Monday, January 23, 2017

An ethnographic study -- what are Cubans doing online?

Aida Zekić, a student at the University of Uppsala, Sweden has published her masters thesis, "Internet in Public: an ethnographic account of the Internet in authoritarian Cuba."

The thesis reports on interviews of 50 Cuban Internet users at nine WiFi hotspots in Havana during September and October 2016. She asked pre-planed, but mostly open-ended questions of 25 men and 25 women. She tried to identify people between 25 and 50 years old, but a few were a little older.

She found that nearly all of the interviewees use the Internet for communication (long-distance calls and social media), over 40% use it for information seeking (for school and work, foreign and domestic news and visiting domestic Web sites) and fewer than 20% for entertainment (including sports):

(The grey ares in the figures attempt to show the precision of the estimate given by the green bars. I assume that they represent something like a 95% confidence interval for the mean, but the nature of the sample cannot support an exact inference.)

The percent of people using the Internet for entertainment -- a luxury -- would surely rise if connectivity were faster and cheaper, while communication and information seeking would rise, but to a lesser extent.

The following chart shows a somewhat finer breakdown of use cases:

This quote sums up a lot of what she observed:
Even if the Cuban Internet has grown significantly during these times of change, no vibrant online society has marched forward. A well-known group of dissidents continues to provide the international community with critical opinions from the inside, but the average netizen is busy calling their family, downloading pictures from Facebook onto their phones, or struggling to open Wikipedia in preparation for their next term paper.
This is a quick summary of the findings -- the table of contents of the full thesis is:
  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review: Internet in Authoritarian Regimes
  3. Background: Information and Communications in Cuba
  4. Theoretical Framework
  5. Methods of Study
  6. Findings
  7. Conclusion
  8. Discussion
The appendices include her questionnaire, responses and respondent's age and sex.
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