Internet uses and social practises. Presentation of the project.

, by Annabelle Boutet-Diéye, Christèle Dondeyne, Ludivine Martin, Nathalie Colombier, Raphaël Suire, Thierry Pénard, Virginie Lethiais

Internet uses and practises are more sensitive to social interactions than other uses, no matter if they take the form of network externalities, of informational externalities or of technical support (Forman and Goldfarb, 2006, Goldfarb, 2005, Goldfarb and Prince, 2006, Goolsbee and Zittrain, 1999).

In this project, we have several objectives, several angles of approach for the analysis of the bond between the Internet and the social life.

The first goal is to understand better the dynamic of the spread of the Internet in terms of access and use, highlighting the place of social interactions in the process.

On the one hand, the aim is to go further into some of our thoughts about the links between the social relations (which can be reduced to the social capital as a matter of simplicity) and the Internet use, whatever if this use is rather personal than professional.

The investigation made by the INSEE could allow to see how much the social neighbourhood (the family, the friends, the coworkers, the associative life) can influence the decisions of adoption or use of the Internet. Moreover, Internet allows new forms of virtual social interactions through e-mails, chats or forums permitting to exchange their thoughts, recommendations or evaluations. This phenomenon itself is not new, however it presents specificities. The first aim is to create social interactions on a large scale, which can imply a very large number of individuals and allow to generate and share pieces of information and knowledge. However, these social interactions are undoubtedly less rich and intense than face-to-face interactions, due to the distance between the people and their relative anonymity. Moreover, these social interactions can be exposed to risks of opportunism or clandestinity, more than in face to face interactions and repeated ones.

The second goal consists in reversing the point of view to determine if the generalisation of the Internet use as a “relational tool” is made to the detriment of relational modes (the face-to-face meetings with his relatives, the participation in sports or cultural associations....), or, on the contrary, whether the online uses can be seen as a way to reinforce one’s social life. More precisely, Internet can either be a way to communicate with the people gone around with in the real life, or to meet new persons. In each case, it can be wondered if there is any substituting or any complementing effect between the “real world” and the “virtual world”. This issue can be split into two questions:

- when the Internet is used as a way to meet people, is there any substituting effect between virtual friends and real friends ?

- when the Internet is used as a communication tool, is there any substituting effect between the physical relations and the virtual relations ?


The analysises will call on the econometric methods adapted to discrete choices modeling. More particularly, the Probits and/or binary Logits methods will be mobilized to analyze the probabilities of the adoption of the Internet technologies. Within the context of thorough studies regarding the use of these technologies, the bivariate Probits methods allowing to set about usage typology (e-commerce, peer-to-peer, e-government) or sociability typology (intensification of online social interactions (chats) or offline social interactions (participation in one or several associative activities...)) will be used.

To study the degree of the investment in the social capital or the use of the Internet, count models such as the model of Poisson, the negative binomial model or the model of Cox can be used. Eventually, the ordered Probits methods and the selective matching models, usually used in economics to study the impact of the employment policies (Brodaty, Crépon, Fougère, 2005), can be considered to be sollicited to study the influence of the new technologies on the modifications of the social interactions in companies and on the satisfaction of the employees.

These quantitative analysises will be carried out, on the one hand, from the data provided by the INSEE steming from the permanent investigation upon the conditions of living of the households carried out in 2005, and, on the other hand, from the data steming from the investigations led by M@rsouin upon the uses of ICT by the Breton households in 2006 and 2007.

The results of the previous analysis will enable us to determine a sample of Internet users to whom will be addressed a specific questionnaire on the use of the ICT in the nonprofessional relations in order to analyze the link and the passage between the real relations and the virtual ones. A classification of our individuals according to their real and virtual relations and the links between the various modes of communication used will be allowed by the data analysis tools.

Eventually, in a last stage, monographies will be carried out on each “profile” defined in the previous stage. The specification of the online and offline relationship pattern of our population can in particular be made thanks to these monographies.

