized that each communication medium has distinct characteristics that define how messages are created, communicated and received by an audience. Bruce Overby's research of a social identity model of useNet, offers a comprehensive overview of how CMC has been studied and defined. He begins by citing Kiesler, Siegel and McGuire, who have all contributed greatly to the field of CMC research. They identify four features, "that distinguish CMC from conventional forms of communication: 1) an absence of regulating feedback, 2)incomplete or limited expressions of emotion, 3) a lack of social status cues, and 4)social anonymity. (These features have been collectively referred to as the "filtered-cues theory"). Overby also defers to Kiesler and Smith to further delineate distinct characteristics of CMC. Kiesler observes that the receivers in CMC constitute an easily accessible audience where the only clue the sender has to the receiver's identity may be his or her name and or writing style. In text-based technologies such as useNet and email, social indications of the receiver's status, age, gender, race and appearance are missing. In a sociological study of the WELL, Smith delineates six aspects of virtual interaction that can greatly influence communication:

1.Virtual interaction is aspatial (i.e., the amount of physical distance that separates participants does not significantly limit the interaction).

2.Virtual interaction is asynchronous (i.e., participation cannot be simultaneous, as is possible with face-to-face interactions).

3.Most virtual interaction is conducted using only textual symbols.

4.Participants in virtual interaction are acorporal to one another (i.e., the absence of copresence eliminates physical impositions between participants).

5.Limited bandwidths regulate the amount of information that can be practically exchanged in virtual interactions.

6.Participants in virtual interactions are often anonymous or partially anonymous.

Overby's research studied socialization in useNet, a text-based environment. It is important to note that the field of CMC research has typically only addressed such Internet technologies as useNet, email, MUDs and other text-based communication mediums, which were increasingly available in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s to a limited amount of users, before the graphics capabilities of computer Networks, such as the World Wide Web, came into wide-spread use. Yet researchers in the field of CMC have been vital to the concept of the equalizing and democratization aspects of this medium, the Internet, as a whole.

J. Siegel describes research on the behavioral and social effects of computers used for communication as falling into four general categories: (1) technology assessment studies; (2) organizational studies and (3) technical capacity studies and (4) social psychological studies. In the late seventies and throughout the 80s social psychologists have studied how CMC affects group decision making, group socialization and individual behavior. According to Siegel, social psychology research of face-to-face group interaction have revealed that participation is generally unequal since the proportion of participation is determined by group members' social position and personal competencies. His research comparing CMC groups and face-to-face groups, found that: (1) social equalization was higher in CMC groups; (2) group members participated more equally in discussions regardless of social demographics; and (3) that individuals were more uninhibited in CMC.

While CMC scholars such as Siegel and Kiesler were instrumental in laying a theoretical foundation for the equalizing effects of CMC, a concept that has bloomed in popular euphoria for the communications revolution of the Internet, some social psychologists have presented an alternative model that predicts that CMC can foster equal, horizontal exchange, as well as communication that is closer to face-to-face, hierarchical and socially determined processes. Emerging out of this original critique, feminist scholars have renewed these criticisms in recent years through cultural and sociological research and commentary.

In their inquiry into the socialization process in CMC, Lea and Spears question the body of evidence emerging from social psychological studies that suggest that CMC can serve to reduce some of the cultural and social barriers to communication, such as status differentials, resulting in greater equality of participation. Their research, attempts to show that CMC can serve to both reduce and reinforce power relations. Stressing the permanence of social factors, they posit that identity and interaction in CMC are grounded in the realities of identities, relations and cultural contexts beyond CMC, which pervade our social lives.

Several feminist scholars have expanded on this observation. Susan Herring, for example, has noted that, "women and men have recognizably different styles in posting to the Internet, contrary to the claim that CMC neutralizes distinctions of gender; and second, that women and men have different communicative ethics -- that is, they value different kinds of on-line interactions as appropriate and desirable." Many feminist researchers recognize that despite gender inequality on the Net, women must carve communal niches for themselves, while maintaining their rights in the more public spheres of cyberspace. Ellen Balka, maintains that feminists must apply their organizational and personal experiences to engage the tasks of challenging the engineered imbalances of cyberspace, which "threaten to create computer Networking systems which reproduce rather than challenge the power relations characteristic of western capitalist societies." Working towards on-line equality is one way that women might be engaging in empowerment processes.

The potential for uninhibited behavior on CMC, as recognized by Siegel, has become of particular concern to women using the Internet when this behavior is expressed in the form of sexual harassment and flaming. In her article, "The Price of Admission: Harassment and Free Speech in the Wild, Wild West," Stephanie Brail discusses her encounters with on-line sexual harassment and stalking. "Finding the fine line between censorship and safety and creating better environments for women in cyberspace," she explains, " are complex tasks." As we will see later in this paper, the conditions of CMC that foster both equitable relations and culturally bound social inequalities, are contexts that necessarily affect the processes of empowerment through Internet use.

Despite these obstacles, the percentage of women using the Internet has grown to 31% of all users (by the beginning of 1996). Women like other cyber-minorities are able to express themselves while formulating relations and virtual communities with like-minded users. Research on the Gay/Lesbian virtual community has posited that "virtual communities" are communities of association that compromise groups of people that use computer Networks to commune with other members of a particular identity group. Examples of possible virtual communities include hackers, women, homosexuals, children, African-American women, Christians, witches/warlocks, Latinos and Asian-Americans, to name a few. These communities of association in cyberspace can be considered cyber sub-cultures, which are also contexts within themselves that affect empowerment. As many feminists have observed, CMC cannot transcend the social and cultural contexts of individual users' lives. Together millions of Internet users bring their cultural concepts and outlooks to this new space that lacks traditional boundaries. To understand the context the empowerment process that might take place through Internet use, not only are the unique qualities of CMC important to consider, but the qualities of an expanding and diverse transnational cyberculture must also be described and theoretically framed. The emerging field of this arena of research is cyberanthropology.

Ethnography is the branch of anthropology concerned with studying how cultures form, evolve, produce symbols art and language, and how different cultures interact. Some ethnographers are beginning to ask these questions about the cultural components of the Internet and its users. In an "Ethnographic description of the Net culture," Tim North concludes that, "the Net forms a superstructural society supporting its own culture." In reaching the conclusion that cyberspace is a pan-societal superstructure, North points out that it lacks several features traditionally defined as being part of distinct cultures and societies such as: the responsibilities provided by other societies (e.g. reproduction, food and shelter); regulation of sexual activity and relationships; development of knowledge and technology for obtaining food in particular environments; and adornment and decoration of the human body, among other factors. Thus, by itself, the Net fulfills none of these anthropologic features, and it therefore cannot be viewed as a culture or society unto itself. North's own research uses an ethnographic analysis of Internet subcultures, such as the hacker subculture, to discover what the key aspects of the culture of the Internet are.

Seeking to understand Net subcultures, North's approach illustrates that existing theories about how culture affects group behavior must be considered when beginning to ask questions about how groups relate in cybersociety. The contexts of cyberculture will necessarily impact how individuals engage in empowerment processes through Internet use. Not only will users be bring their cultural understandings to the Net, but they will be dealing with the all of the cultural representations brought by other users.

To understand how a group of individuals might engage in different processes of empowerment, such as utilizing the flexibility of expression offered on the Internet, we must first understand how individuals and groups are marginalized and disempowered by social institutions in real life. It is appropriate to consider marginality, development and empowerment in conjunction since the concept of development participation has largely been equated with the betterment of the poor and oppressed. Essentially, all of these concepts compromise part of a world-view whose terms have largely been defined by wide range of scholars (cultural analysis, sociologists, political scientists, etc..). This world-view posits that individuals and groups can be oppressed and disempowered by other individuals, groups, social institutions and cultural contexts, and that individuals and groups do have the potential to empower themselves, to be liberated from these limiting factors. My principle reference in researching this knowledge base has been Lucia Vargas' book Social Uses & Practices: The Use of Participatory Radio by Ethnic Minorities in Mexico. This work looks at how indigenous ethnic groups utilized and participated in INI(Instituto Nacional Inigenista) public radio stations in central Mexico. Thus, the literature that informed her research on the cultural and development implications of grassroots participation in mass communication projects, as well as her methodology in reception studies and ethnography, have guided my understanding of these vital themes.

The writings of Antonio Gramsci and Paulo Freire, Vargas explains, are principle to the understanding of how participation in developmental communication can lead to empowerment. Gramsci's concept of hegemony has shaped how cultural studies scholars have viewed the perpetuation of marginality of subordinate groups within societies. According to Vargas this theory, "proposes that the ruling class governs not just by grounding its superiority in economic matters, but also by establishing a widespread belief in its moral and intellectual leadership; it rules by molding, through the church, the school and the media, the attitudes and convictions of the members of subordinate classes." For scholars in the communications sector of cultural studies, Gramsci's focus on the ideological sphere as the site of indoctrination highlights the need of marginalized groups to form oppositional readings of dominate texts and the need for these groups and individuals to be able to communicate these readings as well as creating there own cultural texts to be distributed within the group or community.

Another link between cultural/communication studies and development participation is Paulo Freire's concept of conscientizacao. Freire's ideas were shaped by existentialist philosophy, liberation theology and his experiences as a missionary in Brazil. The concept of consientizacao is that, "[b]y substituting a naive (in existentialist jargon, romantic) or magic (fatalistic) perception of reality with a critical awareness, people who were treated as mere objects become subjects of their own social destiny." For Freire, peoples' relationships with their environment hold many possibilities for adapting things to their own needs. Personal relationships can encompass possibilities for collaboration, solidarity, communication, love and friendship. He observed that for the powerless, the potential for communication has been replaced by a "culture of silence." Thus, he proposes development based on horizontal relationships between individuals and groups. In summation Vargas posits that, "[d]evelopment for Freire means liberation from all forms of oppression, freedom from social and economic domination and emancipation from the culture of silence."

It is Freire's emphasis on the individual's role in establishing horizontal communication, seeking critical awareness and supportive relationships that offers the most salience to the importance of participation in development. His ideas have been very influential in the rhetoric of development communications, whose political heyday evolved with the emerging UNESCO debate in the 70s, concerning the New World Information and Economic Order. This debate has been described as a conflict between two development paradigms, the modernization or orthodox paradigm (linear growth model) and the political-economy paradigm. Generally speaking, the modernization paradigm describes the models of economic stimulation and subsequent growth that industrialized nations and the Third World envisioned would propel developing nations to more equal status with their wealthier and more stable counterparts. The political-economy paradigm has emerged from dependency and Marxist theories. Basically, it observes that the international economy is based on western dependence on raw materials from developing nations. Developing nations serve a subordinate role in this equation due to their dependence on the industrialized nations for finished products, especially technologies and capital from selling off cheep labor and raw materials. Thus, this paradigm predicts that western development schemes based only on injection of capital for economic growth in developing countries, do little to stimulate political and economic self-sufficiently or increased empowerment and quality of life for the large populations of impoverished communities in these nations.

Arising out of UNESCO solidarity, politicians and scholars alike began to seek consensus on an alternative development that could draw from the strengths of developing countries, while recognizing their limitations within oppressive international and intranational political economies. "Development communications," is one arena where consensus emerged. The definitions of marginality and participatory development proposed at the First Seminar on Participatory Communication in 1978, are noted by Vargas as being excellent examples of pinnacle concepts within this intellectual movement. Marginality refers to situations where groups within a society do not participate in most economic, social, cultural or political activities. Vargas recounts that: "[i]n this seminar, participation was equated with liberation, and participatory communication was seen as both a means and as an end ." For her own research, Vargas expanded this dual view of participation, originally by Freire, into two working concepts of participation:

1. Participation as a means (equated to liberation): The organized efforts to increase control over resources and institutions in given situations, on part of groups and movements hitherto excluded from such control, for the emancipator purpose of achieving a better life, self-reliance, self-esteem, and freedom from servitude.

2. Participation as a goal (equated to moral and psychological empowerment): The set of feelings, beliefs, and attitudes that accompany the sense of self-worth, on the part of groups and individuals historically regarded by a given society as being unable to cope effectively with situations concerning control over resources and institutions.

The UNESCO meeting at Belgrade in 1977, also contributed to the growing development terminology by attempting to define access, participation and self-management as they pertain to participatory communication. From Vargas' summery, access can be viewed as: peoples' opportunities and abilities to use communication systems; to receive messages of their choice and to have a range of selections; and to be able to interact with programs' producers by giving feed back, such as criticisms. Participation means the audience's direct participation in production of messages/programs/texts and involvement in the management of communication systems. The last term, self-management was viewed as the "highest level of participation, " implying complete control of production and management.

The advent of increasingly widespread use of the Internet in many parts of the "developed" world has added a new outlook to the definitions of access and participation. As opposed to having access to a television or a radio, access to the Internet truly begins to fulfill these definitions. While being able to allow everyone in a community to create their own programming for local TV and radio stations is technically problematic due to time, revenue, space and technical limitations, access to a wide range of Internet technologies implies that users can receive email from all over the world; can send messages to government officials, web sites authors, friends, strangers, etc; can publish their own creative expressions and thoughts on personal or group web pages (self-management); and can access more information than from anywhere else in the world. When you consider the potential benefits of individuals and groups having access to the Internet, the implications are that this form of participation might not only imply psychological empowerment (participation as a goal) and the potential for group empowerment as a means, but also liberation from marginality. Thus, use of the Internet implies the type of integral participation through access and self-management that many development and cultural scholars insist are vital to individual and group empowerment.

Concepts and Definitions of Empowerment

In the eyes of many, perhaps most planners and scholars in pertinent fields, successful participatory development leads to and promotes empowerment. This concept has grown out of the ideas of pioneers such as Freire, but only recently have scholars in various fields tried to define empowerment in salient terms to help explicitly advance a useful theory of empowerment.

