The data that serve as the basis for my analyses in this study were collected using three main methods: 1) I interviewed a range of individuals who were intimately involved with the processes described in the course of this work; 2) I searched for and collected various types of written documents concerning the arrival of the Internet to Israel, the formulation of government policy, and so on; and 3) I amassed newspaper clippings referring to the Internet from the years included in this study.
Denzin has argued that “no single method can ever completely capture all the relevant features” of reality (Denzin, 1989, p. 13). As a result, he says, “sociologists must learn to employ multiple methods in the analysis of the same empirical events. This is termed triangulation” (p. 13). “The sociologist”, he argues, “should examine a problem from as many methodological perspectives as possible” (p. 234). In the current study, the various types of data collected about the Internet in Israel over the ten or so years from the mid-80s to the mid-90s reflect my endeavors to ensure that the narrative told is as full and accurate as possible. Beyond this, however, the various methods also reflect the theoretical concerns of the various chapters of this study, acknowledging that different theoretical questions will require different data to be collected and analyzed. The following is a description of these methods.
Insofar as a major aim of the interviews I conducted with the people central to the processes that stand at the heart of this study was to gather information about them, one might describe what I was doing as oral history, or oral data collection, as Louis Starr suggests we should call it:
Oral history is primary source material obtained by recording the spoken words–generally by means of planned, tape-recorded interviews–of persons deemed to harbor hitherto unavailable information worth preserving … It can convey personality, explain motivation, reveal inner thoughts and perceptions–serving scholars in much the same way as private letters and diaries (L. Starr, 1996, p. 40).
This quite general definition covers the two main reasons I had for wishing to conduct interviews. Firstly, I wanted information that was not available from other sources. While various people have published timelines (Nussbacher, 2006), or written newspaper articles on the development of the Israeli hi-tech sector (such as Globes Online, 2000), only one piece of academic research has been conducted on the arrival of the Internet to Israel (Ein-Dor, Goodman, & Wolcott, 1999). Much of the story, therefore, has not been committed to paper by researchers. While government documents (e.g., Ministry of Communications, 2001) and reports (such as Rahav, 1998) contain much useful information, and are indeed essential reading, interviews with significant figures involved in the introduction of the Internet to Israel supplement them and add information that the former might lack. Moreover, written documents tend to reflect the views, however “objective”, of a single author, whereas by interviewing a number of people I was able to gain a broader set of perspectives on the processes at hand.
The second main reason for conducting interviews lies in my interest in matters beyond the historical record. I did not only want to know what had happened, but I also wanted to know what the people who had been involved thought about what had happened. That is, I wanted to gauge their attitudes and values. In certain cases, I also wanted to gain an understanding of their habitus.
To this extent, my use of the method of “oral data collection” straddles current debates among oral historians. These can be seen in David Dunaway’s historiography of oral history. The first generation of oral historians “conceived of oral history as a means to collect otherwise unwritten recollections of prominent individuals” (Dunaway, 1996, p. 8). The second generation, comprised notably of “educators, feminists, and activists”, saw it as its mission “to describe and empower the nonliterate and the historically disenfranchised” (ibid.), such as members of minority groups excluded from mainstream historical accounts. The third generation started to question the very practice of oral history, in particular asking whether the interview represents the time being discussed in the interview, or the time in which the interview takes place. These concerns refer to the relationship between interviewer and interviewee and the way that influences the oral data collected, as well as the fact that the respondent has had time to reflect over the events of the past and place them in an interpretive context that would not have been available to him or her at the time they occurred.
My use of this method in the current study draws from the first and third generations of oral history. As mentioned, a major motivation in conducting interviews was to enable me to reconstruct the events surrounding the entrance of the Internet to Israel. Accordingly, while my interviewees could not be described as “prominent” individuals in the sense that a prime minister or leading cultural figure might be so described, they were important in the field under study. They were decision makers and pioneers in the Israeli Internet, founders of ISPs, and advisors to governmental committees. At the same time my interviews consciously play on the tension highlighted by third generation oral historians, and indeed use this tension as a source of further data. In other words, as shown in Chapters 3 and 4, the ways that my interviewees see the arrival of the Internet in Israel from their perspective today enable me to enquire into those attitudes. Specifically, I can then ask why one group of people describes the past in one way, while another describes it quite differently, linking their various descriptions to their social location.
The interviews, then, are both focused on the historical record, as well as on the way that the respondents’ cultural location influences their account of it. As such, one might call them semi-anthropological. As Dunaway explains,
[t]he anthropologist records interviews not for historical fact but rather to learn the structure and variety of a society or culture, as manifested by a representative individual’s world view, cultural traits, and traditions. Thus the ethnographic interview provides insights into individuals not as historical eyewitnesses but as culture- or tradition-bearers (Dunaway, 1996, p. 10).
