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A Companion to New Media Dynamics by Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, John Hartley

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Chapter 7

The Emergence of Next-Generation Internet Users

Grant Blank and William H. Dutton

Introduction

The Internet is over four decades old. The inception of this “network of networks” is most often tied to ARPANET, built by researchers sponsored by the Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the US Department of Defense in the late 1960s. It has been the product of new services and applications, such as email, the web, and browsers that have continually reinvented the Internet in new ways—making it truly new among the new media. After the development of the web and browsers that provided a graphical user interface, the personal computer soon became the primary point for accessing the Internet from around the world, whether from a household or an Internet café. In line with this, whether an individual has access to a personal computer linked to the Internet (at home or work) has become a major focus of social research on the Internet. Without access, directly or through intermediaries, many of the potential benefits and risks of the Internet are out of reach. This has led social research on the Internet to focus on issues surrounding the digital divide in access, and the resources, whether financial, geographical, or skill-based, required for individuals or households to bridge the divide.

Several trends emerged in the early years of the twenty-first century that could change patterns of Internet access in significant ways. One is the phenomenal global diffusion of mobile ...

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