The personal computer. A medium with a different message for every user: An investigation into the applicability of mass communications theories to personal computers

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Pamela J. Shoemaker



Subject Categories

Mass Communication


In the 1990's, the computer-based communication became common place on the Internet and the World Wide Web, WWW, and many believed that it was a new mass medium. Based on the assumption that personal computers are the basis of at least one new mass medium, this dissertation has three goals: First, it proposes a topological schema for different kinds of personal computer users. Second, it attempts to identify how well existing mass communications theory can be applied to different kinds of personal computer-based activities. And third, it documents the perceptions and actual computer use of a group of students at Syracuse University at an early stage of this new mass medium.

Using data collected in a series of qualitative interviews of individuals in the Northeastern United States, this study proposes a five-group categorization scheme of computer users which is based upon total time spent using a personal computer, occupation, type of personal computer use, age, and environment in which a personal computer is used. After qualitatively identifying the different types of computer users, a questionnaire containing a number of prominent mass communication theories was administered to individuals in one of the identified typologies (students).

The two mass communication theories which were the most heavily scrutinized in the second half of this investigation were the adoption of innovation theory and the uses and gratifications theory. By testing both theories on a population of students (while controlling for demographic variables) this study was able to identify serious weaknesses in the adoption of innovation theory and modest support for the uses and gratifications theory. Other theories that where also identified as being associated with different types of computer use included: media clustering, critical incident, computerphobia, and patterns of information gathering.

Finally, this study found that the personal computer's lack of a consistent "normative image," a high degree of multicollinearity between variables, and the complex relationship involved in how and why people chose to use personal computers all made a multi-theory approach to identifying factors associated with personal computer use the most suitable.


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