When beginning to ask: "What is empowerment?" it is useful to think of empowerment as a open-ended construct. Marc Zimmerman's Nomological Map of empowerment, for example, is an attempt to link together the different interrelated phenomena that have been identified as part of the construct of empowerment. Julian Rappaport, a pinnacle figure in defining issues within the field of community psychology, has worked to establish how empowerment theory can be used in research. He offers three terms in which empowerment can be considered: (1)definitions and the meaning of empowerment; (2)conditions, the aspects, contexts and environment of an empowering process or program; and (3) periods of time over which empowerment might progress or evolve. Rappaport contends that these "terms," are the appropriate sites of researching empowerment through observations of what empowerment is (working to describe and define), what environments facilitate empowerment (conditions/contexts) and trying to measure empowerment over time with longitudinal studies. "Terms" that the present study will focus on are the conditions/contexts (of the use of Internet technologies) and definitions (using definitions of empowerment to observe and describe it in many cybercontexts).

In addition to delineating these terms, Rappaport also offers several guidelines for studying empowerment. While not all of his points are as relevant to this study, I have selected several that will be particularly important to consider when constructing and applying my research methods.

1. Empowerment is a multi-dimensional construct that takes place at individual, group/organization and community levels, within a variety of possible contexts. For this study, the emergence of individual empowerment due to group interaction and other uses of the Internet are of concern.

2. "The radiating impact," of these many dimensions are assumed to be vital to the empowerment process, and this must be considered in analyzing different aspects of empowerment.

3. The cultural and historical contexts are also important. Particularly the how the culture and environment of the Internet and cybersociety might have empowerment potential, as well as the disempowering (an possibly empowering) aspects of society in general on the lives of Internet users, will hopefully be revealed.

While Rappaport's suggestions offer general theoretical guidelines for considering empowerment, I have looked to Edward Schwerin and Marc Zimmerman for specific definitions and models for identifying and describing empowerment. In his book, Mediation, Citizen Empowerment and Transformational Politics, Schwerin, establishes eight primary components of empowerment after a lengthy review of empowerment definitions emerging from many disciplines. These components are self-esteem, self-efficacy, knowledge and skills, political awareness, social participation, political participation, political rights and responsibilities and resources. One way that I will attempt to measure empowerment will be to see if these aspects have increased due to the subject group members' use of the Internet A brief synopsis of these components are as follows:

Self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-esteem and self-efficacy both imply how a person feels about her or himself. While self-esteem is their evaluation of self-worth, self-efficacy refers to how much control a person feels that they have over their environment through an evaluation of personal capabilities.

Knowledge and Skills. While this category implies abilities and knowledge that might be easily found and developed through Internet use, Schwerin particularly stresses personal competencies such as interpersonal communication, stress management, coping skills, problem solving, etc...

Political Awareness. This concept is related to critical consciousness - developing one's own sense of social causation, justice, and events - as articulated by Freire.

Social Participation. Participating in a variety of community groups and activities.

Political Participation. Involvement in local organizations or governing bodies. Acting accordingly from one's political awareness to affect change through political processes.

Political Rights and Responsibilities. Knowing and standing up for the traditional human rights (or other subjective concepts) and fulfilling the responsibilities of a citizen, or protesting accordingly (an example) are key.

Resources. The last component of empowerment is having access to human needs, social and political resources.

These components of empowerment are not necessarily a framework for what must be included to be empowered (although some scholars might argue that there are specific components that must be present to imply full or true empowerment). Marc Zimmermen explicitly states that a person can be empowered in one arena of activity (such as a woman's leadership role in her church), while being relatively disempowered in other arenas (such as the workplace or home). Zimmerman has developed a "nomological Network for psychological(individual) empowerment," that along with Schwerin's definition helps to delineate specific phenomena of empowerment that can be the focus of research.

Zimmerman's nomological Network tries to separate psychological(individual) empowerment into three spheres: interpersonal, interaction and behavioral components. Figure 1 shows the aspects of empowerment that he includes under each sphere. When compared to Schwerin's model (figure 2.) similarities are apparent. Specifically, I used Schwerin's definitions as phenomena of empowerment to try to observe in my subject group, while we can look to Zimmerman's model to consider how different spheres of empowerment processes might be interacting.

Zimmerman's Nomological Network for

Psychological Empowerment

Interpersonal Interaction Behavioral

Component Component Component

*Domain Specific *Critical awareness *Community

Perceived control *Understanding involvement

*Domain specific causal agents *Organizational

Self-efficacy *Skill Development participation

*Motivational control *Skill transfer *Coping behaviors

*Perceived competence across life domains

*Resource mobilization

Researching Empowerment

Originally, I perceived that a uses and gratifications approach to analyzing individual empowerment would be the most logical methodology for this research. To date, little documentation is available, however, concerning uses and gratifications' approaches to different aspects of the Internet as a new communication technology. In one relatively small project, Tamar Charney attempted a uses and gratifications analysis of on-line services. Charney acknowledges Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch's description of uses and gratifications as a method that considers "(1)the social and psychological origins of (2)needs, which generate (3)expectations of (4)the mass media or other sources, which lead to (5) differing patterns of media exposure..., resulting in (6) need gratifications and (7) other consequences." Yet within cultural and communication studies, researchers whose focuses were not only how audiences use media, but also how cultural practices and ideologies affect message production and reception, have brought concepts from uses and gratifications and cultural studies together in hopes of achieving a more holistic picture of how the media/communication process works within society. This line of scholarship has come to be known as reception studies. Vargas points out that for uses and gratifications the unit of analysis is the individual, and self-report surveys are the typical methodology employed to collect data. In reception studies the researcher attempts to "place the individual in a wider social context. They maintain that the unit of analysis should be the group (a family, a subculture, the residents of a nursing home, etc.)." Observation in natural settings, in-depth-interviewing and other such ethnographic techniques, are considered by reception scholars to be the most appropriate methods for understanding how media and group communication interact and evolve.

I believe that reception studies and ethnography offer the best approach for my research because they advocate searching for a holistic understanding of how media, individuals, groups, subcultures and dominate cultures are interconnected. The idea is that these factors, as well as others, will necessarily impact on how individuals and groups negotiate meanings and uses of media messages. As discussed earlier, describing the context of these layers is vital to understanding the process of empowerment. Furthermore, ethnography is also the approach taken by researchers in the emerging field of cyberanthorpology, such as Tim North.

Vargas' own research also employs ethnographic techniques to different aspects of indigenous participation in production and reception messages of INI radio. One particular advantage to the qualitative approach of ethnography is the flexibility it allows the researcher in adapting research questions and methodology as the research process evolves. This flexibility is, in fact, crucial considering the vast array of diverse data that the researcher might unexpectedly encounter in unknown cultural environments, such as the contexts of individual's experiences of Internet use.

Research Methods and Questions

Purpose and Limitations of this Study

The goal of this research was largely to test this methodology for accessing and understanding how individuals might be engaged in empowering processes through use of Internet technologies. This was basically a test run of a research concept that I believe has much potential to offer valuable insight in the future. The largest limitation was the time constraint, due to the fact that this project had to be completed in time it to be graded by the end of the spring semester, 1997. Clearly, an in-depth analysis of issues as subjective and complex as empowement should be longitudinal and punctilious towards the context of subject's lives. Thus, the purpose of this study was to see if this framework has the potential to produce useful qualitative data that compliments the concepts of empowerment discussed earlier.

Research Questions

1. Have individuals within the subject group experienced personal empowerment through use of Internet technologies?

2. How have specific components of empowerment, self-esteem, self-efficacy, knowledge and skills, political awareness, social participation, political participation, political rights and responsibilities and access to resources, been reinforced in individuals' lives through the use of Internet communication technologies?

3. What are the different contexts that have facilitated a process of empowerment in these individuals' lives? (Non Internet stimuli, social obstacles, Internet relationships, cybercultural contexts, etc...).

Research Methodology

Introduction of Methods

There are many reasons why I have chosen the ethnographic approach to research how individuals might be engaged in process of empowerment. To begin with, there is the problem of choosing appropriate subjects for this analysis. I decided to select one specific identity group from which to find subjects. Women found on the World Wide Web, perhaps most of whom have feminist leanings, was the pool from which I searched for subjects. While I expected there to be a wide range of experiences between subjects in this group, I thought that the unequal status of women in our society has motivated empowerment movements and individual journeys in general. When I searched for subjects by browsing web pages for and about women, I knew that the people involved have at least attempted to relate with an identity group: other women on the web. In this way, these individuals would already be seeking relations and connections that might help to facilitate empowerment.

Subject Selection

To find subjects for my survey I browsed the World Wide Web looking for women's web pages. Since most web pages offer the author's email address, I used these to mail inquiries asking if the recipient would participate in my email survey on empowerment. I found one web page that was concerned with women's issues and communication, where many women had registered their web pages. Using this hypertext index was an easy way to access many women's pages. There was also a WWWomen's web ring (a collection of connected web pages) which made it easy to brows through many different sites as well. As I discuss in the section on the results of the survey, I discovered that there are several ways in which I could have strengthened this process, which possibly could have led to better results. One problem was that, even though I intended to survey only women, two men ended up returning completed surveys. In the end, this was advantageous because I did not receive as many completed surveys as I wanted, and the comments of these men did add to the basic exploration of possible empowerment processes.

The Survey

To collect data on empowerment experiences within these subject's lives I had them respond to an email questionnaire. This was the primary methodology. A copy of the survey appears at the end of this paper, as Appendix A. I originally intended to try to consider the structure, symbols and messages of the subject's web pages as cultural texts. This analysis might have offered data on the personal expressions and processes that the subjects might be involved with that could be affecting empowerment. I chose not to use this text-reading research method, however, because I do not feel that I have the appropriate knowledge base to attempt this level of analysis in such a limited time span.


The results of my email survey are arranged according to each of the main questions on empowerment. After outlining answers that I received for each question (on the survey), I discuss the implications of the results in terms my three research questions. The last section reviews what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of this analytical approach and the research method used. In conclusion, I review implications for future research.


Seven subjects sent completed surveys(three others sent incomplete surveys, or promised surveys but did not send them in time for them to be included here): Most of the Following names are pseudonyms:

Betty - late 20s, in graduate school, single

Calli - middle aged, middle income, 2yrs. college degree, married,


Cuda - middle aged, married, African-American

J. August - late 20's, middle income, attending university. married,

Spanish/Filipino/Thai background

Linda - 18(or so), graduating from high school, single, Chilean background

Lenord - 30's, middle income, Ph.D., single, African-American

Selina - middle aged, upper-middle income, bachelors degree, married, African-American

All subjects currently live in the U.S. or Canada, except Betty who is from South Africa.

Survey Question Results:

1. How many years and months have you been using the Internet?

Betty - One year.

Selina - Since September 1992.

Cuda- About five years.

Linda- Approximately 1 year and 4 months.

J. August- One year, 5 months.

Lenord- 8 yrs.

Calli- 2 yrs.

2. From where do have/get Internet access (home, work, library)?

All respondent use the Internet from home and from work or school.


Linda- I mainly use the Internet at home, but I can also access it from the

library and from my high school.

Lenord- home/work about even

3. What Internet communication technologies/programs do you use the most (email, web browsing, your own web page, useNet, etc...)?

All subjects used email and browsed the World Wide Web. Most used listserves as well.


Selina- Email, Own web page, web browsing, Usenet, IRC.

Cuda- Email, web browsing, TelNet, and my own web server, listservs, database and other software.

Calli- Email, web browsing, FTP to upload my own web page, web chat.

*Why do you use these technologies/programs?


Selina- Investment club on-line, AFROAM-L and other listservs and forums for


Cuda- I'm a web professional.

Linda- I use my e-mail and guest book often because they are my main source of feedback and communication with others on the Internet. With out

communication, and outreach, my Homepage would not be serving any

purpose. I edit my homepage every day and try to add something new to it

daily. It is important for me to update my page as often as possible

because of public relations: one of my goals is for people to bookmark

my homepage and come back to it each week or so, therefore, I cannot

have a sedentary webpage if I want my goal to be accomplished. I use

webrings often, sometimes I am just looking for ideas to consider for

my web-page design, and other times I am looking for some good sites to

link to, or some information to add onto my page.

J. August- I use email use to keep up with friends and members of an Internet support group; browsers to research information for courses and to satisfy my own curiosity about the world around me; my Web Page to see if I could actually create one; user groups - I belong to an type group, a shared-problem group (helps to know there are others who understand my particular situation).

Betty - I use email for business and to communicate with friends; chat programs to have real time communication with friends and to make

new friends from all over the world; my own web page- we have an Internet cafe and it's the start page for customers web browsing: to find information newsgroups (used to a lesser extent): I'm studying through a distance university and they have newsgroups for students to try and help each other.

4. Do you have a personal or group web page?

All respondents had a world wide web page.

5. What specific Internet technologies (your own web page, use of the web in general, participation in a discussion group [useNet], participation in listserves or MUDs, email, etc...) have been the most important to you?


Selina - Participation in AFROAM-L has probably been the most impactful, due to the opportunity to exchange ideas with up to 700 other folks on the topic

of Critical Issues in African-American Life. Many of my activities have

stemmed from that listserv.

Linda- Making and marketing my webpage.

J. August- E-mail, usergroups and browser.

Lenord- Listserv mailing lists.

Call- My web site


With this question those subjects who might have had more empowering experiences begin to emerge due to the fact that these technologies serve distinct and important gratifications in their lives.


Selina- Being able to interact with so many people with a common focus is very stimulating.

Linda- I truly want to reach out to people with my messages of female

empowerment. The best way that I can do that is by having an

informative, highly up to date, attractive homepage that can convey my

message to them, that is why my homepage is so important to me. It is

my means of "transportation."

J. August- The email has allowed me to keep in touch with my friends. I'm

extremely busy and email lets me send the messages when it's convenient

for me . . I can send it out at midnight, or at 6 a.m. They can respond at their convenience.

Usergroups - Being in a shared-problem group lets me know that I am not

alone in this situation . . that although most of my friends cannot understand, there are others out there who can . . and who can and have supported me.

Calli- It's given me confidence in my ability to write in a way that is

interesting to other people. It has brought me new friends and


6. Has using these Internet technologies enhanced the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem, your personal identity, sense of achievement, etc..)

This question, and particularly the second part to number six, really brought out some of the components of empowerment ht I was looking for. Also you can begin to observe the overall feelings that each subject has for the empowerment potential of the Internet.