Work completed on the various issues by the teams of the GIS M@rsouin.

We already had the occasion to tackle some of these issues through surveys made among households from Brittany and Luxembourg, Le Guel, Penard and Suire (2005) therefore managed to highlight the importance of the neighbourhood’s effects on a sample of Breton households. They show that the probability to buy online is all the more high than Internauts themselves know online buyers in their neighbourhood. A dense neighbourhood of online buyers has therefore a reassuring effect [1] and makes it easy to learn how to use this tool (advice from the neighbourhood about how to choose merchandising websites, what kind of goods to buy, how to buy online...). This neighbourhood effect explains a lot more than it appears on the socio-economic characteristics of the Internaut (level of education, occupation, age...). Among the Internauts who don’t have any online buyers in their neighbourhood, only 10% have thus declared having bought online within the three last months, while the ones, who have a lot of online buyers in their neighbourhood, were 59% to have bought online. As for the ones, who have just a few online buyers in their neighbourhood, 27% of them declared having bought things online. Suire (2005) studied the joint usage of e-commerce and e-administration on a sample of 750 households from Luxembourg using the Internet. Both of these uses seemed pretty similar as far as complexity and risks. This should theoretically lead to the same users’ profiles. Suire does notice a strong link in the socio-demographical determinants of both of these usages (the most significative elements are the ones between 25 and 35 years old, the ones who have a high salary and a high level of study), and in the level of competences and dexterity. However, the profiles are really different when the nature of their social network is being focused on. The composition of the social capital appears indeed like a source of heterogeneity or of dissociation of the uses of the Internet because the results show the non existence of a influencing effect.

Eventually, even though the dynamic of social interactions should come to an end with a generalized diffusion of the Internet within the whole population, it should however generate separated places in term of usages. For that reason, a public policy encouraging the use of the Internet shouldn’t just be restricted to offering an access to the Internet to everyone, a training policy to the uses also has to be considered, in order to make an end to these separated groups of users and facilitate the widest social interactions possible.

Lethiais and Poussing (2004) analyze the effets of the more or less intense use of the Internet at work, at friends’ or in a public space on the probability to have, then to use, the Internet at home. They show that the effects of the use of the Internet at work are different depending on the two geographical areas that have been worked on. Even though an instructional and/or a complementary effect between the use of the Internet at work and the connection and the use of the Internet at home is clearly highlighten in Luxembourg, Breton data makes a substituting effect appear between the use of the Internet at work and the use of the Internet at home. Based on data from Luxembourg, Penard and Poussing (2006) have been attached to understand better the link between the use of the Internet and the development of the social capital. According to them, the Internet can have two theoretical effects on the social capital of a person. First, the Internet enables the devaluation of the social capital, in particular in case of individual (geographical) mobility, maintaining the contact with his original community. This effect could cause convergence of the reduction of social capital’s inequities, as far as people subject to mobility, who were formerly losing their social capital, find in the Internet the way to keep their previous investments. The use of the Internet could then enable to reduce the cost of the investments in social capital, facilitating the adherence and the active participation to numerous networks. This effect could cause a reinforcement of the inequities as far as people with a consequential social capital could find in the Internet a way to intensify the efficiency of their investments. Authors show that the Internet is effectively a new mean of investment, which enables to maintain the existing social capital (meeting new people or personally meeting thirds known on the Internet). The first form of investments concerns 51% of the Internauts, while the second one concerns 34% of the Internauts. Both of these forms of online investments are related to the Granovetter’s distinction (1973) between strong and casual relationships. The Internet is, indeed, not only a new way to maintain one’s strong relationships (relatives, kin), but also a way to increase the casual ones (new relationships).

