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Information, Communication & Society
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LINKED OR DIVIDED BY THE WEB?: Internet use and sociability in four European countries
Pekka Räsänen & Antti Kouvo
a a b

Department of Sociology, University of Turku, FIN-20014, Finland E-mail:
b

Department of Sociology, University of Turku, FIN-20014, Finland E-mail: Version of record first published: 24 Apr 2007.

To cite this article: Pekka Räsänen & Antti Kouvo (2007): LINKED OR DIVIDED BY THE WEB?: Internet use and sociability in four European countries, Information, Communication & Society, 10:2, 219-241 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13691180701307461

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¨ sa ¨ nen & Antti Kouvo Pekka Ra
LINKED OR DIVIDED BY THE WEB? Internet use and sociability in four European countries
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It is often assumed that the increased use of the new information and communication technology (ICT) can displace traditional face-to-face sociability. At the same time, it has been argued that the new ICT can also strengthen traditional forms of sociability. This article evaluates these opposite views by examining how the frequency of Internet use is connected with two forms of sociability: civic engagement and interpersonal involvement. Empirical interest is narrowed down to four European countries. The data utilized are the Finnish, British, French and Italian sections of the European Social Survey 2002 –2003 (N ¼ 6,762). The methods of analysis include cross-tabulations and logistic regression models. The findings indicate that frequent Internet use is positively associated with both forms of sociability in all countries. However, there are also cross-country differences in the strength of these associations and in the effects of sociodemographic control variables. The findings thus suggest that the contemporary development of the information society has different implications for different types of societies. Keywords Internet; civic engagement; interpersonal involvement; social capital; comparative research

Introduction
During the last decade, people have become familiar with the new information and communication technologies (ICTs). The proliferation of the new appliances has generated many visions of changes in social practices. Basically, the new ICT is argued to influence not only people’s allocation of time use, but also their community involvement and social networks. It is often assumed that the increased use of the new technology can displace traditional forms of face-to-face sociability. Simultaneously, however, some consider that technology can also increase interaction and the number of social contacts.
Information, Communication & Society Vol. 10, No. 2, April 2007, pp. 219 – 241 ISSN 1369-118X print/ISSN 1468-4462 online # 2007 Taylor & Francis http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13691180701307461

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In general, sociological research on the Internet has focused on its possible effects on social ties between people (DiMaggio et al. 2001; Cummings & Kraut 2002). It is not surprising that also many recent studies on ‘social capital’ have indicated that the Internet is often associated with such activities as community involvement and participation in voluntary organizations (e.g. Shah et al. 2001; Wellman et al. 2001; Uslaner 2004). Despite the disagreement over the exact definition of the concept among scholars, social networks between people are usually seen as the central element of social capital (Putnam 1993; Hooghe & Stolle 2003). In this sense, the term social capital provides a feasible framework for studying various dimensions of social interaction. This article addresses how Internet use affects the formation of civic engagement and interpersonal involvement. It is asked whether the use of the Internet is negatively or positively associated with two types of sociability between people. In other words: does the Internet keep people inside their homes and away from friends, relationships and other social activities? Or does the Internet strengthen the traditional forms of sociability? In the theoretical part, we shall discuss the social impacts of the Internet. This discussion relies on the literature concerning the possible advantages and disadvantages of ICT use. The empirical interest of the article is narrowed down to four European countries: Finland, the United Kingdom, France and Italy. The article will examine whether the Internet use frequency affects interpersonal involvement and civic engagement in these countries. The effects of the key sociodemographic factors are also controlled in the analyses. The data utilized are from the European Social Survey 2002–2003. Civic engagement is measured by means of participation in voluntary organizations and in voluntary work. Interpersonal involvement is measured by the frequency of taking part in social activities. Since the focus is on the question of how Internet use affects traditional forms of sociability, typical online social activities, such as time spent in chatrooms and on blogs, are not dealt with in the empirical analyses. The four European countries have been selected to represent different types of institutional contexts; for example, because of their family, schooling and social policy systems. The purpose of the article is to compare whether the effects of Internet use and the key sociodemographic factors on sociability vary between different institutional settings. The findings reveal certain discrepancies in the Internet’s influence between the countries concerned, and point to the importance of acknowledgement of cross-cultural differences in ICT research.

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Social impacts of the Internet
It has been argued that access to the new ICT influences people’s social practices either directly or indirectly. The Internet is seen as the most powerful