Selina- My sense of self-awareness hasn't been altered or enhanced, but several joint projects accomplished through groups on line has added to my sense of achievement.

Linda - Yes.

J. August- Yes.

Lenord- Somewhat.

Cuda- I don't think so. The Internet is a means to end, not an end in itself.

Consequently, I'd have the same level of achievement if I was communicating

in some other way.

*Please describe the how your sense of self has been enhanced.

Selina- I was pretty rooted in my self-image when the Net came along, and I can't say that I see myself any differently. What the Net makes possible is

increased communication and interaction. Those interactions and

relationships have been instrumental in broadening and deepening my

understanding of others.

Linda- I feel like I can truly make a difference in this world, I feel like a

catalyst. My self-esteem has increased because of 2 reasons. One

reason is that because I have had to learn how to make a web-page all by

myself, although it was a difficult task, I did it, and this makes me

feel great! The second reason is because I feel that I have become a

significant part of the female empowerment community, I am paving the

way for other women engineers, and this makes me feel important and


J. August- Being able to vent your frustrations out to people who won't judge you has proven to be cathartic. Sharing similar situations with people who

can commiserate has been, for me, a valuable experience. The release

of tension has lessened my stress and has made me a much happier

person. I have increased my support base and this has given me some

sense of peace.

Lenord- I have a better sense of where I stand politically, ideologically, culturally within the African-American experience.

Calli- Yes. I've learned how to program in HTML and how to make graphics

for the web, I've discovered that I'm pretty good at both the

technical aspects of web publishing *and* the content part--i.e., I

can write and people want to read what I write. It's definitely been

good for my self esteem.

7. What group, community, and or individual relations have you developed through your use of Internet technologies?

This question tries to get at some of the social participation that might be influencing empowerment.


Betty - I've developed relations with an international group for women (Webgrrls).

And I've made some great friends through the Internet.

Selina- A group of us put together an investment club, and we have several

thousand dollars going into the stock market together. I've been

privileged to initiate and carry out several group projects, most notably

AFROAM-L Griot On-line, completed in 1994.

I have exchanged quilting blocks with folks from around the world in an

on-line block exchange.

Cuda- I've met a lot of people from different walks of life. My website includes

a conferencing component with over a thousand members who actively engage

in discussion of a whole range of issues. In effect, we've created a

virtual community on-line.

Linda- Group wise I have become a member of and acquainted to different

women's associations on the Internet. Community wise, I was interviewed

by the local paper here in Moon Twp. PA and reached out to my fellow

townspeople. Personally, I have corresponded with several different

people through e-mail, these conversations are usually about my page, but

I have also reached the point of friendship with many of my critics.

J. August- I belong to and Webgrrls. Individual

relationships come and go on the Net. People can disappear without a

trace suddenly out here in cyberspace . . .it's just part of cyberlife.

People take what they need and then leave. Perhaps some people still

haven't fully realized that the email address/irc nick/usergroup

pseudonym is an actual person. Ahhh, well, the Net is still young . .

there's still time.

Calli- Made lots of acquaintances, a few close friends. No real group or

community relationships to speak of, but that's my personality

anyway, I'm not a joiner, much more comfortable one-on-one.

*How have theses interactions affected you?

Selina - I felt most proud that folks could trust and work with one another across barriers of geography.

Cuda- I spend a lot of time on the Net. I have good discussions and have

frustrating ones.

Linda- They have made my homepage more of a reality and my mission of gaining more support and jobs for women engineers has been helped by the

relationships I have formed on the Internet.

Lenord- They have affected me through jobs, conferences, helping students out, providing informal letters of recommendations and job postings, also bouncing ideas off others for

eventual publication.

Calli- They've been very rewarding for the most part.

*Have any of these relations had implications outside of the Internet?(How so).

Selina- I've visited, partied and lunched with several friends I've met on the


Cuda- There have been potential business opportunities, but none of these have panned out. I've met a number of people off the Net based on on-line

interactions. Mostly we continue to deal with each other electronically.

J. August- I met my best friend/live-in spouse through a Bulletin Board System. Most of my closest friends own a computer and many of us interact on-line. (Only getting together rarely, for special occasions). If we're not including local BBS, then I'll have to say I have never met anyone from the Internet.

Lenord- Jobs, co-sponsored conferences, collaboration, dates, etc...

Calli- Not really.

Linda- Yes, having the nation's first "Society of Women Engineers Homepage for High School Students" has attracted much interest from the National Society of Women Engineers, thus, I was invited to speak at many universities here in the Pittsburgh area about my homepage and why I am motivated and hope to motivate other young women into engineering. For example, I was invited to speak at a Society of Women Engineers conference at Carnegie Mellon University. The students at CMU organize a yearly conference for SWE and invite approximately 500 High School Students from Western Pennsylvania to come and participate. I had attended this conference in 1996, but this year (March, 1997) I was invited to give a speech in the panel of keynote speakers. It was a wonderful experience, not only did I get to work on my public speaking, but I also got to share my message of female empowerment to a huge group of students.

Betty - Webgrrls has helped me start a chapter to help other women learn about the Internet and it has become a great networking opportunity by interacting with women from different walks of life.

8. Have the many informational and social resources of the Internet affected how you think about the world, and your political participation in it?

Here I was attempting to establish political awareness and participation components of empowerment.


Selina- Most definitely; the Internet has made many more viewpoints available, and I feel I am more able to understand issues from various perspectives.

Cuda- Not really. I communicate with a wider range of people, and have faster

access to information. But it hasn't changed me in any fundamental way.

J. August- Yes. It reminds me that I am only one person in billions . . .that this world of ours, it is everyone's responsibility, that no matter where you

are from, what your socioeconomic status may be, many of us will share in the same worries about family, career, etc.

Lenord- It has been a little depressing because I have found out how fractured the black community is on so many issues. The challenges seem, somehow greater because before I had many discussions on the Internet, I thought most Black Americans thought like me.

Calli- No.

Linda- Yes, it has made me realize that I also can make a huge difference in our society if I become more active in my goals. The amount of effort that I put forth in participating will be directly proportional to the amount of change I can provoke.

*Have you engaged in communication about political issues?

(How so).

Selina- Some political issues have been hot topics of conversation; Prop 209 here in California, for example, has been discussed ad infinitum, from both

perspectives. I've engaged in ongoing dialogue about that and other

important issues.

Cuda- Yes. My website is largely based on communication about political and other issues. I've also created two magazines dealing with politics art and

culture, all on-line

J. August- No.

Calli- No.

Linda- Yes, women's rights. I have received e-mail from people who are very much against women's rights, and I have written back to them showing them my fierce opinion. I will not accept compromise in the realm of women's rights- I will stand up to them until equality is achieved!

9. What specific limitations and/or disempowering circumstances/experiences (examples-lack of formal education, social biases, political and economic circumstances, personal - low self-esteem, need for more information or social relations, etc..) has your Internet use helped you to transcend, alter, escape, combat, etc....(if any).

Selina- The Internet is an amazing source of information on every possible topic. I have at least one new hobby, homebrewing, thanks in great part to my exposure on the Net. Many of my interests have been supported and supplemented by the Net. It's a new publishing medium, combined with encyclopedic information resource.

More importantly, I feel the Net has allowed me to reach out to more

Black folks all over the world than I've been able to in any other way.

San Diego social consciousness is lacking in many ways and the Net has

allowed me to share info without regard to the local political


Cuda- None.

J. August- None.

Lenord- The Internet has allowed me to transcend class and education levels

better than the barber shop or church.

Calli- None.

Linda- My age. Many people believe that since I am "only" a high school

student I do not wholly understand the cause I am fighting for, but

people who believe that are truly wrong. I have shown them that they are wrong.

*In what ways have you been able to do this?

Selina - By interacting with folks in forums like AFROAM-L and Gravity, I've been able to exchange ideas and participate in projects with folks I would

never had access to before. In hobbies, I can talk to folks who share that hobby and get answers to my questions, both on Usenet and on the web.

Lenord- Participating on listserv email lists.

Linda- First, I took it upon myself to inform myself in order to show the

people that were criticizing me that they were wrong. It is important

to first be sure that you know what you are talking about!! Then, I

simply stood for what I believe in!

10. As a woman, do you feel that communication through Internet technologies offers fewer social obstacles for organization, non-hierarchical communication, etc..., as compared to face-to-face communication? Explain.

Selina- The Internet has leveled the playing field to a certain extent. People's

ideas and strength of communication seem to take precedence over their


Betty - Yes, I think you become just a person who has similar interests (ie the Internet) and people become more willing to share information instead of feeling "threatened" that you might be able to do something better than

they can do.

J. August- Being female, you get judged on the way you look. It is wonderfully comforting to know that people like you because of your personality . .your writing ability instead of any physical attribute one may

possess. However, my arguments on the Net must be logical, absolutely

"on-the-money" . . . unlike real life. I can't just smile and bat my

eyelashes to get out of a situation. It's brains and personality . . .

99% of the time, I love it.

Linda- In general, yes. I personally have no problems speaking with my elders, or men, so for me it has been relative. But for other women this may hold true, because many feel inferior to men and are afraid to stand up for their beliefs. I guess it may depend on whether or not you feel comfortable with what you are communicating, or if you feel unstable or

embarrassed in your cause.

11. Overall, how do you think the Internet will affect your life in the long-term?

Betty - It affords a great opportunity to make business and personal contacts and no matter where a person is in the world you will only be a "computer terminal" away from friends and relatives. It also offers a great scope for learning.

Selina- The Internet will become more ubiquitous over the next five years.

Everyone in the US and other parts of the world will have access.

Cuda- It will provide an opportunity to communicate with many more people than possible before. It will also provide the opportunity to organize for

change politically and in other ways. It's still in it's infancy right

now, but that's what I think is coming.

J. August- I think the Internet (or it's future generations) will always be part of my life. I like having all this information at my fingertips. It's my

window to the rest of the plaNet. Who in their right mind would

give that up? :>

Lenord- Meet some many more people is the greatest effect.

Calli- It's just another way to communicate with people, basically, and I

intend to continue to use it as such. It's just another tool, albeit a very useful and interesting one.

Linda- I have become a better person, I have learned more about myself, I have learned to stand up for what I truly believe in. Therefore, in the

long term, the Internet will have helped me to become more focused and sure of myself.

*How do you think it will affect society in general?

Selina - As a result, we'll all be able to exchange ideas much more readily, get

things done (like filing taxes, shopping, etc.) more quickly and easily

and work more efficiently.

J. August- The Net forces you to be open minded. Often closed minded people get flamed. On the Internet there are no "races," even though those white supremacists try to make it an issue. Ethnicity, age, and gender are secondary to one's ability to communicate and to reason. Personality gets big points out here and hopefully this will be extended to the real world.

Lenord- It will continue to bring people closer together.

Linda- The Internet makes intelligent communication more important, fairness, less bias.

12. Other issues that you want to discuss?

Linda- I think it is extremely important for MORE women to join in the cause of female empowerment. I'd also like to see more men become supporters of the women's movement, after all, as Gloria Steinem once said- "men can be feminists too!"

How does these survey answer the research questions for this study?

Research Question # 2

How have specific components of empowerment, self-esteem, self-efficacy, knowledge and skills, political awareness, social participation, political participation, political rights and responsibilities, and access to resources, been reinforced in individuals' lives through the use of Internet communication technologies?

Increased self-esteem- In answering question six Linda, Calli and J. August all exhibited increased self-esteem due to use of Internet technologies. CMC allows people to build text-based conversation skills and skills with a computer and with different programs, which is likely to help boast self-esteem in many users.

Example (Linda): My self-esteem has increased because of 2 reasons. One

reason is that because I have had to learn how to make a web-page all by

myself, although it was a difficult task, I did it, and this makes me

feel great! The second reason is because I feel that I have become a

significant part of the female empowerment community. I am paving the

way for other women engineers, and this makes me feel important and


Increased self-efficacy was mostly associated with the technical skills that the subjects have accumulated to use Internet technologies effectively. Although Calli and Linda specifically mention pride and satisfaction from creating their own web pages, increased self-efficacy might be a common product of extensive use of Internet technologies in the same way that increased knowledge and skills could be.

Increased political awareness and participation was assessed in question nine. Selina, J. August, Linda and Cuda all expressed either feeling more politically aware or using the Internet for political communication.

Increased social participation is most likely ubiquitous result of using the Internet, at least for those who use email, useNet, listserves, or MUDs, etc... All of my subjects had social participation on the Internet, albeit in different ways.

Example(Selina): I have become a member of and acquainted to different

women's associations on the Internet. (where I am from) social consciousness is lacking in many ways and the Net has allowed me to share info without regard to the local political limitations.

Increased knowledge and skills and increased access to resources are both components that might naturally be occurring for most Internet users due to the nature of the medium. Benefits from enhanced technical skills, as well the Internet as a vast resource of information, were reported by several subjects. In terms of life skills, several subjects seem to have developed coping skills such as using discussion groups for personal support and communion. J. August also discussed her Internet use in terms of stress management and building interpersonal communication skills.

It is clear that the different components of empowerment can be observed as a result of participation with the Internet. Yet this does not mean that it would be accurate to say that most of the users of the Internet are experiencing empowerment. As the answers to question three will attempt to answer, the contexts within the lives of Internet users and within the different technologies and social spaces of cyberspace affect what these components mean to people and how they experience them.

Research Question # 3

What are the different contexts that have facilitated a process of empowerment in these individuals lives? (Non Internet stimuli, Internet relationships, cybercultural contexts, etc...).

The first and third questions are not as easily answered by the data collected through the survey. In many ways the social relationships and contexts available on the Internet were very important to many of the subjects. Selina, for example, found that being able to communicate with a wide range of "Black folks," when such opportunities are fragmented in her community, means a lot to her. In this way, the contexts of social support groups/relationship were also key. J. August, Selina, and Lenord all mentioned the importance of listserve groups for support and communication.

The information exchange context of the World Wide Web was also vital to most subject's experiences of increased self-esteem, self-efficacy, social interaction and political awareness and participation. Many opportunities and gratifications have emerge for Linda, for example, due to her creation of the first "Society of Women Engineers Homepage for High School Students." It should not be surprising that being able to have a web page can be an empowering experience, since exposing a mass public to your ideas and expressions has until recently been a privileged possibility. All subjects reported some sort of personal gratification from their web sites ranging from expressing their political beliefs, to connecting women's empowerment and support resources.