The anthropologist (or indeed sociologist), therefore, is not interested in interviewing this or that specific individual. There is an assumption that if enough people are interviewed, the cultural structures of society will reveal themselves. This is clearly not the case in the current study: I sought out certain individuals to interview precisely because of their role in a historical process. However, for some of the interviewees, and for parts of my interviews with them, I did treat them as representative of certain cultural sectors of society. For this reason, my interviews included questions on cultural taste as part of an effort to describe their habitus. Further, my analysis in Chapter 4 is quite dependent on this approach to my interviewees; namely, seeing them not only as “historical eyewitnesses”, but also as bearers of a certain culture.
As is frequently pointed out by oral historians, the data collected orally during interviews must clearly be subjected to careful scrutiny. Hoffman (1996) argues that we should judge interviews and respondents according to their reliability and validity. An interviewee is reliable if he tells the same story twice; in other words, if he is consistent with himself. Validity refers to whether the things he says accord with other sources of knowledge, themselves held to be valid (such as written primary materials). As I interviewed each interviewee only once, I cannot check for their reliability in this sense. However, the validity of their accounts can be, and indeed was, checked against other records (once more, triangulation, though in a slightly different sense from that intended by Denzin). An interviewee with suspect validity, adds Hoffman, may be considered less reliable as well. One interviewee of mine demonstrated this quite clearly. This interviewee was quite far out with his claims of being the first ISP to be given a license, and the years he gave were patently inaccurate. Even at the time of interview it was clear that he was trying to impress me, with mentions of the size of his house thrown in for good measure; this interviewee, then, offers a less than fully valid account of the times.
While reliability and validity are crucial when assessing the contribution of interviews to the historical record, these considerations are, of course, less relevant when it comes to analyzing the values and attitudes expressed by the respondents. In this regard, reliability and validity are not a factor. Indeed, interviewees’ interpretations of reality, and less the “reality” itself, are central here. This is not to say that I did not bring “reality” into this kind of analysis–for instance, respondents’ complaints that things were moving very slowly in Israel can be shown to be unreasonable by comparing matters in Israel with other countries. The question then becomes, why were these particular people making those complaints? This way, we learn both about the respondents themselves and the contexts in which they were operating. It is at this point that oral history ceases to be a primary record of history, and becomes part of the history itself. The interview is not only a technique for gaining data and knowledge about a certain period in time, it is also a document that itself requires explanation: why do the interviewees talk like this? How are we to understand their rhetoric?
Beyond the issue of reliability and validity, there are a host of other considerations to be borne in mind when conducting oral history. These are summed up tidily by one-time president of the Oral History Association, Donald Ritchie:
Are these creditable witnesses? Were they in a position to experience events first-hand, or are they simply passing along second-hand information? What biases might have shaped their original perceptions? Have interviewees forgotten much of their past because it was no longer important to them or because the events were so routine that they were simply not memorable? How differently do interviewees feel now than they did at the time the original events took place? What subsequent incidents might have caused them to rethink and reinterpret their past? How closely does their testimony agree with other documentary evidence from the period […] ? (Ritchie, 1994, p. viii).
I interviewed 23 people in all. 13 of these were from the ISP industry. Ten of them had set up ISPs and served as the CEO of their own company. The other three interviewees from the ISP industry had held very senior positions in ISPs that they themselves did not found or run. I reached these individuals by email and phone through various listings of Israel’s ISPs on governmental and commercial sites. All immediately agreed to be interviewed.
Three of the interviewees were former employees at the Ministry of Communications. One had been Chief Scientist, and the other two had been Directors General of the Ministry. All had been deeply involved in the regulatory side of bringing the Internet to Israel. I also interviewed four key figures from the Israel Internet Association (ISOC-IL), three of whom had been key actors in the early diffusion of the Internet to Israel in the 1980s. In addition, I interviewed a former employee of the Hebrew University’s computing department, who had been responsible for putting up Israel’s first website, and two experts on the issue of presenting the Hebrew the language on the Internet. One is a freelance computing consultant, and the other an employee of IBM in Israel.
Of course, not all research projects run perfectly smoothly, and the interview process was not always perfect. One interviewee, for instance, simply replied with one word answers and steadfastly refused to enter into a discussion with me about the possible social effects of the Internet–an issue that everyone might be expected to have an opinion on, not least someone deeply involved in the industry. At the beginning of another interview, for which I had undertaken a long drive to the north of the country, the interviewee informed me that instead of the hour which he had promised me, we only had 20 minutes in which to talk.
There were also people whom I wished to interview but could not. Repeated efforts to make contact with MK Michael Eitan, perhaps the Member of Knesset most strongly identified with promoting the Internet in Israel, were all unsuccessful. A former chairman of the Israeli Internet Association told me he was too busy, as did the CEO of one of the newer, large ISPs. In addition, there were a couple of owners of early ISPs whom I was unable to track down. Other ISPs owners, who had known these people ten or fifteen years ago, were also unable to help me locate them. A couple of them thought that one early ISP owner was now living in the United States, but could be no more specific than that.
The interviews themselves were semi-structured (see, Fontana & Frey, 1994). I had prepared a basic questionnaire sheet (see Appendix 1 for an example) which covered the areas I wished to discuss in the interview. Prior to each interview, though, I would make some adaptations to it based on who I was about to meet. Some questions were not relevant to all interviewees, and certain interviewees had held specific positions in the field under study that called for a particular set of questions.