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and most important technology in this sense (Dickson 2000; Lievrouw 2001). First, it has become one of the key media for news, information and entertainment. There is almost an infinite number of websites, online games and other services devoted to everything related to news, indoor entertainment and leisure activities. Second, besides being a noteworthy mass medium and a commercial force, the Internet is also an effective communication tool. Email, distribution lists, chats and other related applications are among the most generally utilized functions of the Internet. In practice, the Internet can be seen as the key digital medium to be used for many purposes. It may thus have various impacts on social life. However, the most widely discussed impacts relate to the positive and/or negative associations with sociability. It has been suggested that the Internet may contribute to a decline in social life and personal communication. Based on a few American cross-sectional surveys and a longitudinal household interview study, for example, it has been argued that those who use the Internet regularly generally have fewer face-to-face social contacts than those who use the Internet less often (e.g. King & Kraemer 1995; Kraut et al. 1998; Nie & Erbring 2000). While the Internet is predominantly used for interpersonal communication with such applications as email or chats, its intensive use has also been associated with a decline in communication with friends and family members and with an increase in feelings of loneliness. The World Wide Web (WWW) in particular has been interpreted as providing asocial entertainment that competes with social contacts in the time-use category (Kraut et al. 1998). In other words, these arguments imply that frequent Internet use turns people into socially isolated ‘nerds’ who will be cut off from genuine social relationships. Others have argued the opposite. They have concluded that the Internet, in fact, increases the number of social relationships and improves the opportunities for communication. For example, a cross-sectional survey undertaken in Switzerland indicated that frequent Internet use neither cuts down individuals’ social networks’ size nor does it affect the time spent with friends (Franzen 2000). Similar findings have also been presented on the basis of time-use surveys and time-diary studies, conducted both in the United States and in the United Kingdom (e.g. Robinson & Kestnbaum 1999; Robinson et al. 2002; Gershuny 2003). A decline in watching television, listening to the radio and other mass media activities has been found among Internet users (Robinson & Kestnbaum 1999; Robinson et al. 2002). In this sense the Internet has a clear effect on the patterns of leisure-time use. Since individuals have a limited amount of temporal resources available, spending time on the Internet means less time for other activities. Surprisingly, however, the effects of Internet use on meeting friends and other forms of sociability have been found to be weak

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or even nonexistent in many countries (Franzen 2000; Gershuny 2003). Moreover, if the Internet is primarily used for the purposes of communication with other people through email and chats, for instance, it may supplement traditional ways of maintaining social contacts (Lievrouw 2001; Shah et al. 2001). These interpretations suggest that social uses may also be an important part of the new technology. It has been stressed in recent discussions that, while the use of the Internet has become more commonplace, the patterns of use have also become more versatile (e.g. Uslaner 2004; Livingstone et al. 2005). This means that as the Internet continues to affect the forms of sociability in many ways, it has now become increasingly central in various job-related issues and in educational advancement. The average Internet use session for most users involves information retrieval, emailing, chatting and entertainment seeking. The two basic interpretations discussed above have received substantial attention also in the field of social capital. As already mentioned, many definitions exist for the term. However, at the individual level, social capital typically refers to the ability to benefit from a membership in networks and other social structures (Portes 1998). On a community level, the term may be defined as a societal resource that connects citizens with each other and enables them to pursue their common objectives (Stolle 2003). Many concerns have been raised as to whether the Internet erodes social capital. The fact is that the more time people spend on the Internet necessarily means less time spent on other forms of communication (Nie & Erbring 2000), including informal sociability and associational activities. In particular, an argument concerning participation in associations, or ‘civic engagement’, lies at the core of empirical research since various associations are often assumed to generate social capital at the micro-level. However, the simple association-centred interpretation has also received criticism. Even though Internet use can decrease participation in associations, it may also become a new source of social capital itself. In addition, it has been argued that other aspects of social life, such as family or friendship networks, have greater impact on the formation of social capital than formal associations (e.g. Putnam & Goss 2002; Stolle 2003). In the light of many empirical findings, the impact of Internet use on civic engagement is far from straightforward. In fact, according to many studies it seems that frequent Internet use increases or supplements the civic engagement of individuals (e.g. Shah et al. 2001; Wellman et al. 2001) even though time devoted to Internet use should decrease the possibilities of spending time on other activities. Naturally, it is likely that the effects depend greatly on the purpose the Internet is used for. For example, those who use the Internet only for recreational purposes and entertainment are not necessarily active citizens in terms of participation in associational activities

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(e.g. Shah et al. 2001; Uslaner 2004). On the other hand, some Internet forums such as chats may be a primary reason why one starts a new hobby or otherwise participates in certain social activities. First and foremost, it should be stressed that according to most empirical findings the effects of the Internet on sociability are rather weak. This means that the patterns of Internet use do not necessarily have any impact on traditional social activities. Moreover, it has been found that structural disparities between population groups are connected with the differences both in the patterns of Internet use and participation in social activities. But which factors should be considered relevant when examining Internet use and its associations with civic engagement and social involvement?

Effects of sociodemographic and institutional factors
Many preceding studies have shown that the patterns of Internet use differ considerably across population groups. Naturally, the differences are affected by a number of factors. In general, the questions as to why individuals use technological appliances are linked with the price of the products and their relative benefits and suitability for particular purposes. The relationships between these types of factors are of course multidimensional and continually changing. This is why Internet use differences are often attributed to sociocultural and economic factors (e.g. Robinson & Kestnbaum 1999; Rice & Katz 2003). A constant finding has been that particularly the young and highly educated individuals are likely to use the Internet more often than others (e.g. Franzen 2000; Nie & Erbring 2000; Gershuny 2003). Younger people are more willing to try new products and services than older ones (Hargittai 1999). It can also be claimed that the effective use of any new technology requires at least some education. In addition, it has also been suggested that there is a general gender difference related to the use of computers, the Internet and other communication technologies. In other words, men often use the Internet more frequently than women and for different purposes (Henderson et al. 2002; Livingstone et al. 2005). In addition to age, education and gender, income or wealth differences are also important control variables for the examination of varying use patterns. Still, there are also other types of factors that affect Internet use. By the new millennium, the Internet had become widespread in the Western world. In 2001 –2002, for example, the proportion of individuals using the Internet in the OECD countries as a whole was nearly 50 per cent. Despite this, however, use rates differed considerably between countries. Within Europe, the Internet was commonly used in the Nordic countries and in the Netherlands, while its use in Southern Europe amounted to very little. There were almost 180 Internet hosts per 1,000 inhabitants in

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Finland and Sweden, but less than 20 per 1000 in Portugal and Poland. The United Kingdom and Switzerland, on the other hand, had about 70 connections per 1,000 inhabitants (OECD 2002). A relatively similar pattern of cross-country variation can also be observed from Figure 1, which displays the percentages of respondents in ESS 2002 – 2003 data who report using the Internet for personal purposes at least once a month. The observations given in the figure are consistent with the official statistics from 2001 and 2002 based on both the number of Internet hosts and percentages of regular web users (Nordic Information Society Statistics 2002; OECD 2002). Naturally, the situation has changed since early 2000. According to a more recent survey from 2005, approximately 70 per cent of individuals had used the Internet in the Nordic countries during the last three months. At the same time, the proportion of Internet users had increased to 60 per cent in the United Kingdom but Italy and Poland, for example, were still at 30 per cent and Greece was at 20 per cent (Eurostat 2005). The relatively consistent cross-country differences suggest that certain macro factors play an important role in the analysis of Internet use. The national gaps between countries can be interpreted in many ways, of course. One feasible explanation, however, lies in the ‘institutional’ characteristics of the countries. This means that there are political, economic

FIGURE 1

Percentage of respondents using the Internet for personal purposes at least

once a month. Source: European Social Survey (ESS 2003a).

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and/or social differences between countries that can be understood in the light of certain broader normative or cultural features (Esping-Andersen 1990). A typical way of classifying institutional characteristics is in terms of the position of the country on a continuum describing the degree of industrialization. In this way, we are able to distinguish ‘pre-industrial’, ‘industrial’ and ‘post-industrial’ economies from each other. Industrial manufacturing and technological development in general have restructured many societies since the Second World War. International comparative interpretations have been put forward referring, for example, to ‘information societies’ and ‘new economies’ (Castells 1996, pp. 18– 19; Dickson 2000). The use of the new ICT itself is often included among the most important factors in information society comparisons. In this sense it is important to note that the use of the Internet is connected, in a multidimensional way, with various sociodemographic, economic and institutional factors. Moreover, the patterns of sociability and thus different aspects of social capital are influenced by these same factors.

Civic engagement and interpersonal involvement in a sociodemographic and institutional context
At the individual level, information indicating to which group or category a given person belongs has been among the common explanatory resources of personal social capital. The role of education, for example, has been interpreted as a capability for furthering open-mindedness and therefore developing contacts with others. In this sense, citizens with higher education are more oriented towards other people than those with lower educational qualifications. In a similar fashion, men and women or people of different ages are often oriented towards different types of social activities. For example, a middle-aged widow who lives alone has completely different daily routines from a 25-year-old family man with two children. This is why not only education or income but also age and gender relations have a specific significance to the analysis of various forms of sociability (Brehm & Rahn 1997; Shah et al. 2001). There are also between-nation differences in the amounts of macro-level indicators of social capital as measured, for instance, by means of associational density (e.g. Inglehart 1997; Curtis et al. 2001). These differences appear to be connected with the overall use of the Internet. The relationship between Internet use and social capital probably depends on macro-level regionspecific factors. For example, it has been suggested that the amount of community-level social capital has a positive impact on the overall amount of online activities in the United States (e.g. Matei & Ball-Rokeach 2002; Matei 2004). However, there are no comprehensive international comparisons on this field.

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When measuring social capital with indicators such as interpersonal involvement and civic engagement, the results may depend much on which forms of sociability we are dealing with. Moreover, it is not clear which types of sociability are important for the generation of social capital. In other words, besides the membership or activities in formal associations we should also pay attention to more informal types of social interaction (Putnam & Goss 2002). Thus, in this study, sociability is measured using both informal (interpersonal involvement) and formal (civic engagement) indicators. It can be assumed that both sociodemographic characteristics and macrolevel factors may be linked with the patterns of Internet use and thus predict informal and formal types of sociability. In addition, it is reasonable to assume that there are country-specific differences also in the amount and distribution of social capital. Of course, the answers to these assumptions must be considered primarily empirical. The next section deals with the empirical research questions, data and methods.

Research questions, data and methods
The question approached in this article is how Internet use frequency affects the traditional forms of sociability in Finland, in the United Kingdom, in France and in Italy. It is also examined whether the basic sociodemographic factors provide feasible information on interpreting the varying patterns of sociability in these countries. While there are differences among these countries in terms of Internet use, they all fall in between the extreme groups of countries presented in Figure 1. In this sense, the countries selected represent the ‘middle level’ of the ranking and they can be compared with each other in a somewhat unambiguous way. In the analyses, how the selected explanatory factors are actually connected with different types of sociability, interpersonal involvement and civic engagement is tested, including an evaluation of which factors appear to be the best predictors. A comparison will be made of whether the countries show differences in the patterns of sociability in general, and in which types of sociability in particular. On the basis of these tasks, the following three research questions can be formulated: 1. How does Internet use frequency affect the two types of sociability? 2. Do the detected effects remain significant when sociodemographic factors are taken into account? 3. What kind of differences in the effects can be observed between the countries concerned? The data used in the analyses are based on Finnish (N ¼ 2,000), British (N ¼ 2,054), French (N ¼ 1,503) and Italian (N ¼ 1,207) sections of the

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European Social Survey (ESS 2003a) collected in the year 2002. These countries were selected to represent different types of European societies. In general, these countries are relatively different on the basis of their general institutional foundations, such as the labour market, income distribution or civil society. Finland is a typical Nordic welfare society, which is characterized by a commitment to full employment, equality and universal social benefits. The United Kingdom is a liberal country characterized by a commitment to full employment but many types of social insurance and social benefits are not universal. In practice, the benefits are restricted to a clientele of low-income state dependents (Esping-Andersen 1990; Norlund 2003.) France is also characterized by a commitment to full employment but many forms of social security are not universal. In addition, family benefits also encourage motherhood and the persistence of a male ‘breadwinner’ culture. Italy is in many respects similar to British society, but has certain unique features associated with the Catholic culture (Esping-Andersen 1990). This is why it is often considered that the Mediterranean culture emphasizes significantly the family’s capability to serve its members (cf. Ferrera 1996). In this sense, Italy provides an altogether different kind of society for our cross-cultural comparison. Class and educational divisions, for example, have long played a crucial role in the social consciousness of British society. In Finland, on the other hand, these kinds of differences have been interpreted to be weak or even non-existent. In Italy, for example, family relations and age may have a more important effect on daily activities compared with the other countries. Following these broad assumptions, we can argue that there should be sociodemographic differences concerning both the patterns of Internet use and sociability between the countries. This is because the countries are different from each other in terms of the primary economic and cultural institutions. In this sense the effects of socioeconomic factors on different forms of sociability should also differ from each other. The selected countries may also be categorized as different types of civil societies. The previous research has shown that there are clear differences in the density of voluntary associations and participation between the countries. Voluntarism, for example, tends to be higher in the United Kingdom and in other liberal countries and lower particularly in the Mediterranean countries such as Italy or Portugal (Janoski 1998; Curtis et al. 2001). Dependent variables consist of interpersonal involvement and civic engagement. The independent variables used in the analysis are the frequency of Internet use, education, gender and age. Certain modifications were made to the original variables in the ESS data. We discuss these modifications here briefly. A detailed description of questions presented in the questionnaire and the coding of variables can be found in the Appendix.

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The first dependent variable (interpersonal involvement) indicates the selfreported intensity of social activities. It is measured by asking how much the respondent thinks she/he takes part in social activities compared with other people of the same age. The variable was dichotomized (1 ¼ about the same or more often than the most, 0 ¼ less than most) in order to ensure unproblematic interpretations of the analyses.1 It should be noted that activity here does not necessarily mean the activities organized by any formal associations but also typical leisure-time activities such as meeting friends and spending time with others.2 We decided to include this ‘loose’ indicator of sociability in the analysis since unorganized networks and social ties must also be seen as important forms of sociability as formal associations. The second dependent variable (civic engagement) is an indicator of associational activity. It is measured by self-reported voluntary work and participation in various associations listed in the questionnaire. Similarly to the first dependent variable, the variable was dichotomized. Trade unions and religious organizations were excluded because it is typical for many citizens to be passive members in these organizations and to take part in religious services and activities in the workplace only occasionally (Janoski 1998; Curtis et al. 2001). It is still possible to criticize the wide-ranging indicator of associational activity for its heterogeneity. On the other hand, as for example Granovetter (1973) pointed out, it is especially ‘the strength of the weak ties’ from various overlapping networks that should be considered as important for the cohesion of society. The frequency of Internet use is used as the primary independent variable. It is measured by the frequency of WWW or email use for personal purposes. The variable does not differentiate more diverse types of use; it simply reports WWW and/or email usage. At the same time, however, the advantage of this variable is that it is restricted to use for personal purposes.3 The variable falls into two categories of infrequent users (less than once a month) and frequent users (at least or more often than once a month). The proportions of interpersonal involvement, civic engagement and Internet use frequency in Finland, in the United Kingdom, in France and in Italy are given in Table 1. The other independent variables are country, education, gender and age. It is well known that these factors determine at least to some extent the patterns of sociability, but themselves they are also included in the analyses to control for the impact of Internet use frequency on the forms of sociability. Education was dichotomized into the ‘tertiary educated’ and ‘secondary or less’. This was done since our implicit assumption was that the tertiary-level educated are most typically associated with Internet use. Age was categorized into four age groups. In this way, the variable enables us to observe a possible non-linear impact of age cohorts or generations. The methods of analysis include logistic regression models, which are used to evaluate the effect of the selected independent variables. Throughout

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LINKED OR DIVIDED BY THE WEB? TABLE 1 Interpersonal involvement, civic engagement and Internet use frequency by country. Finland interpersonal involvement about the same or more often than most less than most 61.3% 38.7% 60.8% 39.2% 75.1% 24.9% 50.3% 49.7% United Kingdom France Italy

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civic engagement does participate does not participate internet use frequency at least once a month less than once a month Source: European Social Survey (ESS 2003a). 52.1% 47.9% 46.1% 53.9% 37. 9% 62.1% 28.4% 71.6% 37.6% 62.4% 47.0% 53.0% 42.4% 57.6% 20.9% 79.1%

the empirical analysis, the multinomial logistic regression (MLR) procedure is utilized. In general, MLR can be recommended for the analysis of dichotomous dependent variables as well, since in most contemporary software applications it has many options not available in the binary procedure (e.g. Stevens 1992; Tabachnick & Fidell 2001). The effects of the independent variable(s) in the models are presented with the odd ratios (Expb). The statistical significances of the models are indicated in the table by changes in chi-squared reductions (x 2 change).4 The pseudo-coefficients of the determination, or explanation proportions, of the models are also reported (Nagelkerke’s Pseudo R 2). In the following section, interpersonal involvement is examined by country, education, gender, age and the Internet use frequency. The analyses are carried out in two parts. First, the unadjusted effect of each independent variable is tested. After that, the effects of other variables are tested by adding each new variable at a time into the model. As the ESS authorities suggest, the ‘design’ weights that correct the sampling differences between the countries are applied in each analysis (for details, see ESS 2003b).

Interpersonal involvement
Table 2 shows the results of the logistic regression tests for subjectively reported interpersonal involvement in four European countries. The unadjusted effects shown in the second column of the table reveal that all the independent variables except gender are statistically associated with the

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INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY TABLE 2 Interpersonal involvement in four European countries, logistic regression models. unadjusted N country Finland 1979 1488 2042 1157 1.56ÃÃÃ 2.97 1.55 1
ÃÃÃ ÃÃÃ

model 1, Expb

model 2, model 3, model 4, model 5, Expb Expb Expb Expb

effects

1.56ÃÃÃ 2.97 1.55 1
ÃÃÃ ÃÃÃ

1.56ÃÃÃ 2.97 1.55 1
ÃÃÃ ÃÃÃ

1.56ÃÃÃ 2.98 1.57 1
ÃÃÃ ÃÃÃ

1.47ÃÃÃ 2.81 1.49 1
ÃÃÃ ÃÃÃ

1.36ÃÃÃ 2.79ÃÃÃ 1.41ÃÃÃ 1

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France United Kingdom Italy
a

gender Male Female age 15–29 years 30–44 years 45–59 years 60 years and overa education sertiary secondary or less Internet use at least once a month 2876 (a) less often 3790 1.76ÃÃÃ 1 181.21 3 0.04
ÃÃÃ
a a

3165 3502 1

(ns) 1

(ns)

(ns) 1

(ns) 1

(ns) 1

1520 1782 1781 1583

1.70ÃÃÃ 1.28 1
ÃÃÃ

1.82ÃÃÃ 1.30 1
ÃÃÃ

1.80ÃÃÃ 1.24 1
ÃÃ

1.40ÃÃÃ (ns) (ns) 1

(ns)

(ns)

(ns)

1425 5242

1.58ÃÃÃ 1

1.42ÃÃÃ 1

1.22ÃÃ 1

1.56ÃÃÃ 1 (ns) 4 0.04 69.66 7 0.05
ÃÃÃ

x reduction
Df pseudo R 2

2

b

26.81 8 0.06

ÃÃÃ

51.20ÃÃÃ 9 0.07

Note: ÃÃÃ ¼ p , 0.001; ÃÃ ¼ p , 0.01; Ã ¼ p , 0.05; (ns) ¼ p . 0.05; areference category;
b

indicates the difference in the chi-squared statistic between the model and previous model;

in the first model the statistic indicates the difference between the reduced model and a model with the intercept term. Source: European Social Survey (ESS 2003a).

dependent variable. When the odds ratios are used to compare the relative strength of the independent variables, we can observe that country, age, education and Internet use seem to have rather prominent effects. It appears that the French are most likely to evaluate themselves as more active than others, whereas Italians are least likely to do so. The differences by age indicate that the younger the individual, the more likely she or he is to get an outcome of 1 (about the same or

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more often than most). However, the difference between the oldest and the second oldest group is insignificant. Differences by education show that the respondents with tertiary qualifications feel that they socialize more than respondents with a lower education. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that frequent users appear to consider themselves as more social compared with those who use the Internet less than once a month. The odds are approximately 1.8 for those who use the Internet regularly (at least once a month). Model 1 shows that country can be used to explain 4 per cent of the variation in interpersonal involvement. The second model adds gender and the third age. As in the case of unadjusted effects gender remains insignificant. In the fourth model, we may see that the impact of education slightly decreases when the impact of country, gender and age is taken into account. Internet use frequency is also significant (Model 5). A closer examination of the parameter estimates indicates that the respondents in the youngest age group believe that they are more than 1.4 times as likely to take part in social activities as the oldest age group. In the case of education the odds are about 1.2 for those with tertiary education. Internet use frequency is clearly among the strongest predictors in the final model with odds of 1.6. It should be noticed that x2-change is significant in each model, except in the second one, which adds gender. The final model can explain 7 per cent of total variation. In short, the results suggest that interpersonal involvement can best be predicted by country differences, but Internet use, age and education also have a slight impact. The results displayed in Table 2 show that the country is a significant predictor of interpersonal involvement or, to be exact, personal opinion about it. In order to provide specific information regarding the differences between countries, the variation of interpersonal involvement was examined separately in each country (Table 3). The most notable difference is that the effects of other independent variables are considerably weaker when the betweencountry differences are not taken into account. Internet use frequency is certainly the strongest predictor of interpersonal involvement, but it is significant only in Finland and United Kingdom. The models can explain only from 1 to 6 per cent of the variation of interpersonal involvement. Other factors, gender, age and education, appear to be practically non-significant predictors. The examination above revealed that self-reported participation in social activities is associated to a certain extent with Internet use frequency. However, cross-country differences are the strongest determinants of this informal type of sociability. Simultaneously, it was also found that compared with France and Italy, Internet use is a considerably stronger predictor in Finland and the United Kingdom. This last-mentioned finding can be seen as somewhat surprising with regard to the context of European welfare

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INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY TABLE 3 Interpersonal involvement in four different European Countries, logistic regression models. Finland Expb gender Male female
a

France Expb

United Kingdom Expb

Italy Expb

(ns) 1

1.31Ã 1 1

(ns)

(ns) 1

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age 15–29 years 30–44 years 45–59 years 60 years and overa education tertiary secondary or less
a

1.39Ã (ns) (ns) 1

1.70ÃÃ (ns) (ns) 1 1

(ns) (ns) (ns)

1.54Ã (ns) (ns) 1

1.27Ã 1

(ns) 1 1

(ns)

(ns) 1

Internet use at least once a month less than once a montha pseudo R 2 Note:
ÃÃÃ

1.92ÃÃÃ 1 0.06
ÃÃ

(ns) 1 0.03
a

1.75ÃÃÃ 1 0.03

(ns) 1 0.01

¼ p , 0.001;

¼ p , 0.01; (ns) ¼ p . 0.05; reference category.

Source: European Social Survey (ESS 2003a).

institutions. In these countries, it appears that the use of the Internet has a more visible implication regarding social activities. This leads us to compare the effect of Internet use on civic engagement.

Civic engagement
Table 4 shows the results of logistic regression main-effect tests for selfreported civic engagement in the four countries. The first column indicates a relatively similar pattern of variation with the analysis of interpersonal involvement. This time, however, the British seem to be the most active participants in the selected type of associations. The unadjusted effects of gender, age, education and Internet use are also significant. Differences by Internet use, age and education appear to be noteworthy, while gender has only a marginal effect. The pattern seems to be that those who use the Internet frequently are more likely to do voluntary work or to take part in voluntary organizations compared with infrequent users. Differences by age show that

LINKED OR DIVIDED BY THE WEB? TABLE 4 Civic engagement in four European countries, logistic regression models. unadjusted model 1, model 2, model 3, model 4, model 5, N country Finland France United Kingdom Italy
a

233

effects

Expb

Expb

Expb

Expb

Expb

1993 1501 2048 1201

2.28ÃÃÃ 2.79ÃÃÃ 3.43 1
ÃÃÃ

2.28ÃÃÃ 2.79ÃÃÃ 3.43 1
ÃÃÃ

2.27ÃÃÃ 2.79ÃÃÃ 3.41 1
ÃÃÃ

2.30ÃÃÃ 2.81ÃÃÃ 3.50 1
ÃÃÃ

1.99ÃÃÃ 2.42ÃÃÃ 3.13 1
ÃÃÃ

1.81ÃÃÃ 2.42ÃÃÃ 2.93ÃÃÃ 1

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gender Male female age 15–29 years 30–44 years 45–59 years 60 years and overa education tertiary secondary or less Internet use at least once a month 2894 less often Df pseudo R 2
a a a

3199 3545

1.15ÃÃ 1

1.14ÃÃ 1

1.14ÃÃ 1

1.16ÃÃ 1

(ns) 1

1534 1797 1805 1607

1.48ÃÃÃ 1.37 1
ÃÃÃ

1.54ÃÃÃ 1.42 1
ÃÃÃ

1.47ÃÃÃ 1.25 1
ÃÃ

(ns) (ns) (ns) 1

1.33ÃÃÃ

1.37ÃÃÃ

1.26ÃÃ

1435 5308

2.43ÃÃÃ 1

2.17ÃÃÃ 1

1.78ÃÃÃ 1

2.22ÃÃÃ 1 251.70ÃÃÃ 3 0.05 4 0.05 (ns) 7 0.06 8 0.09

1.82ÃÃÃ 1 40.30ÃÃÃ 154.36ÃÃÃ 94.99ÃÃÃ 9 0.11

3850

x2 reductionb

Note: ÃÃÃ ¼ p , 0.001; ÃÃ ¼ p , 0.01; Ã ¼ p , 0.05; (ns) ¼ p . 0.05; areference category;
b

indicates the difference in the chi-squared statistic between the model and previous model;

in the first model the statistic indicates the difference between the reduced model and a model with the intercept term. Source: European Social Survey (ESS 2003a).

younger respondents participate in the selected activities more often than older ones. Also, the younger respondents with tertiary education tend to participate in associations more often than those with only a secondary education or less. Model 2 of Table 4 indicates that the effect of gender is significant when differences by country are taken into account. However, the pseudocoefficient of the determination reveals that this variable explains the participation in associations only marginally. When age is added (Model 3) the model

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INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY

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becomes slightly better. But education is clearly a stronger predictor as displayed in Model 4. Model 5, on the other hand, shows that only country and education remain significant when a significantly strong source of variation, Internet use, is added. The final model can explain 11 per cent of the total variance. In general, this may be regarded as a sufficient share regarding this field of research. Table 5 shows the differences in civic engagement in each country. The models explain from 3 to 9 per cent of the total variation of civic engagement. In short, education and Internet use can be considered as the strongest predictors of civic engagement. But there are also differences between countries. The impact of education is strongest in Italy and the United Kingdom whereas the effect of frequent Internet use is most visible in France and in the United Kingdom. Gender has a relatively modest impact in the United Kingdom and Italy. Age, too, remains somewhat weak in Italy. In these respects, we can conclude that even though the strengths of sociodemographic variables vary, frequent Internet use has a similar impact on civic engagement in each country. What kind of broader implications do these findings suggest?

TABLE 5 Civic engagement within countries, logistic regression models. Finland Expb gender Male female age 15–29 years 30–44 years 45–59 years 60 years and overa education tertiary secondary or less Internet use at least once a month less often
a a a

France Expb

United Kingdom Expb

Italy Expb

(ns) 1 1

(ns)

1.25Ã 1

1.46Ã 1

(ns) (ns) (ns) 1 1

(ns) (ns) (ns) 1

(ns) (ns) (ns)

2.21ÃÃÃ (ns) (ns) 1

1.26Ã 1

1.92ÃÃÃ 1

2.14ÃÃÃ 1

2.41ÃÃÃ 1

1.79ÃÃÃ 1 0.03

1.89ÃÃÃ 1 0.08

1.96ÃÃÃ 1 0.09

1.64ÃÃ 1 0.07

pseudo R 2

Note: ÃÃÃ ¼ p , 0.001; ÃÃ ¼ p , 0.01; (nfs) ¼ p . 0.05; areference category. Source: European Social Survey (ESS 2003a).

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235

Conclusions: the Internet in different institutional settings
In this article, the effects of Internet use on civic engagement and interpersonal involvement have been explored. It was asked whether the use of the Internet is negatively or positively associated with the social bonds and interpersonal activities between people. The results indicate that frequent Internet use increases sociability across the countries concerned. Despite this, it should be noted that the results do not allow conclusions to be made regarding the direction of the causal arrow. Some of the findings may result from the fact that the Internet use is a result of participation in associations and organizations. Voluntary work and participation, for example, often requires the use of ICTs. Internet use can also relate to informal social activities in a similar sense. In this way, it is not always necessary to make conclusions on definite causal relations between phenomena that are explained and the phenomena that are believed to explain them. This means that the impact of Internet use on different social activities is far from straightforward. In addition, it is likely that the effects depend greatly on the purpose the Internet is used for. For example, those who use the Internet only for recreational purposes and entertainment are perhaps more likely to meet their friends in face-to-face situations. Nevertheless, what is often of more importance is simply to know which kinds of phenomena are interrelated. In this respect, this study contributes significantly to earlier work on social capital and ICT use in different cultural settings (e.g. Shah et al. 2001; Matei 2004; Uslaner 2004). When comparing the impact of different variables, we can note that Internet use variable is positively interrelated to the utilized sociability indicators. Internet use is often a stronger predictor than age or gender, for example. In fact, the effect of age is relatively insignificant when Internet use becomes controlled. It generally appears that Internet use is a more significant predictor of civic engagement than interpersonal involvement based on subjective reporting. It also seems that civic engagement is a type of social activity that relates to educational qualifications rather than interpersonal involvement. Perhaps education itself develops the skills required in associational life, and vice versa? In any case, the observed educational differences continue to display the fact that civic engagement is linked with higher- and lower-level tensions of educational status. In addition to positive associations with Internet use and forms of sociability, significant differences were found between the countries analysed. Country is thus a relevant factor that can be used to distinguish differences in the patterns of civic engagement and interpersonal involvement. All in all, the differences between countries suggest that the contemporary information society revolution has different implications for different types of societies.

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It is possible to conclude that while the Internet represents the key digital medium for many individuals, its use probably has varying social effects between population groups, and between countries. Our comparison between countries indicates that a feasible method for evaluating the differences at the macro level is to investigate how the basic findings at the micro-level (i.e. between the basic sociodemographic factors) differ from each other. Therefore, by combining the micro and macro levels we are not only able to explore how the patterns of sociability are connected with the differences between Internet users and population groups, but we are also able to demonstrate how institutional contexts can facilitate these differences. As always, we must be careful when making general conclusions based on particular findings. Here, one important limitation is that the countries cannot be regarded as ‘homogenous’ societies. The countries show different proportions of frequent Internet use and it is reasonable to argue that there is also variation in the sociodemographic differences attached to this. The measurement of Internet use included only one type of indicator, that is, use frequency based on subjective reporting. The indicators on the examined forms of sociability are problematic on similar grounds. Sociability variables can capture only beliefs as to whether the respondents think that they are more interpersonally involved than most or not. Under these conditions, however, the findings presented in the article provide unambiguous evidence that personal Internet use appears to be positively associated with both informal and formal forms of sociability. This association is clearly visible across the four European countries studied.

Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the anonymous iCS reviewers for valuable comments. The study has been funded by the Academy of Finland (decision no. 213151).

Notes
1 The distribution of the original five-point scale was relatively skewed. It is therefore not feasible, even after conducting transformations based on normal logarithmic functions, to use the original variable to estimate the average values between the respondents. In addition, a dichotomous variable can be argued to provide an effective method of measuring interpersonal involvement, since it makes a clear distinction between those respondents who take part in social activities more or about the same than most and those who take part less than most. Activities were defined in the questionnaire as ‘events/encounters with other people, by choice and for enjoyment rather than for reasons of work or duty’.

2

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3 4

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This is also why we treat Internet use as synonymous with more particular use purposes such as web browsing or emailing. Basically, the odds ratio is the probability of being in one group divided by the probability of being in the other group. It indicates the increase (or decrease if the ratio is less than one) in the odds of being in the examined outcome category when the value of the independent increases by one unit. The chi-squared reduction, on the other hand, reports the difference in the chi-squared statistic between the reduced model and a model with the intercept term only. In the analyses, chi-squared changes are used to estimate the differences between the models including different independents.

References
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¨ sa ¨ nen is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Sociology, Pekka Ra University of Turku, Finland. Address: Department of Sociology, University of Turku, FIN-20014, Finland. [email: pekka.rasanen@utu.fi] Antti Kouvo is a researcher and doctoral candidate at the Department of Sociology, University of Turku, Finland. Address: Department of Sociology, University of Turku, FIN-20014, Finland. [email: antti.kouvo@utu.fi]

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Appendix: measures, original questions presented in the questionnaire and the coding of variables
measure dependent variables interpersonal Compared with other people of your age, how often would you say you take part in social activities? About the same, more than most, or much more than most ¼ 1; less than most or much less than most ¼ 0 civic engagement Does any of these things apply to you now or in the last 12 months, and, if so, which? Participated, and/or voluntary work in: (a) Sports club or club for outdoor activities; (b) Organization for cultural or hobby activities; (c) Business, professional or farmers’ organization; (d) Consumer or automobile organization; (e) Organization for humanitarian aid, human rights, minorities or immigrants; (f) Organization for environmental protection, peace or animal rights; (g) Political party; (h) Organization for science, education or teachers and parents; (i) Social club, club for the young, the retired/elderly, women or friendly societies independent variables Internet use How often do you use the Internet, the World Wide Web or email – whether at home or at work – for your personal use? At least once a month ¼ 1; less often ¼ 0 If participated and/or voluntary work in at least one organization listed ¼ 1; if not ¼ 0 (from the original list of variables, trade unions and religious organizations were excluded) involvement question coding

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(Appendix continued )

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Appendix: Continued measure age Year of birth question coding Calculated from year of birth Number of years old from 15 to

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96 years. Four categories: 29 years or less ¼ 1; 30 –44 years ¼ 2; 45 –59 years ¼ 3; and over 60 ¼ 4 gender education Country sex of respondent What is the highest level of education you have achieved? The respondent lives in this country (yes) Male ¼ 1; Female ¼ 0 Secondary or less ¼ 0; tertiary ¼ 1 1 ¼ Finland; 2 ¼ United Kingdom; 3 ¼ France; 4 ¼ Italy Source: European Social Survey (ESS 2003a).

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