Research in Media Effects (Revised October 2009) Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 9 th Edition

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Functions and Uses

Although a definitive list of uses and gratifications has yet to be designed, some preliminary results show a few general trends. At the risk of oversimplifying, the main functions seem to be (1) information, (2) communication, (3) entertainment, and (4) affiliation.

The primary use seems to be information gathering. A Pew Center survey found that more than 80% of their sample had used the net to find information on some specific topic. A Nielsen survey found that about 75% used the net for informational needs, with most looking for information about products or services.

The communication function is best exemplified by the use of email. About 90% of the Pew Center survey respondents used the net to send email. The Stanford survey turned up a comparable result (Nie & Erbring, 2000).

Surfing the web and generally exploring websites illustrate the entertainment function of the Internet. The Stanford survey found that a little more than a third of their respondents surf the web and play games for fun. The Pew Center found an even greater percentage: 68% said they surf the web to be entertained.

The last function, affiliation, may be the most interesting. A Georgia Tech study found that 45% of respondents reported that after going on the net they felt more “connected” to people like themselves (“GVU Survey,” 1998). About 35% of the Pew Center respondents reported participating in an online support group. Finally, the frequency of Internet uses seems to be related to age. Younger people use the net more for entertainment and socializing, whereas older people use it more for information (Cortese, 1997).

More recent research has examined more specific applications that involve the Internet. For example, Hwang (2005) analyzed why college students used instant messaging and found five gratifications: social utility, interpersonal utility, convenience, entertainment and information. Li (2007) investigated the motivations of bloggers. He found seven: self-documentation, improving writing, self-expression, medium appeal, information, passing time, and socialization. Garret and Danziger (2008) examined why people surf the Internet while at work. Contrary to many explanations, they found that workplace Internet surfing was not caused by disaffection with work or by stress. They concluded the Internet use at work was motivated by the same set of gratifications that operated elsewhere.

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