In most cases, the issues discussed followed the order I had laid out in the questionnaire. However, I gave interviewees free rein to lead the interview in directions that they thought were relevant and interesting. For some interviewees, merely being presented with a basic description of my research was enough to launch them on extremely lengthy monologues, as they recounted their place in the history of the Israeli Internet in great detail. Others answered my questions much more tersely.
Nearly all interviews were conducted in the interviewees’ places of work, apart from a few which were conducted either at their home or in a cafe’. All interviews were tape recorded, and all but three were transcribed. In addition, I conducted correspondence by email with a small number of additional people in order to clarify certain minor points of fact.
As mentioned above, the primary aim of the interviews was to elicit information on this historical development of the Internet in Israel. In this sense, my main interest was in what the interviewees were telling me. However, at certain points in the study I take a particular interest in how they were talking to me. The differentiation between the what and the how is always artificial; each one is constituted by the other. For the sake of analysis, however, one needs to analytically bracket them, to use Gubrium and Holstein’s term. Analytic bracketing, they say, does not dissolve the tie between the what and the how. Instead, “[i]t merely suspends attention to selected phenomena, for the time being, in order to concentrate on other phenomena” (Gubrium & Holstein, 1997, p. 120). In this way, at some places my focus is on the information imparted during interview (such as Chapters 3 and 6), while at other places I am more interested in how this information is imparted, in which emotions enter into the interviewees’ representation of reality (mainly Chapters 4 and 5).
Different kinds of documents were used in the collection of data for this study. These documents included reports by ministries and governmental committees, laws, government-issued ISP licenses, non-academic research reports, personal, corporate, and public websites (especially that of the Ministry of Communications), and other documents placed in the public domain.
These documents played a number of roles. First, they provided me with background information on the field of study. Given the lack of academic research on the early years of the Internet in Israel, government documents or the personal websites of relevant people offered rich sources of background material.
Second, throughout the study I was able to cross reference information told to me by interviewees with data contained in other sources. This is not to say that the written word always reigned supreme over interviewees’ recollections, but at least where the two concurred I could be confident enough that both sources were reliable.
Third, at certain junctures during the study, written documents provide a voice that counters that of some of my interviewees. Although I did interview a number of representatives from the Ministry of Communications, reports issued by the Ministry or its various committees can be treated as a kind of “institutional voice”. This voice is valuable because, as I show in Chapter 4, a number of interviewees confronted and argued with it as they jostled for position within the newly emerging field of Internet provision.
Governmental documents were easily accessed through the Ministry of Communication’s website, which has a section including relevant legislation, another that contains policy statements and committee reports, and so on. Interviewees directed me to other documents, sometimes including those they themselves had published, either in print or on the Internet. Other sources were found by conducting searches on the Internet.
Some texts are obviously aimed at providing the interested reader with information regarding the formation of the Internet in Israel, for instance, Hank Nussbacher’s timeline (Nussbacher, 2006), which was adopted almost in its entirety by Ein-Dor et al. (Ein-Dor et al., 1999) in their report on the diffusion of the Israeli Internet. Similarly, some documents open with a brief historical survey before delving into their particular matter. For example, the website of the Inter-University Computation Center has a section that describes MACHBA (the IUCC’s Hebrew acronym) and its activities. This section has a brief paragraph on the organization’s communications connections with other bodies overseas (such as a reference to the international link to the European EARN network that was made in 1984). This kind of paragraph contained information that provided me with leads to follow as I slowly built a picture of the development of the Israeli Internet.
Other documents, however, provide this information in a more roundabout way. For instance, certain documents were written to explain to the potential user the state of play at the time they were written. An example of this is a document written by Dudu Rashty, who worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Computation Center in the mid-90s. In August 1994 he wrote a file entitled “Online WWW help — FAQ” which explains to the public how to use the “Hebrew University Information System”, answering questions such as “What is The Hebrew University Information System?”, and “What type of clients exist for the WWW?”. Reading such documents provides one with a snapshot of the state of affairs at a given time (the version of Rashty’s file that I found had last been updated in October 1995. See Rashty, 1995). A similar document was produced by MACHBA in 1997 (MACHBA, 1997). From this one is able to deduce the size and scope of the Internet, the kinds of uses people were putting it to, and the amount and types of data that were available at that particular point in time.
Another source of information was reports written by non-Israeli agencies on the state of the telecommunications industry in Israel, usually for the benefit of the business community and those considering investing in the country. For instance, the European Survey of Information Society (ESIS) would publish regular reports on “Regulatory developments” in many countries, among them Israel. These reports focused on liberalization and increased competition in the range of communications sectors (such as cable and satellite television, cellular telephony), including the Internet.
A further source of background information, and the provider of a significant part of the data upon which Chapter 5 is based, was newspaper articles on the Internet as it appeared and developed in Israel. I found over one hundred such articles in Israel’s three main newspapers–Ha’aretz, