The Internet and cyberspace are still relatively new occurrences in our lives, yet they already exert powerful influences over us. Research in South Africa is still limited and this is an attempt to begin correcting our lack of knowledge in the field. The study was conducted entirely in cyberspace. E-mail was used to gather information from six participants, who where recruited from the Quadriplegic Association of South Africa website. It is a qualitative examination of the unique experiences of spinal cord injured people, who are regularly interacting in cyber-communities with other injured people and people without injuries. The study attempts to describe the role that computer-mediated communication and cyber-communities play in the spinal cord injured person's self-concept. The information was collected in unstructured, asynchronous interviews, which were e-mailed on a regular basis. The participants included one woman and five men, with a mix of quadriplegic and paraplegic injuries. The questions revolved around two central themes: 1) the participant's experiences of other people offline and 2) their experiences of people online. These experiences were identified and grouped into 14 different categories. The categories were then integrated with the literature on cyberspace and self-concept theory. Although the participant group was small, their experiences were richly illustrated and often confirmed previous results by other cyberspace researchers. Essential to this study was the embodied isolation that participants experienced offline, which evoked a number of negative emotions and consequently affected the self-concept and self-esteem. Online the participants were often able to experience a release from isolation and felt empowered by the expansion in their social support Networks and the practical information they gained. In some cases self-esteem improved. In general, more skills and concepts were integrated, increasing the complexity of the self-concept. Applications of this study's results include greater rehabilitative speed and increased continued support for the spinal cord injured. The online spinal cord injured person can moderate her/his reintroduction to uninjured social circles. In certain situations, adapting to the new injured self-concept may become easier.
Dissertation (MA (Psychology))--University of Pretoria, 2006.