The University

Overview and analysis of ICT research gives fresh perspectives

2014-11-26

The effect of Internet on our lives and society is a constant topic of interest for politicians, business leaders, the media and the general public, an interest that has generated a substantial body of research on the use of ICT. In a newly published dissertation, ICT researcher Håkan Selg highlights the need for theoretical awareness to strengthen the role of research as a source of knowledge.

‘We have seen strong and rapid growth in the volume of research about the Internet. So it is hardly surprising that the theoretical aspects have lagged behind’, says Håkan Selg. ‘This is often the case when you study topical societal issues using a multidisciplinary approach. But at the same time it can be risky.’

‘Many studies are based on assumptions that are not clearly explained, which makes it difficult to evaluate the results’, says Håkan Selg. ‘Because what happens if we modify the assumptions; will we get the same results or a whole set of new ones?’

One example is the notion of an ‘Internet generation’. This is based on the assumption that human beings are formed by technology. Some scientists say that the youth of today have developed special skills for handling new technology, as the way they learn and think is strongly influenced by electronic media. This might, for example, lead us to ask ourselves how teaching in schools could be adapted to this generation. A discussion along these lines could lead to the conclusion that teaching methods should take inspiration from computer games. Others reject this theory, claiming instead that young people’s intensive use of ICT is related to a particular phase in their lives; the transition from childhood to adulthood, when seeking contact with others is a powerful driving force. Seen in this perspective, taking away contacts with teachers and replacing them with computers is not the right way to go.

‘This is just one example of how you can come to totally different conclusions depending on how you perceive interaction between technology and user. This is why the underlying theories and assumptions in any study must be stated clearly to ensure that the results can be subjected to critical review, something I see as an important mission for academic research’, says Håkan Selg.

In this field of research a broad range of approaches are applied and the different ‘schools’ don’t communicate with each other. Therefore, in his dissertation, Håkan Selg has identified a number of research programmes and described the basic perspectives and theories underlying them.

‘I hope that my work will contribute to a better overview of this research field and that it will also help to spread knowledge about the effect of ICT on people and society’, says Håkan Selg.

The full thesis: Researching the Use of the Internet – A Beginner's Guide