Behind Closed Doors and Out in Public: An Investigation of Computer Use in the Public and Private Spheres

Much is proclaimed, but little is known about the use of computers in private places (such as the home), and public places (such as public libraries). It is frequently assumed that if access to computers exists that everyone, or at least all who are interested in using them, will have access to computers. However, both anecdotal accounts and observations made during studies that have focused on related issues suggest that this may not be the case. The purpose of this study was to investigate the dynamics of computer use in public settings, as well as private settings.

Data was primarily observational in nature, supplemented by interviews wherever possible. Observations were conducted through participant observation, supplemented by video tape, where appropriate. Observations focused on:

  • who uses the computer;
  • what, if any difficulties users encounter in their efforts to use the computer;
  • what computer users do when they have difficulties in using the computer;
  • how does the presence of computers influence what occurs in the environment where the computers are located?