The Value of Non-Instrumental Computer Use: A Study of Skills Acquisition and Performance in Brazil

Beth E. Kolko, Robert Racadio

Abstract


Telecenters, libraries, schools, and other public places where people access computer technology generally must decide which information and communication technologies (ICTs) to make available to the public. These decisions are often made based on a conception of which ICT uses are worthwhile, and often venues end up privileging instrumental uses—when people use the technology as an instrument toward productive goals—over non-instrumental uses, such as gaming or chatting. Users, on the other hand, do not necessarily make these distinctions and they switch seamlessly across multiple types of activities with technology. While public ICT providers must demonstrate good stewardship of public monies, when they privilege activities such as word processing a job application but not gaming or social networking, they constrain how people integrate technology meaningfully into their lives. This article presents the results of a study that investigated assumptions about the benefits of instrumental versus non- instrumental computer uses. Our findings indicate that people who use computers largely for non-instrumental purposes are generally as capable with the computers as those who use them for instrumental purposes, that people who largely use computers for these non-instrumental purposes are gaining skills that translate to instrumental tasks, and that dictating policy across largely software and tool-driven definitions of what constitutes “serious” or “worthwhile” uses of technology (and allocating public money to support access to such technology uses) does not match how individuals see themselves as users of these tools.

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