Users’ Perceptions of the Impact of Public Access Computing in Colombia: Libraries, Telecenters and Cybercafés

Ricardo Gomez

Abstract


Measuring the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) for community development is critical, yet it remains elusive. This article presents findings from an exploratory study of public access computing (PAC) services in Colombia, South America, conducted by University of Washington researchers and local partners. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, the study explores perceptions of the impact of ICT on people’s lives from the perspective of users of libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés around the country. Understanding the broader dimension of PAC services, instead of focusing on only a single type of venue (i.e., only libraries, telecenters, or cybercafés), offers a more complete picture of both how people use PAC and the types of benefits they derive from PAC services. Four types of perceived benefits emerge in the study: increased information, stronger relationships, better learning opportunities, and easier transactions. In addition, some negative consequences are identified. Findings question the notion that PAC has a direct impact on development by offering access to jobs, agriculture, health, employment, or other development resources. Rather, we suggest that PAC can have an indirect contribution to development by offering users benefits, such as easier access to more information and communication resources, better social connections with friends and family, and increased opportunities for education and learning.

Keywords


library, telecenter, cybercafe, impact, perception, public access computing

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