Personal beliefs, world-views and non-Internet experiences are factors that certainly affected how subject's responded to the questions, how they interpreted their Internet experiences and how they actually do use the Internet. This survey was not very effective in bring out many of these factors. However, most of the subjects did reveal how they feel about the potential for Internet use. Cuda, for example, explicitly stated that he sees the Internet a tool, as a means to an end. Thus, for him the concept of empowerment taking place due to participation with Internet technologies might not make since in terms of his experiences. Selina is an example of a person who already had a holistic since of self, and is already in many ways, "empowered." Thus, her uses of the Internet might include continuing empowering experiences and social Networking. For Linda, on the other hand, the Internet seems to be more of a primary process of empowerment. Her web page has helped her to develop her beliefs, and has offered many positive social and political outlets. She certainly gives the impression of empowered individual, particularly for her age group (she is about to graduate from high school). Obviously she has been influenced by outside sources of empowerment such as feminist literature, as the other subjects have been influenced by corresponding experiences as well.

In terms of gender inequalities, the two women who responded to question ten felt as if the Internet has, "has leveled the playing field to a certain extent,"(Selina). J. August commented that she thought that on the Internet the focus is on "brains and personality." Thus, for her, the emphasis that society puts onto gender, and particularly physical differences between the sexes are not there as inhibit factors within text-based, Internet communication.

Research Question #1

1. Have individuals within the subject group experienced personal empowerment through use of Internet technologies?

As an open-ended construct, it is difficult to say that this person is experiencing empowerment and that person is not. The empowerment scholars that I reviewed all stressed that empowerment for each individual is determined by the contexts of each person's life. I would say that all the subjects in this study have been empowered by their experiences using Internet technologies, (with the possible exception of Cuda) albeit to varying degrees. This is not to say that the Internet empowered them. But rather, these people used the Internet in way that allowed them to be empowered; they empowered themselves.

Users such as like Cuda, Calli and Betty might not consider themselves to have been empowered by using the Internet. Although Cuda insists that, "[the Internet] hasn't changed me in any fundamental way," he acknowledges engaging in a wide range of social discussion and interaction. Calli also considers the Internet to be, "just another tool, albeit a very useful and interesting one." At the same time, Calli has clearly gained greater self-esteem, self-efficacy and social participation. Thus, although a strict definition of empowerment might reasonably consider these two as not being engaged in empowerment process (on the Internet) their experiences do fulfill a number of empowerment components. Here, it is also advantageous to consider empowerment in terms of increased self-worth due to added control over one's life. Although Cuda and Calli might have some uses and gratifications that include empowerment components, their since of control or self-worth might not be greatly influenced (or at least they might not perceive that they have been influenced in that way). Cuda and Calli might represent a group of Internet users who have many uses and gratifications of Internet use (employment, information, entertainment, communication) yet have not used these as stimulus for any type of personal transformation or personal liberation from debilitating circumstances within the self or society (always a combination of factors). Betty might also fit into this catagory. She deffinutly experianced increased social participation, and also used the Internet as an employment opportunity. Yet, it was difficult to conclude from the data whether she felt like using the Internet offered her greater control over her life or increased self-worth.

Other subjects such as Selina and Lenord, seem to have already been engaged in previous empowering experiences before using the Internet. Both, however, demonstrate that they have also have been empowered through use of this new medium. In Lenord case he admits that although he found the limited solidarity of African-Americans on the Net to be disquieting, the Internet has helped him to transcend class and education levels better than other social institutions such as his church. As opposed to Cuda or Betty, Selina and Lenord, although rooted in their self-identity, have still had empowering experiences through their Internet use that have served to increase their social participation, political and social awareness, and possibly their self-efficacy. Their responses definitely conveyed personal transformation due to their Intenet use.

J. August and Linda appear to have been the most empowered, particularly Linda. J. August has been able to use the Internet as a source of dealing with frustration, support for personal issues and expression, maintaining social relations and doing research for school. Like Selina and Lenord, she has integrated her uses and gratifications of the Internet into her coping strategies and lifestyle. As discussed earlier, Linda seems to be using the Internet to help her to communicate ideas and to meet new people and opportunities. Although her age might not be a pinnacle factor, young Internet users seem to have more energy and more willingness to allow Internet use to become an important part of their life and thus their identity formation. In her case certainly other outside factors have contributed to her empowerment experiences on the Internet, although these experiences are themselves impressive and exciting to observe.

Implications for Future Research

Improving Methods

One limitation of having a survey as my only methodology is that the study provided more uses and gratifications type information rather than much ethnography data. A weakness of this is that ethnography is more appropriate for describing the contexts that might facilitate empowerment. Although we can get a feel for the personal contexts that might have affected the subject's experiences, in-depth interviews or companion surveys of a more personal nature will need to be applied in further research. For example, if we are dealing with the empowerment potential of Internet use for specific groups, such as Latinos or urban youth, it is useful to have a comprehensive understanding of marginalizing or debilitating factors that affect that group, as well as factors such as household environments that might affect an individual's possibilities and processes for empowerment.

Getting thorough qualitative data might not be easily achieved through email surveys. Out of fifty preliminary emails to find subjects, and over twenty surveys sent, I only received seven back, despite reminders that I sent a week after I originally sent out the surveys. Another problem was that, although I was searching for female subjects, two men were among the subjects that completed surveys. In the end this was fine since I needed more subjects, and I did not focus specifically on women's empowerment. In general, I do feel that I got very good data from my final subjects; the email survey was by-and-large effective to that end. I think that used in tandem with other more in-depth methods, more complete and telling data sets can be obtained.

Implications for Empowerment Research.

The potential for empowerment through the use of the Internet is an avenue of research that we must continue to study. Research of this nature can be used to encourage:

maintaining of the decentralized and creative nature of the Internet despite privatization

extension of Internet access to poor and disenfranchised households and communities

increased access for children

increased access in developing countries and communities, and other underrepresented populations

I believe that Internet use encompasses a diverse range of possible empowerment processes that are not possible through the use any other single technological mediator. These opportunities are increasingly available in people's homes, their work places and their public libraries. Yet as the potential of the Internet as an environment of many empowerment possibilities becomes more succinct, we must respond by continuing to try to explain these processes, while demanding that access become available to those that can benefit most from empowerment potential, residents of poor neighborhoods and particularly poor children. At this point those who continue to be the most marginalized within society have been mostly denied the vital resources needed for empowerment and liberation. The better we understand the contexts of empowment on the Internet and in peoples' lives in general, the easier it will be to design specific methodologies of participation and use, at the group and individual levels, for using the Internet specifically to facilitate empowerment and education. Something so vital to individual and community self-help, communication, cooperation and happiness, should not be left unexploited and under researched as a serendipitous by-product of technological innovation.

