The Adoption and Use of the Internet in South Korea

Authors

  • Kyung Yong Rhee,

    Corresponding author
    1. Senior Researcher, Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute in South Korea. Currently he is a researcher with the World Internet Project, in which many countries are involved. His particular focus is the Internet and privacy in the workplace.
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  • Wang-Bae Kim

    Corresponding author
    1. Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Yonsei University, South Korea. He participates in the World Internet Project as a representative of South Korea. He has intersts in electronic surveillance and work attitudes.
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Address: 34-4 Bupyung-gu Kusan-dong Inchon, 403-711, Korea, Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute. Tel: ±82-32-5100-909.

Address: 134 Shinchon-dong Seodaemoon-ku Seoul, 120-749, Korea, Department of Sociology, Yonsei University. Tel: ±82-2-2123-2432.

Abstract

Recent surveys indicate that the rapid rate of Internet use in South Korea is one of the highest in the world. Indeed, as the one of leading nations for high-speed broadband access, South Korean Internet users virtually dominate the entire gamut of Internet activities-everything from web searches to games to Instant Messenger (IM) chatting-and are one of the leading consumers of on-line shopping for services and goods (“e-commerce”). Even popular social movements have gone “on-line” in South Korea with civil organizations effectively mobilizing their resources through Internet networking.

However, a widespread disparity in Internet use has recently come to light in South Korea. In particular, Internet use has been clearly divided by generations, which threatens to create a “new” generation gap and the possibility of further generational conflict in a society already marked by deep generational cleavages. In this paper, we touch upon the adoption of the Internet on the basis of research data that examines the digital divide on a national scale. We examine socio-demographic factors, attitudes toward the Internet, social supports (family support, in particular), and the influence that Internet access has had on the South Korean populace, paying particular attention to diffusion theory which has been considered the most feasible explanation for South Korea's rapid Internet adoption. This research indicates that Internet adoption in South Korea is influenced more by family support than by other characteristics. On the basis of this analysis, this study suggests that comparative studies need to be conducted on a macro level as well as within the socio-cultural context of the particular country.

Introduction

The digital divide has not only been a hot topic among competing nations as of late, but has also created internal revolutions within countries as well. South Korea, which achieved remarkable rapid economic growth in the last several decades, also has a notable record in the rapid spread and use of the Internet. South Korea has been heralded for having the highest rate in the spread of the Internet in the world. Whether it be searching for information about travel, trading stocks, playing games, browsing entertainment websites, or shopping on-line for services and goods (or e-commerce), South Koreans are among the most active users of these Internet activities each and every day. Through the spread and development of digital identification cards and digital automation in government administration, South Korea was recently ranked second among world e-governance systems. The Internet has proven particularly useful in civil society in the course of election campaigns and in mobilizing social movements where periodic social protests and demonstrations in the streets of Seoul are not an uncommon occurrence. However, the disparity in Internet use has produced a widespread digital divide within the country itself. In particular, Internet use and non-use are clearly divided by generation, which leads some to warn of a new and widening generation gap.

Internet usage is one aspect of the digital divide. Previous research implies that Internet use is affected by social and demographic characteristics, attitudes toward the Internet, social supports, and so on (Atkin et al., 1998; Lin, 1998; Rogers, 1995; Zhu & He, 2002). In particular, it is worth noting that consumers who have used conventional forms of media for information gathering in the past are more willing to adopt the Internet.

Theoretically, Internet use can be regarded as technology diffusion, which is affected by the user's attributes and behavior as well as the environment. For example, the behavior of information seekers who use conventional media such as TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and books can induce use of the Internet because of the need for media substitutes and supplements. This theoretical background for technology diffusion theory rests on the assumption that everyone has the same attitude toward various media, such as perceived benefits, perceived negative effects and perceived credibility of media. However, the surrounding environment can differ and vary for individuals. Infrastructure and social supports within the environment itself can reinforce or inhibit the adoption of new media. These concepts can contribute to our understanding of the development of diffusion theory.

In this paper, we will touch upon Internet adoption and usage on the basis of research data that examines the digital divide on a national scale in South Korea. We will examine certain aspects such as socio-demographic factors, attitudes toward the Internet, and family support as a type of social support, and how they influence the adoption of Internet use and accessibility. Moreover, some implications can be suggested for the development of diffusion theory and Internet adoption.

Literature Review

A diverse number of differences exist between population groups of users and non-users of the Internet. Adopting the Internet may be an indicator of changes in society and Internet users and non-users may be differentiated according to social demographics, conventional media use, attitudes toward the Internet, and social support. Previous research on the adoption of new technology has focused on an individual's socioeconomic characteristics, the perceived attributes of innovations, technology clusters, situational factors, and the characteristics of innovations that influence adoption (Rogers, 1995, Zhu & He, 2002).1 Past studies on the adoption of new technology suggests that those who adopt new communication technologies are more upscale, better educated, and younger than non-adopters (Atkin, 1993; Atkin & LaRose, 1994; Dutton et al., 1987; Garramone et al., 1986; James, et al., 1995; Leung & Wei, 1998, 1999; Li & Yang, 2000; Lin, 1998; Rogers, 1995). From these results, it can be interpreted that higher education brings about an awareness of benefits from the use of new technology, and higher incomes enable people to purchase new technological devices that are financially inaccessible to others. Also, young people are more adventuresome when it comes to trying new technologies (Atkin, et al., 1998; Rogers, 1995). The advent of the personal computer as the new wave in technology was adopted by the younger, better-educated, and more affluent (Lin, 1998). Thus, Atkin et al. (1998) found that in the early stage of diffusion, the young, educated, and affluent were the typical adopters of new technology.

But contrary findings were reported by Jeffres and Atkin (1996). Income and education had an inversely weak relation with interest in adopting specific Internet activities such as sending or receiving e-mail messages and ordering goods and services on-line. They argued that these applications might be less expensive substitutes for functions performed by traditional media, and were thus better explained by the particular needs of these kinds of communications rather than by social characteristics. However, according to predictions made by Rogers (1995), demographics tend to be less important when innovations have reached a critical mass on their diffusion curves (Atkin, 1993; Atkin 1995; Atkin & LaRose, 1994; Lin, 1994).

Rogers (1995) reported that the compatibility between innovations and existing social norms or patterns of behavior might influence the adoption of new technology. For example, based on the media substitution hypothesis (Atkin, et al., 1998; Jeffres, et al., 1995; Lin, 2001), the introduction of a new medium will change the way consumers view existing media. The audience may abandon the old medium and replace it with a new one when the latter is regarded as more functionally desirable than the former (Lin, 1994). In contrast, people will consume more of what they want given more options based on the media supplement hypothesis (Atkin, et al., 1996; Kang & Atkin, 1999). This is predicated on whether the information technology is “functionally similar” to those already in use (Atkin, 1993; LaRose & Atkin, 1992). Likewise, Reagan et al. (1995) suggest that this may be a function of compatibility with existing products.

The effects of media substitution or supplementation may take place when the Internet meets or fails to meet the qualities of service that traditional media can offer. Atkin et al.(1998) found that consumption of magazines, movies and videos was positively related to Internet access. Watching television, however, was inversely related to Internet access. Lin (2001) found that among attributes of traditional media, newspaper reading has a significant inverse relationship with communication-oriented online services, while magazine reading is related positively to marketing-oriented online services. However, Busselle et al.(1999) found that no traditional medium use was significantly related to Internet use. Dutton et al. (1987) also reported the same result, finding that there was a negative relationship between computer use and television viewing.

Rogers (1995) identifies five perceived attributes of innovations: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. He argues that these five perceived attributes of innovations are positively related to the adoption of technology, while the perceived complexity of an innovation is negatively related to its adoption (Rogers, 1995: 250-251). Lin (1998) reported that motivations that entail resources, complexity, advantages, and need for innovativeness could influence adoption. She concluded that along with the cost issue, factors such as whether a person perceived the innovation to be complex, useful, or relatively advantageous, and whether a person possessed a certain adventurousness or strong novelty-seeking motive might affect willingness to use or adopt the innovation.

Perception of innovation exerts an important influence on Internet adoption, but adoption can also be explained by the Expectancy-Value Theory from the uses and gratifications perspective developed by Palmgreen and Rayburn (1982). A basic proposition of Expectancy-Value Theory is that media use is explained by a combination of perceived benefits offered by the medium and the differential value of these benefits for the individual user (McQuail, 1997, p. 74). To identify predictors of Internet use Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) proposed some questions as follows; What are computer-user motives for using the Internet? How do antecedents (i.e., contextual age, unwillingness to communicate) and media perceptions (i.e., social presence) relate to Internet motives? How do Internet antecedents, perceptions, and motives predict behavioral and attitudinal outcomes of Internet use (i.e. amount and types of Internet use, duration of Internet use, Internet affinity, and Internet satisfaction)? They confirmed the most salient use of Internet (i.e., information seeking) reflected an instrumental orientation, which has been defined as an active and purposive orientation, often having to do with information seeking, and characterized by utility, intention, selectivity, and involovement (Rubin, 1994). LaRose et. al.(2001) also proposed a social-cognitive model to explain Internet use. The outcome expectations associated with the Internet is also explored by their social-cognitive model.

Lin (2002) suggests a new paradigm for communication and information technology adoption research that is dynamic and interactive. This new paradigm tries to integrate most existing models including a number of social, technological, and human factors. This paradigm assumes that communication as a human behavior occurs on a continuum within micro-social systems that exist in a larger macro-social system. According to this new paradigm, system, technology, social and audience factors have an interlocking influence on Internet adoption and use.

Hypothesis and Research Model

Hypothesis

The digital divide can be explained by different functions of the Internet. First of all, there is an instrumental function of the Internet which is information gathering. This is perhaps the most important function of the Internet. The second function is that of communication; third, transaction (i.e. Internet shopping), and fourth, entertainment. These functions are primarily employed by different populations based on their own needs and motivations. Thus, whatever motivations there may be in using the Internet, they can be differentiated by various characteristics of the population.

Generally, Internet usage is more likely to expand among younger people who are the main participants in shaping mainstream culture. In the process of socialization, young people are commonly exposed to new cultural trends, technologies and tools, which they can then easily assimilate for their own various purposes. But this same kind of background characteristic can be an obstacle in the introduction of new technologies. For example, basic (elementary) English language knowledge is needed for Internet use. Nowadays elementary schools provide basic courses for using the Internet to all students in South Korea. This education policy may also influence the age difference in Internet use. Another factor is educational level, which determines the capacity for Internet use. A more well-educated group is more open to using the Internet. Income level is another criterion in the adoption of the Internet because of the increased purchasing power to buy computer equipment and meet the costs of Internet access.

While gender was also listed as a criterion for the digital divide, it can be analyzed from different perspectives. The first possible explanation is different degrees of exposure to a new culture and new media according to gender. Another is job-relatedness, such as acquiring Internet skills as a by-product of office automation. In the process of office automation, most workers have been trained to use the Internet. In general, male workers report a higher rate of Internet use than female workers. A final possible explanation for the difference in Internet adoption by gender is the difference in needs and motivations for certain social activities, which, in South Korean society, fall more in the realm of males than females. In addition to the background characteristics cited above, cognitive characteristics can be included in the group of factors that explain disparities in Internet usage which have exacerbated the digital divide. Such cognitive factors include ascertaining credible Internet information, the importance of the Internet in social life, etc. Information seeking and communication behavior are also affected by the user's attitude. Intrepid on-line explorers who have come to trust information gleaned from the Internet have the potential to become savvy Internet users more so than those who lack this attitude.

Perhaps the most fruitful approach to the digital divide can be interpreted by diffusion theory. Based on diffusion theory, disparities in the adoption of the Internet can be explained by two possible mechanisms. One is media supplementation, and the other is media substitution. Media supplements and substitutes are induced by the desire to seek information. Information-seeking usually operates as an inertial force. Users of conventional mass media, such as TV, radio, newspapers or other journals, etc. can easily adopt the Internet as a new medium because of its convenience and power in information gathering.

The digital divide may also be examined in the terms of its impact on attitudes. Internet user groups may have a positive attitude toward the Internet, but non-user groups may have no positive attitudes about the perceived credibility of Internet information, the perceived availability of the Internet, and so on. These attitudes can be categorized into two areas: one is perceived benefit and the other is perceived negative impact.

Finally, social environment also influences the acquisition and use of the Internet by providing social support or by exerting social pressures. Social support may come in various forms: peer group, school, family, etc. Here, we restrict social support to family relations. Family support is classified into two categories-positive and negative. Family members may encourage adoption of the Internet with positive social support, or they may discourage the use of Internet for various reasons.

Our purpose in this study is to determine the factors affecting Internet-use disparities by following an analytical framework. The hypothesis is composed as follows:

H1: Internet use is differentiated by social demographic characteristics; men and the unmarried use the Internet more than women and the married. Age will be negatively related to Internet use. Educational level and SES will be positively related to Internet use.

H2: Conventional media use (T.V. newspaper, radio, magazine, book) will be positively related to Internet use.

H3: Social support will be positively related to Internet use.

H4: Attitude toward the Internet will be related to Internet use; Perceived credibility and benefit will be positively related to Internet use, while perceived alienation and negative effect of the Internet will be negatively related to Internet use.

Methods

The data was collected from 2,361 respondents interviewed by trained interviewers from January to March 2002. Sampling was done in two stages, which clustered stratified proportional systematic samplings with household units. In the first stage, county clusters were sampled in each of the 16 provinces in South Korea. In the second stage, district clusters were sampled in each selected county cluster. Respondents were also sampled among household members between 12 and 65 years of age. Each interview was conducted with a structured questionnaire and sample cards for responses. The response rate was 33.0 percent.

Descriptive and factor analyses were used before the multi-variate analysis. A factor analysis was used for variable reduction of attitude measures. To investigate significant factors that have had an influence on Internet use, a multiple logistic regression analysis model was constructed as follows:

Model 1: Internet use = f (gender, age, educational level, marital status, income level, occupational status, conventional media use, attitude toward the Internet, family support)

Model 1-1:

Current user (binary variable as user, non user) = f (gender, age, educational level, marital status, income level, occupational status, conventional media use, attitude toward the Internet, family support)

Model 1-2:

Frequent user (Internet use more than once a month; binary variable as user, non-user) = f (gender, age, educational level, marital status, income level, occupational status, conventional media use, attitude toward the Internet, family support)

Model 1-3:

Internet use hours at home = f (gender, age, educational level, marital status, income level, occupational status, conventional media use, attitude toward the Internet, family support)

The concepts included in the model above were measured as follows: Internet users and non-users were defined by three questions. The first was “Do you personally use the Internet, that is the World Wide Web, America Online, e-mail, or any other part of the Internet from home or any other place?” Those who answered “yes” were categorized as current users. The second question was whether the frequency of Internet use was more than or equal to once a month or less than once a month. The last was “How often did you use the Internet at your home in the last week?” which was measured in number of hours.

Gender was dichotomized as male and female. Age was measured by calendar years from birth. Education level was determined according to the number of years spent in the formal school system. Marital status was categorized as “married,”“unmarried” and “other.” Income level was measured by monthly income level and measured in Korean won. Occupational status was classified into the Professional, Clerical, Service, and Product categories. For regression analysis, dummy variables for gender, marital status and occupational status were created. Subjective socioeconomic status was divided into 5 categories: high, middle-high, middle-middle, middle-low, and low. Examples of suggested conventional media were watching TV, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, reading magazines, and reading books, each of which was measured in minutes per week. Questions on attitudes toward the Internet were as follows with each question measured on a 5-point Likert-type scale:

Attitude toward the Internet:

  • A1: People like you can attain more political power

  • A2: People like you will have greater say about what the government does

  • A3: People like you are able to understand politics better

  • A4: Public officials will care more about what people like you think

  • A5: Children have access to a lot of “inappropriate” material on the Internet

  • A6: People who go on-line put their privacy at risk

  • A7: In general, you feel that people spend too much time on the Internet

  • A8: You feel left behind when you hear about the Internet

  • A9: The Internet has nothing significant to offer you

Perceived credibility of Internet information was measured by direct questions on a 5-point scale. Family support was measured by the number of Internet users among family members and interactions with the Internet.

Results

The adoption of a new medium can be influenced by a great many factors. The use of the Internet as a new medium is also affected by social demographic characteristics and use of conventional media such as TV, newspapers, radios, and magazines. Along with these factors, perceptions of a new medium are also influenced by its adoption and use. If people have a positive attitude toward the new medium, they can easily adopt it. But for those who are indifferent or have a negative attitude toward the new medium, it is very difficult to adopt.

Attitudes toward the Internet were measured by 13 questions. To find out the underlying dimensions in these attitude questions, a factor analysis was conducted. Using a communality of 0.4 as a cut-off point, nine questions were selected for the final factor analysis. Three factors were extracted with eigenvalues greater than or equal to 1(Table 1). The first was labeled the perceived benefit of the Internet, the second the perceived negative effect of the Internet, and the final factor was labeled alienation from the Internet. For the multi-variate analysis, the three factors of attitudes toward the Internet were calculated by the simple summation of the allocated question's response scores.

Table 1.  Rotated factor loadings of attitude toward the Internet variables.
ItemsFactor 1Factor 2Factor 3Communality
A2.840.177-.032.738
A3.836.062.015.703
A1.779-.018.057.610
A4.777.054.039.608
A6.117.814-.139.696
A5-.020.783.061.618
A7.122.569.308.434
A8-.076-.014.767.595
A9.120.110.760.604
Eigenvalue2.8171.5751.214 
Variance (%)31.29517.50613.491 

Direct comparison of each social demographic characteristic between Internet users and non-users show significant statistical differences. The proportion of males among Internet users is higher than that of non-users. The mean age of Internet users is younger than that of non-users. The Internet user possesses a relatively higher level of education that that of a non-user. The proportion of married people among Internet users is higher than that of non-users. Finallt, the income level of Internet users is also higher than that of non-users.

Consumption of various conventional media such as TV, newspapers, and books also differs between Internet users and non-users. In terms of the number of hours, Internet users watch less TV and read newspapers less frequently than non-users, but spend more hours reading books than non-users.

In terms of differing attitudes toward the Internet, users' perceptions of both the benefits and negative effects of the Internet are stronger than those of non-users. Credibility of the Internet is higher among Internet users than non-users. Predictably, alienation from the Internet is stronger among non-users. Family support as measured by the number of Internet users among family members is greater among Internet users than non-users.

Direct comparison of various characteristics between Internet users and non-users cannot be interpreted as identifying the determining factors of the digital divide, but the phenomena of the digital divide can clearly be observed in social demographic characteristics such as gender, age, educational level and so on. One of the interesting findings is that there is no difference within the criteria of Internet usage, such as current use and frequency of use. In South Korea, almost all Internet users can be interpreted as frequent users who use the Internet more than once a month.

Direct comparison is limited to interpreting and identifying factors that influence Internet adoption. Each characteristic that might differentiate Internet users and non-users was examined while controlling other characteristics using logistic regression analysis.

Current Internet users and frequent Internet users are affected by demographic characteristics, attitudes and family support. Among the social demographic characteristics, gender, age, educational level, marital status, and occupation are statistically significant. All three attitude variables toward the Internet also have a significant influence on current use of the Internet. Perceived credibility of the Internet significantly influences whether potential users will adopt the Internet or not. As revealed above, the number of Internet users within a family has a significant effect on the current use of the Internet, but use of conventional media has no significant effect on the adoption of the Internet.

Among the characteristics that have a significant effect on the adoption of the Internet, the highest value of relative impact found in the number of Internet users among family members was 5.95 in the current users group and 5.64 in the frequent users group. Gender had the second highest value of relative impact with 3.24 in the current user group and 3.055 in the frequent user group. The third highest value is that of marital status, with 2.786 in the current user group and 2.163 in the frequent user group. Based on these results, it is inferred that family support is an important factor in explaining adoption of the Internet, which means that Internet adoption in South Korea can be interpreted in terms of diffusion theory. According to this logistic regression model, there is a strong classification power of 89.4 percent for both dependent variables. In both models, the prediction of the Internet user is more powerful than that of the non-Internet user group.

Internet adoption can be measured by the number of hours of Internet use. Non-Internet users were counted as 0 hours. These continuous dependent variables on Internet adoption can be reflected in terms of Internet commitment. Internet adoption and Internet commitment differ slightly in meaning. For the Internet-user group, there is some variance in Internet use, which can be measured by the number of hours spent using the Internet to determine Internet commitment.

Multiple regression analysis was used to investigate the most significant variables among independent variables that were expected to have an influence on Internet commitment measured by Internet use time. The number of Internet users among family members had the highest value of beta (0.207). This indicates that the social support of family members is the most important factor in Internet commitment. Age is the second highest (beta=-0.2) among significant variables of Internet commitment. That is, younger people have a higher level of Internet commitment than older people. Married respondents have lower commitment than unmarried and other marital status.

This regression model had an explanatory power of 21.9 percent of the total variance in Internet commitment and was statistically significant with an F ratio of 23.342. In the logistic regression model of Internet adoption, there was no effect of conventional media use. But Internet commitment was positively influenced by conventional media use, such as watching TV. The concept of family support has a significant, positive effect on commitment to the Internet.

Discussion

Just a few years ago, the proportion of Internet users in South Korea was as low as 22.0 percent. Beginning in 1999, however, this figure jumped dramatically and has since been increasingly rapidly each year. Recent figures indicate that this rate has reached almost 60 percent (see table below):

In South Korea, the adoption of the Internet is more influenced by family support than by other characteristics. Media substitutes and supplements have less effect on the adoption of the Internet except for watching TV during Internet use hours. Family support has also significantly proven to be the most important factor for the diffusion of the Internet. If some family members use the Internet, other members of the family are likely to use it as well. This finding shows that the family can be the core area of the diffusion process. Social and demographic characteristics also have an effect on the adoption of the Internet in South Korea as they do in other countries. Younger, married, educated people are more likely to be Internet users. But media substitutes and supplements alone do not account for Internet adoption in South Korea. The hours of Internet use at home have been influenced positively by watching TV, which implies that the Internet may be a supplementary activity to watching TV. But other traditional media has had no effect on Internet adoption and use at home. Thus, we may assume that in South Korea, the Internet does not function as a substitute medium for traditional media, such as TV, newspaper, radio, magazines and books.

Attitudes toward the Internet can be classified into four different aspects: perceived benefit, perceived negative effect, alienation from the Internet and perceived credibility. These four dimensions of attitudes toward the Internet affect whether or not the Internet is adopted and to what extent in terms of hours of use. The ‘perceived benefit’, ‘perceived negative effect’ and ‘perceived credibility’ of the Internet have positive effects on the adoption of the Internet, whereas ‘alienation from the Internet’ exerts a negative effect on its adoption. In particular, the perceived negative attitude for the Internet was expected to be a negatively-affecting factor for Internet adoption. But this attitude shows a reverse effect on Internet adoption, indicating that a desire to adopt the Internet can be induced from experience and concern. Of course, people may possess such a positive perception or open attitude toward the Internet without having used it. But tnegative attitude toward the Internet can be developed through actual Internet use. Such a perception-what we may think of as an “open mind” that is receptive and willing to adopt the Internet–is not an independent variable that is determinative, but just one among several dependent variables that influence Internet adoption. This suggests that there may be a more fruitful way to approach and initiate studies in the future.

Clearly, perceived credibility of the Internet is the most important factor for Internet adoption including the hours of Internet use at home. The adoption of and personal investment in the Internet are influenced by perceived trustworthiness of the Internet, which may be reflected in users’ attitude toward the credibility of information from the Internet. Such a construction of “trust” in the Internet can be seen as a strategy for the diffusion of Internet adoption. According to the ‘Expectancy Value Theory’ and “Social-Cognitive Model” of Internet use, perceived benefit and credibility including trust in new technology such as the Internet can produce a positive expectancy value of the Internet. In this study findings partly confirm the above models based on perceptual dimensions, such as attitude toward the Internet.

There are various factors influencing whether or not one will adopt a new technology. Dividing these factors into categories, the first might be an individual's spontaneous will, which weighs the costs and benefits in adopting a new technology before making a final decision; the second might be passive adoption of a new technology given various pressures and influences from one's social environment; the third might be classified as adoption initiated by macro-powers such as national policies. The first category would constitute factors mobilized by calculated rationalities, the second by factors representing the characteristics of organizations or social groups, and the third would include factors related to the implementation of policy decisions. Meanwhile, most discussions on the diffusion of the Internet have concentrated on only the first and last cases, focusing on factors on the micro and macro levels. Studies on the factors related to organizations or social groups, however, have not yet been adequately explored.

In general, families are the most critical subgroup constituting society. Social support from families exerts an immense influence on the behavioral actions of family members. When one family member uses the Internet, it raises the possibility for other members to use it as well by furnishing a non-Internet using family member with more opportunities to obtain information and to gain access to the Internet. Thus, influence exerted by one's family members or office culture might be conceptualized as social support, social pressures or social obstacles in general. If we consider characteristics of family groups to be one category of social support that influences Internet use, it is necessary to take into account the factors which encourage or discourage use of the Internet in family groups.

Existing diffusion theory on Internet adoption holds that the Internet is more likely to be diffused than previously-used media for its supplement or substitution functions. However, this explanation does not sufficiently take into account organizations or groups which play a mediating role in the diffusion mechanism of the Internet. As the results from our analysis reveal, it may be inferred that characteristics of one's family are the most critical factor in Internet diffusion in that among many factors influencing Internet use, the number of Internet users among family members coupled with the social support from the family show a relatively high standard regression coefficient.2 This study shows that in the diffusion of the Internet, characteristics of family are a more important factor in affecting the adoption and use of the Internet than the supplement and substitution functions of the Internet or its users' individual characteristics.

These results show that social factors are important factors for Internet adoption, consistent with diffusion theory. But the remaining variance in Internet adoption and use indicates that there is a need to mobilize new factors such as macro-system factors, technology factors and so on. As suggested by Charney and Greenberg (2002), technology diffusion theory and gratification functions will be located in a more general paradigm for the process of Internet usage in future studies.

Conclusion

The nature of South Korea's remarkable adoption of the Internet and its rapid penetration among the populace has been quite different from other countries. In particular, family support is one of the most important factors that has influenced Internet use for both the current user and the frequent user. The social support from family members has just as much of an effect on the Internet user as does group pressure and social facilitation. Other characteristics, such as age, educational level and perception of the benefits from Internet use proved to be significant factors in Internet adoption as well. But income level (i.e., affordability) has no effect on Internet adoption because the Internet is easily accessible and widely available to the pubic in South Korea. This can be readily seen in the rapid expansion of Internet facilities in public areas such as government offices and institutions (such as city hall and post offices), not to mention the ubiquitous PC rooms or PC cafes that have sprouted up all over South Korea. Thus, affordability is a negligible factor in adopting the Internet in South Korea.

Although diffusion theory may be a plausible paradigm for explaining Internet adoption, more attention needs be paid to various intermediating factors. This study indicates that the family functions as just such a mediating factor and wields a significant influence on the course of diffusion in the case of South Korean society, where communalism takes precedence over individualism. As a result, the decision to use the Internet is likely to be influenced by behavioral pressures from social groups such as the family rather than by spontaneous behavior based on calculation of individual costs and benefits. This also implies that the mediating role of families in using the Internet can be differentiated according to differences in family status in society, which calls for further studies on differences in family cultures between Western and Eastern societies. However, because this analysis does not include other social supports, i.e., education circles of Internet users, peer groups, etc., other than the family, more various types of social supports need to be considered in the future. Comparative studies in the future should probe more deeply into the macro level and socio-cultural contexts of the countries.

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the Institute of Information Technology Assessment in Korea for their support of our research.

Footnotes

  • 1

    Zhu and He (2002) investigated the factors influencing adoption, use and impact of the Internet, mobilizing a “chain model” which attempted a more comprehensive study of technology diffusion than previous research.

  • 2

    According to diffusion theory in the sphere of engineering, when a certain matter alters the medium, its path, scope, speed and so on are changed as well.

Ancillary