Complementarity and substitution between physical and virtual travel for instrumental information sharing in remote rural regions: A social network approach

International development practitioners are highly optimistic that mobile phones can improve the lives of the inhabitants of remote rural areas in developing countries with an underdeveloped transportation infrastructure. However, the instrumental role of telecommunication is unclear in contexts where residents’ information-sharing networks are strongly geographically constrained by their limited mobility. Empirical research on the interactions between telecommunication and travel in rural areas of developing countries is lacking. This study analyses physical and virtual contact patterns within 1270 instrumental information-sharing relationships reported by the inhabitants of the Pulau Panggung and Sumber Rejo rural subdistricts of Indonesia. In 2013, the authors implemented an exogenous mobility intervention. In 2014, the authors administered a network survey in 16 randomly selected farming groups to map local residents’ egocentric and sociocentric physical and virtual travel networks. By comparing the observed networks with simulated random networks, analysing the relationship characteristics and their history, and performing a regression analysis with fixed effects, the authors examine the complementarity and substitution between telecommunication and travel in the creation and maintenance of social networks. By examining the effects of the exogenous intervention, the authors can explain the mechanisms underlying the uncovered associations. The results suggest path dependency between physical and virtual travel in remote rural areas. The implication for transportation policy is that physical mobility is a precondition for the creation of virtual information-sharing links. Instrumental communication relationships that do not socially require regular physical co-presence can be partially substituted by virtual travel only after virtual links have been created through physical mobility. Therefore, in contrast with general expectations, mobile telephony in remote rural regions is more practical if the transportation infrastructure is adequately developed. The paper concludes with a discussion of the potential contribution of the sociocentric network perspective to transportation research.


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  • Accession Number: 01635507
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Apr 19 2017 4:10PM