One extension of such research that the data from this study has suggested is research into possible Internet user archetypes that might help us to understand how Internet uses, gratification, social and personal contexts and empowerment are related. Some possible (although extremely preliminary) archetypes might include:

Internet professionals(Cuda)- sees Internet as means to end

news and entertainment users (uses and gratifications similar to newspaper and television)

increased empowerment(Selina, Lenord) - self esteem and identity already well developed- see potential for increased resources, relations, support networking, etc...

empowerment(Linda, perhaps J. August) - Internet use is the primary empowerment facilitator, thus assumes more importance in the person's life

Contributing factors to uses/gratifications/empowerment Internet Archetypes would include former empowerment experiences, identity groups, personal world-view, age, gender, ethnic and cultural background, behavior patterns, etc..

Future Research might include formation of an Internet user archetype theory and categorical definitions, observation of, and surveys to Usenet groups, formation of text-based readings and analyzation of web pages (surveys to authors) as well as survey subject groups, both randomized and by gender, sub-culture, income, virtual communities, etc... As excaborated by Rapapport, it is necessary that some of these studies be longitudinal for assessment of empowerment to be thorough. These methods should be applied to both user archetype research as well as studies specifically trying to describe the contexts of empowerment that is achieved through individual and group use the Internet.

Appendix A


Email Survey on Individual Empowerment through Internet Use

Survey Sections:

Part One - Survey Questions

Part Two - Levels of Anonymity

Part Three - A brief summery on "empowerment"

Thank you again for participating in this research. I estimate that completing this survey will take 20mins. more or less. However, you might decide to take some time to think about your experiences using the Internet, as well as providing detailed in-depth answers. Please, take as much time as you need. Section two offers some brief information about empowerment that you might find helpful.

Please return the survey when you are done. I may contact you later to follow up on some of your answers.

I would like to have the completed survey back by Wednesday, April 16.

Friday, April 18, is the deadline for returning the survey.

Try to answer all the questions.

Be sure to specify on the last question if you would like for me to send you the URL of my paper on this research that will be up on the web in May.

Thanks....Jonathan -

Part 1. Questions on Empowerment -


1. How many years and months have you been using the Internet?

2. From where do have/get Internet access (home, work, library)?

3. What Internet communication technologies/programs do you use the most (email, web browsing, your own web page, useNet, etc...)?

*Why do you use these technologies/programs?

4. Do you have a personal or group web page?

*If so what is the URL?

5. What specific Internet technologies (your own web page, use of the web in general, participation in a discussion group [useNet], participation in listserves or MUDs, email, etc...) have been the most important to you?


6. Has using these Internet technologies enhanced the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem, your personal identity, sense of achievement, etc..)

*Please describe the how your sense of self has been enhanced.

7. What group, community, and or individual relations have you developed through your use of Internet technologies?

*How have theses interactions affected you?

*Have any of these relations had implications outside of the Internet?(How so).

8. Have the many informational and social resources of the Internet affected how you think about the world, and your political participation in it?

*Have you engaged in communication about political issues?(How so).

9. What specific limitations and/or disempowering circumstances/experiences (examples-lack of formal education, social biases, political and economic circumstances, personal - low self-esteem, need for more information or social relations, etc..) has your Internet use helped you to transcend, alter, escape, combat, etc....(if any).

*In what ways have you been able to do this?

10. As a woman, do you feel that communication through Internet technologies offers fewer social obstacles for organization, non-hierarchical communication, etc..., as compared to face-to-face communication? Explain.

11. Overall, how do you think the Internet will affect your life in the long-term?

*How do you think it will affect society in general?

12. Other issues that you want to discuss?

Personal Demographics-

Current city/area of residence:

Place of Birth:

Date of Birth:

Estimated Personal or Family Income:

Ethnic Origins:

Marriage Status:

Have any Children?:

Highest level of formal education:

Would you like for me to send you the URL for the results of this research when it is up on the web?

Part 2. Anonymity:

This paper will be on the web and will be read by any number of people.

I will honor any level of anonymity that you want. Please select a level of anonymity for the information that you are providing. Thanks.

Level One - No anonymity at all. Potentially all of the information you give me including email address, web address, personal information could be on the web.

Level Two - I will use a pseudonym instead of your real name, but will include your email address, and web page URL.

Level Three - I will use a pseudonym, but no email address or web URL. Your answers will be used and available on the web, under the false name.

Level Four - I will use a pseudonym for you. Your email address and web URL will not be used. I will para-phrase anything I say about your answers, and will not make your specific answers accessible on the web.

Please specify the level you would like here:

Any preferred pseudonym?:

Please include any other parameters that would like me to follow.

Part 3. Summery of the term "Empowerment":

Empowerment has been described as, "a process by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over issues of concern to them,"(Julian Rappaport). It is not one particular process but rather refers to a wide variety of contexts in which people are actively engaging in empowerment processes. For the purposes of my research I am trying to consider empowerment processes that people have experienced due to use of the Internet (Internet communications technologies). In this context different activities that might lead to empowerment include: the ability to publish information on a web site; establishing numerous social connections via email; the horizontal (non-hierarchical) nature of text -based communications (email, useNet, etc..) due to the lack of social status cues such as wealth, gender, age, race, etc...; the ability to consume mass communication messages, and yet being able to interact and respond (via email) with the creators of these messages; access to information resources, and opportunities for education and skill development; obtaining political information, and participating in social and political organizations; and many other possibilities as well.

One definition of empowerment (by Edward Schwerin) has established eight primary components of empowerment. These components are self-esteem, self-efficacy, knowledge and skills, political awareness, social participation, political participation, political rights and responsibilities, and resources. You may wish to consider these terms when you reflect on how using the Internet has impacted your experiences and personal growth. A brief synopsis of these term are as follows:

Self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-esteem and self-efficacy both imply how a person feels about her- or himself. While self-esteem is their evaluation of self-worth, self-efficacy refers to how much control a person feels that they have over their environment through an evaluation of personal capabilities.

Knowledge and Skills. While this category implies abilities and knowledge that might be easily found and developed on the Internet, Schwerin particularly stresses personal competencies such as interpersonal communication, stress management, coping skills, problem solving, etc...

Political Awareness. This concept is related to critical consciousness - developing one's own sense of social causation, justice, and events.

Social Participation. Participating in a variety of community groups and activities. Formation of new relations in useNet groups, etc...

Political Participation. Writing email to officials, participating in political organizations, having political links on your web page, etc...

Political Rights and Responsibilities. Critical understanding of political and human rights and responsibilities.

Resources. The last complainant of empowerment entails being able to fulfill basic human needs, and having access to social, political and informational resources.

These components of empowerment are not necessarily a framework for what must be included to be empowered. A person can be empowered in one arena of activity (such as a woman's leadership role in her church), while being relatively disempowered in other arenas (such as the workplace or home).

Understanding the contexts in which empowerment processes take place - cultural, historical, and personal contexts - are vital to understanding and describing the processes as a whole. Particularly how the culture and environment of the Internet and cybersociety might provide environments with more empowerment potential as compared to some of the disempowering aspects of society in general, is a concern.

The above information and thoughts about empowerment have hopefully given you some ideas for considering how your interaction with the Internet might have involved empowering experiences in a number of different ways. If you would like further clarification or more information please write me:

Thanks again for participating in this project. Please send me a note if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.....Jonathan