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Information and Communication Technologies and the spatio-temporal fragmentation of everyday life

By C.G.T.M. Hubers


Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), such as the Internet and mobile phone, are thought to enable the temporal and spatial fragmentation of activities. In this process activities, such as shopping and paid work, are divided into smaller subtasks and carried out at different times and different locations, or both. This fragmentation is made possible by the weakening of some of the ties activities have to specific times and locations. Paid work, for example, for many people used to be tied to standard office hours and a specific office location. Those who are believed to benefit from using ICTs include employed adults who are experiencing difficulties in combining paid and unpaid work demands. However, the possible temporal and spatial fragmentation of activities and its associations with ICT use has received hardly any empirical support, a gap which the research reported in this dissertation is one of the first to address. More specifically, the research goal was to investigate the extent of fragmentation of everyday activities in time and space, and how this depends on individuals’ ICT use and reconciliation of home, work and leisure. This is one of the first studies to develop a set of indicators with which the level of temporal and spatial fragmentation of activities can be determined. By applying these indicators of activity fragmentation, it provides insights into the ways in which people employ ICTs in their everyday practices and the consequences this has for their activity patterns. Two-day combined activity, travel and communication diaries collected among Dutch households in 2007 have been analysed. ICTs were consistently found to be related to the fragmentation of the various activities that were studied. In general, fragmentation was higher when ICTs were used more extensively, although there were also instances where the activities of people who used ICTs were actually the least fragmented. The results also indicated that it makes a difference which particular type of ICT is being used. Personal Digital Assistant (smart phone) users had temporally more fragmented paid work activities, whereas using a laptop made no difference. Differences also exist between the various activity types, as people with moderate levels of ICT use had the most fragmented leisure activities, while paid work was most fragmented for people with high levels of ICT use. Gender differences in the relation between ICTs and the fragmentation of paid work, form an interesting example of how the use of ICTs is not solely dictated by its technological possibilities, but also by the specific employment context in which they are used, by whom, and with what purpose. On only one occasion ICTs had the strongest associations with the fragmentation of an activity. Therefore discussions on how the fragmentation of activities can be stimulated, and the potential benefits of ICT use for the reconciliation of paid and unpaid work demands, should also recognise the influence of non-ICT factors, such as employment characteristics. Failing to acknowledge the relevance of these factors could result in unrealistic expectations with regard to the potential benefits of ICTs

Publisher: Utrecht University
Year: 2013
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