In the past decade, digital divide discussions have moved from discussions of use or non-use, to a more nuanced recognition of different types and levels of access, motivation, skills and Internet use in a discourse that centres around digital inclusion and inequality. However, there remain challenges in measurement and conceptualisation.
In 2014, the authors of this report started a project with the main objective to develop theoretically informed measures that can be used to explain how people use the Internet and what the benefits might be. A first report (van Deursen, Helsper & Eynon, 2014) looked at how to measure digital skills, an area in which a good amount of research has been done, although good measures with a solid theoretical grounding are scarce.
In the current report, the authors move towards a research area that is very underdeveloped: the tangible outcomes that Internet use might result in. Most research in this area focuses on measuring engagement or different uses of the Internet and then assumes that activities performed online result in the corresponding outcomes. An unequal distribution of these types of engagement in turn is assumed to reinforce existing levels of social inequality.
In this report, the framework used to design measures of engagement and related outcomes starts from the premise that outcomes of Internet use can be mapped onto different types of offline resources. It argues that a clear separation needs to be made between undertaking different kinds of activities in the digital sphere (i.e. digital resource fields) and the tangible outcomes in different spheres of everyday life (i.e. offline resource fields) that result from this engagement.