Local meanings of global connectivity: an exploratory study into the effects of internet use on youths' everyday lives in Cameroon
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Ever since internet has become a hot topic in development studies, most research has addressed the potential applications of internet access in relation to various development objectives. However, although internet access is commonly assumed to be beneficial for its users, few studies have specifically addressed the question of how the use of the world wide web influences individual users. Therefore, this study explores the potential effects of internet use on the everyday lives of Cameroonian youths in semi-rural environments. The range of effects studied is narrowed down to three main aspects: 1) mobility and activity patterns, 2) social networks and 3) social transformations as reflected in changes in norms, values and lifestyles. Building upon a wide range of disciplines, a theoretical basis was derived from the available material on internet use in developing contexts, complemented with insights from developed settings. Considering the broad nature of the study, a diverse methodology was applied, including an activity diary survey, qualitative in-depth interviews and questionnaires addressing both quantitative and qualitative questions. The methodological setup was kept as flexible as possible to allow for incorporation of findings from the field. Over the course of a ten-week fieldwork period in Cameroon, new impacts of internet use were discovered and incorporated in the further study as much as possible. The results indicate that internet use is mainly associated with increases in perceived mobility, changes in the scope and composition of social networks and tentatively points to changes in lifestyle. Moreover, the type of information retrieved from the world wide web may not be in accordance with expectations about ‘valuable’ internet use, but does contribute to individuals’ sense of liberty and independence through access to information and widening of their horizon. Follow-up research in the form of a longitudinal analysis on this topic is highly recommended in order obtain a better insight into the extent to which the changes in the aforementioned factors can be related to internet use.