The question is, however, to know whether online investments in social capital are either complementary to traditional offline investments (face to face communication) or substitutes. Penard and Poussing (2006) show econometrically that having known, in the past, a mobility or a geographical or professional change increase the probability to turn to the Internet to invest in social capital. In other words, the most mobile people seem to take the most important benefits from the usage of the Internet, to maintain or renew their social capital. In these conditions, Internet appears like an alternative mode of investment in social capital (a substitute to face to face investments), allowing the one who experienced mobility to keep their original social capital (to reduce the depreciation of this distant social capital). However, Penard and Poussing (2006) show that the usage of the Internet also increase the associative engagement of the individual, that’s to say its offline investment in social capital. This therefore insists on the fact that there is a complementarity between online and offline investments for the ones who are rich in social capital (who are members of a large number of associations).

Within the context of the PSAUME research project, Boutet and Trellu (2006) have been interested by the modalities of appropriation of the information and communication technologies (ICT) developed by people said to come from working-class environments and considered less familiar with the Internet tools.

Two axes have been singled out. The study focuses, on the one hand, on the analysis of the Internauts’ practises and uses and, on the other hand, on the constraints displayed by the non-users. The study has been leaded in an area of Brest that benefits from a certain amount of collective facilities and, in particular, a public cyberspace. A participating campaign of observation has been led from september 2004 to february 2005. It was based on the way this public cyberspace daily functions depending on the district’s members ’routine territories.

The aim was to testify the social behaviors of the individuals in the same places of occupation of residence, without changin anything in the usual process. The method took into account the acts, the individual behaviours and also the speeches and interactions within collective spaces such as EPN (the social center) or such as punctual events. Beside some informal discussions and formal interviews with people intervening in social programs and inhabitants of the area, made it possible to complete the observation’s device. Observation revealed itself to be an efficient method to absorb the social reality of the area. However, it is more reasonable to define the limits, in particular as for the distance set by the researcher towards the object he is studying and the definition of its place in the field.

This work, in the field, permitted to reduce the “social distance” that can remain between the researcher and the inhabitants of areas said to come from working-classes, and to let people “express themselves more freely”. The long term survey favors it, multiplying the “situations of dialogues”, enabling the researcher to take part, for a while, in the environment he is observing and to reach a part of implicitness.

These different studies led by the researchers of M@rsouin show that online behaviours or practises can’t be analyzed without taking into account the social fitting in of the Internaut (his sociability, his associative engagements, the proportion of Internauts among his acquaintances and more generally, the influences out of the online market) even though a growing proportion of models of affairs on the Internet support their perpetuity on virtual social interactions’ exploitation. The interest of the INSEE survey is to enable researches already well advanced upon these issues to be continued, based on a wider sample and on more recent and complete data.

Besides, the CREM is currently making a survey on the diffusion of ICT in companies from Luxembourg and thus on the adoption of these technologies by the working population on their places of work.

The introduction of ICT in the companies engenders modifications in the configuration of the social interaction’s networking within the organization. The project will endeavour to analyze the impact of the modifications on the satisfaction of the employees in their works. Employment satisfaction can be affected by a certain amount of financial elements and/or non financial elements like autonomy at work, sociability and the anxousness felt. At that level, the use of ICT at work tends to increase the autonomy and the latitude available for the employee.

The introduction of ICTs however implies a re-organisation like, in particular, the introduction of e-mail services or of the Intranet. It also allows a decentralisation of decision-taking and an increasing of the number of people with whom the employee communicate. Given the contrasted effects of ICTs on the employee (communication, autonomy and stress), it is important to measure the impact of the use of ICT on the sociability and the satisfaction at work.

Eventually, based on the data provided by the 2006-Marsouin project on the usage of ICTs by Breton households, the members of the LUSSI department of the ENST Bretagne are actually pondering which elements stimulate or brake the relations with “virtual friends”. Based on these works, a typology of the Internauts who have “virtual friends” can be realized. This would allow us to define the sample that can be used for the inquiry planned in the context of the 2007-Marsouin project.