Affiliated Organization

Case Western Reserve University, USA


The Internet is a versatile technology that can be interpreted and used in many different ways. IS researchers and practitioners in both the private and public sectors need clearly to grasp the perspectives from which people make sense of the Internet. In this study, we present two contrasting perspectives in which people see and use the Internet—the utilitarian and social participation perspectives. In the utilitarian perspective, people see the Internet primarily as an efficient marketplace and as a convenient source of information. In the social participation perspective, the Internet is seen primarily as a conduit of communication that facilitates social interaction. We argue that these two perspectives represent two distinct modes of thinking that influence people’s decision to use the Internet and the purposes for which they use it. We examine the pervasiveness of these two perspectives in a survey study of a demographically representative sample of approximately 20,000 U.S households. Findings suggest that both the utilitarian and the social participation perspectives play important roles in acceptance and use of the Internet. In particular, we found that income levels affect the perspective in which people make sense of their on-line activities. People of high income tend to take the utilitarian perspective on Internet use, while others are more likely to use the Internet in the social participation perspective. For example, high-income users focus on taking advantage of the Internet’s diverse information sources. On the other hand, low-income persons tend to use the Internet to participate in on-line social contexts and to make new friends. In this paper, we discuss research and practical significance of these findings.