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What Is Usefulness of Computers and ICT?

Background

According to Fred Davis' [1989] Technology Acceptance Model, which is much cited, two main factors influence the decision to use or reject information technology: our perception that it is easy to use, and our perception that it is useful. He found this by surveys among users, and his TAM is a very elegant model, which can be used to measure or predict the extent to which a piece of software will be used.

Ease of use is relatively easy to understand, being about things like finding our way around the application software, or understanding what it tells us. But he does not make clear what 'usefulness' is. Instead, he suggests that, in each situation, usefulness can be measured by asking about various 'external variables' like "What is the quality of information it gives?" Because of the ambiguity, many researchers since 1989 have tried to identify external variables that contribute to usefulness.

In 2007 Yousafzai et al. reviewed the literature to gather together all the external variables that had thus far been suggested, and found 74 of them, 70 of them influencing usefulness and 64 of them, ease of use. This plethora of variables makes it almost impossible to calculate usefulness! Yousafzai et al. tried to reduce the confusion by categorising them into:

These long lists do little to enlighten us as to what constitutes usefulness, and it is rather disappointing to find so many that remain uncategorised as 'other'.

Dooyeweerdian Analysis of Yousafzai

Might Dooyeweerd's aspects be used to throw light on what constitutes usefulness? In the following Table, I have categorised Yousafzai's collected constructs by which aspect makes them meaningful.

Table žisu-t-yousafzai. Yousafzai et al.'s grouping of 74 External Variables of TAM
Aspect Organisational characteristics System characteristics Personal characteristics Other characteristics
Quantitative
Spatial
Kinematic Navigation
Physical
Biotic / Organic Age, gender
Psychic / Sensitive Interface, response time Personality
Analytical Perceived complexity, visibility Awareness, cognitive absorption Task characteristics
Formative Internal computing training, peer usage, training, transitional support Convenience, objective usability, perceived risk, screen design, trialability Educational level, experience, personal innovativeness, self-efficacy, skills and knowledge External computing training, facilitating conditions
Lingual Information quality, output quality, result demonstrability, terminology Computer literacy Argument for change
Social Image, end-user support, internal computing support, management support, organisational support, organisational structure Social presence Involvement, perceived developer's responsiveness, role with technology Cultural affinity, external computing support, situational normality, social influence, social pressure, vendor's co-operation
Economic Accessibility, access cost, response time Perceived resources, tenure in workforce
Aesthetic Implementation gap Compatibility, media style, perceived attractiveness Perceived enjoyment, perceived playfulness
Juridical Organisational policies Confirmation mechanism, perceived software correctness, relevance with job, accuracy, system quality, Web security Subjective norms, task technology fit
Ethical Competitive environment Computer attitude, voluntariness
Pistic / Faith Group's innovativeness norm, job insecurity, organisational usage, peer influence Perceived importance, reliability Computer anxiety, intrinsic motivation, shopping orientation, trust

Dooyeweerd's aspects are able to cope with the diversity of all the 'external variables' that Yousafzai had collected. With Dooyeweerd there need be no 'other' category. This is because Dooyeweerd intended his suite of aspects to cover all of created reality as it may be experienced.

One possible benefit of such an aspectual analysis is that it might be able to stimulate reflection on how the constructs relate to each other rather than just grouping them. For example, Web security (juridical aspect of the system) is something that organisational policies must take into account, because both are juridical aspect. Individual voluntariness is often affected by competitiveness in the orgnanisational environment (both ethical aspect). The formative aspect brings most of the training constructs together. Arguments for change (lingual 'other') depends on result demonstrability (lingual system) and computer literacy (lingual individual).

Such a Dooyeweerdian analysis is somewhat confused, however, by many of the constructs in the table being ambiguous and covering several aspects; further research is needed to ascertain to what extent aspectual analysis can indeed provide a rich understanding of usefulness.

A General Dooyeweerdian Understanding of Usefulness of ICT

More generally, Dooyeweerd would understand usefulness of computer applications or systems to be:

Usefulness is the multi-aspectual repercussions of the human user functioning in all aspects of life with the computer application.

This provides three practical ways for Dooyeweerd's aspects to help us understand usefulness.

1. The diversity of usefulness

All human functioning involves all aspects, and human functioning that involves computer technology is no exception. Functioning in each aspect generates repercussions in that aspect and, indirectly, in other aspects.

Example: The old adage of computer use "Garbage in - garbage out" is an expression of functioning and repercussion in the lingual and juridical aspects: entering and receiving information is lingual functioning, but whether this information is good or 'garbage' is a juridical issue of what is due. Good information in results in good information out, and vice versa.

Each factor like those collected by Yousafzai is meaningful in one or more aspects. For example, Perceived resources is meaningful primarily in the economic aspect, while the inclusion of perceived speaks of the analytical aspect of making distinctions, or conceptualizing, or being aware. This is the foundational way of understanding it, which encourages us to analyse Yousafzai's variables.

2. The normativity of usefulness

Usefulness may then be seen as the extent to which repercussions in all aspects are good rather than bad (and thus normative for us, something we aim for and hope for). In each aspect from at least the biotic onwards we can differentiate good from bad. For more see the page on Evil.

3. Indirect and direct repercussions

Under the Dooyeweerdian scheme, repercussions may be direct or indirect. Indirect repercussions occur when a direct repercussion affects us or someone else, and we or they respond.

Example of indirect repercussion: The information I receive from the computer (e.g. current share price or football results, or reply from someone I want to befriend) does not suit me, and I get annoyed. I take out the annoyance on others, which makes them less effective in their work.

In the later, post-social, aspects, we find many opportunities for indirect repercussions of a social nature. Repercussions in the last three aspects are often long-term rather than short-term, and involve multiple people. For example, if we begin to be cynical, self-centred or untruthful on social media, then this attitude spreads, which might gradually taint the attitude of the whole group. Conversely, if we are open, self-giving and truthful on social media, the attitude of the group becomes 'tainted' with health and peace and shalom / salaam.

Conclusion

In such ways, Dooyeweerd provides a basis for precise thinking about usefulness in a way that others don't.


This page is part of a collection that discusses application of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments are welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

This material is copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2015, and he reserves the right to use it in publications. However, you may use this material subject to conditions. Compiled by Andrew Basden.

Created: 3 February 2015. Last updated: