The unexplored history of operationalising digital divides: A pilot study

Bianca C. Reisdorf, William H. Dutton, Whisnu Triwibowo, Michael E. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Since the early years of the personal computer, when computing began to diffuse to the general public, social researchers have focused on the (non)use of information and communication technologies in the household and the impact of the resulting digital divides on social and economic inequalities. The Internet's diffusion led this work to become an increasingly central focus of research, but not following a sustained trajectory of attention. This study tracks the questions used to operationalise digital divides as a heretofore unexplored history that throws light on the course of social research–illuminating problems that are masked by traditional studies that follow the responses to these questions, but not the questions. By focusing on surveys of Internet use, analysing questionnaires from the USA, Britain, Hungary and South Africa reaching back to 1997, we examine how survey research questions on Internet (non)use have evolved. Study of the changing operational definitions of Internet use across time and space provides a formerly unexamined perspective on the ebb and flow of academic interest in digital divides, the changing meaning of that term and the relationship of social research to technology and policy change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-118
JournalInternet Histories
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2017


  • cross-national research
  • Digital divides
  • history
  • Internet
  • survey research


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