Private uses in public spaces: A study of an internet café.

Lee, S.

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Lee, S. (1999). Private uses in public spaces: A study of an internet café. New Media & Society, 1(3), 331–350.

Consumption , Cyber Cafe , Gender , Internet , Public , Technology

This paper is based on an empirical study of users of an internet café in South east England. It picks out some of the key distinctions between internet use within domestic spaces and as a technology accessed in a public economy of consumption. The research findings are contextualized and tested against existing work on public internet access. The material derived from interviews with customers is used to explore the ways in which the internet is differently perceived, used and gendered in the public spaces of an internet café. The paper argues that public use of the internet is not just a transitional phenomenon which precedes home internet adoption. The research revealed that the internet café provided a distinct and dedicated use space which was intimately bound up in the domestic and work routines of its users.

Main finding
The way commercial spaces are used can be influenced by the form and accessibility of technology such as the internet. This study looks at how users of an internet cafe in the late 1990s used the internet in that context as opposed to at home. At a time when internet access hadn't yet become widely available on mobile devices, this paper demonstrates the role technology plays in shifting perceptions of privacy and forms of activity. Results of the study indicate that the internet cafe in this study was a highly transactional space where users had little relationship to each other; their activities were screen-focused and generally emphasized an “uncollective” and “atomized” experience. This study captures how internet cafes functioned as one of the first contexts in which internet use, previously something typically confined to a domestic or otherwise private settings, began to occur in more publicly visible contexts.

Description of method used in the article
Thirty-minute questionnaires/surveys (N = 50) and 60-minute interviews of a subset of participants (n = 8) at a single internet cafe in Brighton, England [likely in 1998 or 1999, although not stated directly]. Survey questions included items related primarily to demographics and internet use habits/experiences.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories