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This paper examines the relationship between Internet use and six activities that are important to childhood development: television viewing, newspaper reading, radio listening, sports and physical exercise, interaction with family, and socializing with friends. Perceived importance of the Internet, television, newspaper, and radio as information sources was also included. A panel of 1,251 secondary-one students was surveyed in 1999, and was revisited in 2000. A total of 817 students remained in the 2000 survey, giving an attrition rate of 34.7%. Results showed that an increase in Internet use depressed television viewing, but stimulated newspaper reading, radio listening, and socializing with friends. However, it had no significant impact on physical activities and interaction with family members. Change in the perception of the importance of the Internet as an information source was also found to be related to the perceived importance of two other media sources. Limitations of the study were included in the discussion section.
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“the hand that rules the press, the radio, the screen and the far-spread magazine, rules the country.”
–Learned Hand (1942)–
Our main objective in this study was to determine if the Internet displaces other activities. Given the integral role of media in our daily lives and children's constant exposure to various types of media content, the concern over media effects is justifiable. While some are interested in how media shape perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors (e.g., media violence), others are concerned about the potential influence of media on children's development (e.g. cognition and learning).
Time spent on various media becomes an issue since the underlying assumption is that individuals have a limited amount of time, which can be seen as a kind of social capital (Huston, Wright, Marquis & Green, 1999; Larson & Verma, 1999; Neuman, 1991). If an individual increases the time he/she spent on an activity, then he/she will logically have to make sacrifices in other areas (Neuman, 1991). The concern is, of course, apparent when the activities that are cut back are essential to children's development, such as reading and social interaction (Neuman, 1991). Therefore, it is important to invest this limited capital, i.e. time, wisely.
To date, studies on time displacement have been conducted primarily with respect to television, and have spanned five decades (viz., Belson, 1961; Gaddy, 1986; Gortmaker, Salter, Walker & Dietz, 1990; Huston, et al., 1999; Koolstra & van der Voort, 1996; Larson & Verma, 1999; Maccoby, 1951; Mutz, Roberts & van Vuuren, 1993; Parker, 1963; Parker & Paisley, 1965; Riley, Cantwell & Ruttiger, 1949; Robinson, 1969). With the advent of computer-based communication, research on the new medium is also taking place (viz., Johnson-Smaragdi, d'Haenens, Krotz & Hasebrink, 1998; van der Voort et al., 1998).
The literature shows that the displacement hypothesis has conceptual and methodological problems, and the answer is far from being conclusive (Mutz, Roberts & van Vuuren, 1993; Neuman, 1991). For example, the displacement effect of television may be due to its novelty (Neuman, 1991), program content (Huston et al., 1999), social demographics (Gortmaker et al., 1990; Larson & Verma, 1999), viewing environment/culture and parental influence (Huston et al., 1999; Larson & Verma, 1999; Maccoby, 1951; Neuman, 1991), and the nature of competing activities (Huston et al., 1999; Neuman, 1991).
Despite all of the foregoing, the displacement hypothesis remains attractive even though the media landscape has metamorphosed since the early days of television. Its appeal is largely based on its implications fpr individual cognitive and social developments, such as academic achievement and social competence, as well as on media economics, since changes in usage affect market share and advertising dollars.
The focus of this paper is on Secondary One students, equivalent to seventh graders in the U.S. school system, approximately 13 years of age. Young people at this life stage, often being characterized as stormy and difficult (Balk, 1995; Caplan & Weissberg, 1989; Coleman, 1974; Hamburg, 1998), are required to make a significant amount of adjustment. More often than not, they are going to a new school and making new friends (Balk, 1995; Bloom, 1990; Caplan & Weissberg, 1989); facing surmounting peer pressure and having an increased likelihood of meeting strangers (Bloom, 1990; Caplan & Weissberg, 1989; Collins & Repinski, 1994); having more freedom that is accompanied by increasing expectations and responsibility (Bloom, 1990; Caplan & Weissberg, 1989; Collins & Repinski, 1994); and experiencing somatic changes (Balk, 1995; Bloom, 1990). Using the Internet may or may not help them cope with such changes.
Against this backdrop, the Singapore Government is systematically and strongly promoting the use of information technology. One of its strategies is to make it compulsory that 30% of the school curriculum to have an information technology component and to be computer-based by 2002 (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, 2000; Ministry of Education, 1997). Beginning in 1997, the Government has been training teachers in the area of information technology and providing schools with both hardware and software (Ministry of Education, 1997). Parallel to the heavy promotion of computer use in schools there is also a concerted effort to bring an e-lifestyle and digital economy into this island nation, and to nurture a populace sophisticated with respect to information technology (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, 2000). Naturally, the advocacy of Internet use is part of this omnipresent attempt. Young Singaporeans are placed right in the midst of all these changes and soon Internet use will be commonplace given the Government's ubiquitous promotion. What remains to be seen is how the use of the new medium will affect other activities.
This aggressive initiative by the Singapore Government is worth highlighting because it renders the issue of novelty irrelevant. Some scholars have pointed out that a new medium may displace other activities temporarily; once the novelty wears off, the effect disappears (Neuman, 1991). In the Singapore context, we are observing a pervasive effort to sustain Internet use in daily life - from booking a movie ticket to filing income tax.
However, as we know, not all activities are the same in nature, function, and importance. The likelihood of displacement depends on four principles: functional similarity, physical and psychological proximity, transformation, and marginal fringe activities (Neuman, 1991). In other words, activities that have a greater chance of being displaced are those that can satisfy the same needs but less effectively (principle of functional similarity), share the same physical space but provide less satisfaction (principle of physical and psychological proximity), are difficult or unable to be modified to avoid interference with other activities (principle of transformation), and are low in priority (principle of marginal fringe activities).
In this particular study, we target six activities that are deemed important for the cognitive, social, and physical development of children: television viewing, newspaper reading, radio listening, playing sports and exercising, interacting with family members, and socializing with friends. Each is examined based on the four displacement principles.
However, displacement (or reduction in time spent) is merely one possible outcome. The introduction of a new activity, in this case, the Internet, may lead to a reduction in time spent among other activities. Yet, it is also plausible that the use of the Internet leads to no change or even engagement (that is, an increase in time spent) in other activities. As Morgan and Gross (1983) point out in a review, television viewing can stimulate curiosity among children and lead to a higher level of reading activity.
We are interested in knowing Singapore children's general media usage pattern (RQ1). We predict that the Internet displaces television viewing (H1); stimulates newspaper reading (H2); increases radio listening (H3); displaces playing sports and physical exercise (H4); does not affect family interaction (RQ2); and stimulates interaction with friends (H5). The rationale behind these hypotheses will be elaborated below.
Meanwhile, we would also like to know how important the Internet, television, newspaper, and radio are as sources of information (R3). Furthermore, we want to find out if a change in perceived importance of the Internet is related to changes in the perceived importance of television, newspaper and radio (R4).
It is not hard to recognize that television viewing is vulnerable in the age of the Internet, given the four displacement principles. According to the first principle of functional similarity, an activity that can satisfy the same needs but less efficiently stands a greater chance of being displaced. Viewers may derive a variety of gratifications from television, such as entertainment, escapism, cognition and information. They can also achieve such satisfactions from the Internet easily. Furthermore, the Internet may provide them with gratifications, such as interactivity, interpersonal potential (or personalness), and asynchroneity, which is lacking in some traditional media (Ruggiero, 2000). Internet users have greater control over the kinds of content they want (which is an example of interactivity), when they want the exposure (i.e., asynchroneity), and their ability to communicate with others (i.e., interpersonal potential). Television will have difficulties in satisfying these needs.
In the public domain, the Internet and television rarely occupy the same physical space. At least in Singapore, it seems there are more public places for Internet than television viewing. Children in Singapore can use the Internet at their schools, libraries and cybercafes. Opportunity to watch television outside a home environment is less common (although certain buses are now equipped with television). Hence, the competition between television and the Internet is largely happening at home - and it is rather difficult for a person to watch television and go online at the same time, especially given the amount of interactivity and involvement needed for the Internet.
At this time, there is no evidence that television has transformed itself and carved out a niche area. Using the Internet and watching television are both primary activities that demand considerable amount of attention.
Furthermore, parents and teachers may perceive television as frivolous and therefore discourage their children from watching it. In fact, many of the early displacement studies are concerned about television's negative impact, that is, in distracting children from wholesome activities (Neuman, 1991). Given the Singapore Government's proactive information technology stance, the Internet is considered educational and children are strongly encouraged to use it. Logically, it seems, Internet use will displace television viewing.
The print newspaper is mostly an information source; yet, the amount of information it carries pales by comparison to the Internet. If we look at functional similarity alone, it seems that newspaper will fail to compete with the Internet. However, the use of the newspaper and the Internet does not necessarily share the same physical space. Indeed, individuals can read newspapers at home, but they can also do that on the bus, in the park, at the mall and many other places. Although the technology is interactive and allows the Internet to be accessed at various places, it is not as flexible and cheap compared to the newspaper.
Furthermore, reading newspapers is generally considered a positive habit, which can help in honing language skills and acquiring knowledge about the world. It is not surprising that parents and teachers encourage newspaper reading. In fact, early displacement studies are concerned about television's influence on the habit of reading of books, newspapers, and magazines (Neuman, 1991). Research also shows that children have preconceptions and motivation that influence how they use a particular medium and how much mental effort they will put into processing information (Beentjes, 1989; Beentjes & van der Voort, 1993; Cennamo, 1993; Cennamo, Savenye & Smith, 1991; Cohen & Salomon, 1979; Salomon, 1983a, 1983b, 1984; Salomon & Gardner, 1986; Salomon & Leigh, 1984). For example, children may consider print as “harder” and are more willing to invest mental effort in dealing with printed information, and as a result, learn more (Beentjes & van der Voort, 1993; Cohen & Salomon, 1979; Salomon, 1983a, 1983b, 1984; Salomon & Leigh, 1984).
We therefore do not have a good reason to believe that the Internet will displace newspaper reading. In fact, the reverse may be true.
Today radio is mainly a source for music entertainment. With a good computer and Internet skills, its users too can download or listen to music on the Internet. Understandably, radio lacks the range of gratifications that Internet can provide, yet it is flexible, portable and cheap. Radio as a medium has undergone a transformation since its earlier days, forced upon it by the emergence of television; it is now predominantly a secondary activity (Neuman, 1991), done in conjunction with other activities (e.g. reading and jogging). Because of this unique characteristic, it is conceivable to go online while playing the radio in the background. Hence, we are likely to observe a positive relationship between Internet and radio use.
Sports and Physical Excercise
At the outset, using the Internet and engaging in sports or physical exercises seem to be rather different activities. The former is cerebral and sedentary, while the latter is physical and active. It seems then the two activities should fulfill different needs and provide different satisfactions. They may or may not share the same physical space; but given the limited living space in Singapore, it is uncommon to have a gym or courts for sports within a home. It seems then, Internet use should not affect sports and physical activities.
However, using the Internet and engaging in sports and physical exercise may share similar functions as a means for social interaction. Singapore children have been reported to use the Internet as a means to interact with their friends, which includes playing competitive online games together (Lee & Chan, 2001). Similarly, most sports require team effort and are competitive in nature. Even physical exercise that requires no partner, such as swimming and jogging, can still be done in a group. Considering the fact that Singapore is a city with limited space for physical activities and the emphasis on brains over brawn, displacement is likely to occur.
Adolescence is a life stage characterized by an increase in parent-child distance and an increase in social relationship with non-family members (Balk, 1995; Collins & Repinski, 1994). While there is less attachment, greater autonomy, and a potential for parent-child conflict, family relationships are still an important aspect of adolescent life (Collins & Repinski, 1994). Furthermore, the literature shows that adolescents of collectivistic societies do spend a substantial amount of time with their families (Larson & Verma, 1999).
Culture aside, the family is still the main nurturing and socialization force for young people. They are dependent on their families for emotional and financial support. The family continues to shape children's attitudes, values, and behaviors. The prominence of the family during childhood is unshakable. In terms of function, interaction with family fulfills needs that cannot be replaced by the use of the Internet. Because of these reasons, we predict that displacement will not occur.
Interaction with Friends
According to child psychologists, friendship is crucial to young people's development. Friends fulfill their needs for companionship, intimacy, and the cultivation of social competence (Buhrmester, 1990, 1996; Collins & Repinski, 1994). These needs are different from the desire for information and entertainment, and they are not something that mass media-including the Internet-can readily provide. However, the Internet is not only a mass medium, but also a vehicle for interpersonal communication.
A recent focus group study found that Singapore adolescents use the Internet as a means to communicate with friends and to arrange face-to-face social gatherings (Lee & Chan, 2001). One may argue that if social interaction goes online, face-to-face meetings will decrease. However, machine-mediated interpersonal communication, such as the telephone, existed long before the arrival of the Internet. In other words, the Internet may not reduce face-to-face interaction any further. In fact, we posit the opposite-that Internet use actually stimulates more face-to-face interaction with friends among adolescents. In the focus group study mentioned earlier, adolescents reported that they preferred the Internet to the telephone because the new medium was more convenient; it allowed one-to-many communication and it made arrangements for face-to-face interaction easier (Lee & Chan, 2001).
Importance of Information Source
Besides the issue of time spent, we are also interested in knowing if the Internet will replace other mediated information sources in terms of perceived importance. A person may think something is important, yet devote little time to it, and vice versa. Specifically, if the Internet's status is elevated in the eyes of the adolescents, will other media be considered less important?