digital TV – how much technology do we really need?
What do your
views on GM foods, Kosovo or friendship have to do with
your attitudes to new technology? A lot, according to
Leeds University researchers Michael Svennevig, David
Morrison and Julie Firmstone. They are running a long-term
study which aims to paint a portrait of Britain in the
new millennium, looking at how technological advances
affect our lives.
is a unique study in that it focuses not on the cleverness
of technology, but on the context into which it appears.
Set up in 1995 by the Centre for Future Communications,
based in the Institute of Communications Studies, it works
on the premise that no technology enters into a vacuum,
but has to be incorporated into our daily lives. People’s
reaction to new technology can differ widely, and the
research has identified the social factors which determine
these differing responses.
aims to analyse attitudes to, as well as use and ownership
of, both new and established technologies. The research
team works with focus groups and holds media clinics in
Leeds and London, where members of the public can offer
informed responses after trying out new technology for
themselves. The bulk of the information is collected by
survey from an initial panel of 7000 households, a certain
number of which already use satellite, cable or digital
TV and the internet. These households are sent questionnaires
biannually, covering issues as varied as BSE and flying
to include some very general questions – such as levels
of trust in politicians, or whether violence is on the
increase – and then also pick certain current events which
have received a lot of media attention," explained
research director, Michael Svennevig. "For example,
we chose the death of Princess Diana because it really
touched the nation, and future questionnaires will undoubtedly
include subjects such as the current foot and mouth epidemic.
an all-round picture – Michael Svennevig
trying to paint an all-round picture. Age, gender and
social class simply doesn’t provide enough detail to explain
or categorise different reactions to new technology. If
you find out what people think, the groupings you can
plot are much more clearly defined."
has identified seven ‘social segments’, which range from
the style and fashion-conscious ‘ambitious’, who like
leading-edge products and are early adopters of new technology,
to the ‘marooned’, who feel left behind by events, have
little interest in anything technological and are generally
pessimistic about the direction of society.
Each of the
segments – which also include the ‘progressives’, the
‘jugglers’, the ‘underclass’, the ‘stoics’ and the ‘conservatives’
– represent between 10% and 17% of British adults, and
show the full range of attitudes to new technology.
has shown that a large proportion of the British public
is not interested in the new technology on offer, or only
wants a few of the benefits it can offer. Companies ignore
this at their peril, explains research project officer,
quantity – Julie Firmstone
important to consider how people use the technology they’ve
currently got, to see if new developments will fit their
needs. For example, television is still the major mass
medium, but a third of the population doesn’t want the
digital form. Those that do, want the better quality picture,
rather than the other ‘benefits’ such as interactivity,
internet access and extra channels. Television is popular
as a passive medium that we can just switch on and watch.
Digital TV’s other applications demand active input, and
so most viewers don’t want it. People would also prefer
an increase in the quality of programmes, rather than
the quantity of channels."
In some cases,
new technology becomes incredibly popular, but for reasons
unforeseen by the companies marketing the product. No
one expected parents to buy mobile phones in such huge
numbers for their children in order to keep track of them
outside the home.
has found that parents are large consumers of technology
on behalf of their children: video recorders, computer
games, internet access to encourage children to spend
time in the safety of the home; and computers in general
to help children ‘keep up’ in the modern world.
shows clearly how take-up of technology is due more to
social factors than the intrinsic technological qualities
of the products involved," says Julie Firmstone.
"Parents’ fear of crime is driven by the way the
media choose to report on society, as is the idea that
a computer can be an insurance policy for children’s material
has been funded by the Independent Television Commission
and the Department of Trade and Industry as well as companies
such as Royal Mail, the BBC, IBM, Carlton TV, Guinness
with integrity – David Morrison
is a classic example of successful collaboration between
the University and business," says Centre for Future
Communications director, Dr. David Morrison. "The
research has great intellectual integrity, which benefits
both its sponsors and the institute. It has given us access
to a richness of data otherwise unavailable, due to the
financial costs of running such a survey."
The first stage
of the study is now complete, and the Centre is launching
a new, more intensive phase focusing on the future of
interactive digital media in the home, looking at entertainment,
e-Commerce, marketing communications and person-to-person
details, visit the website of the research
centre for future communications.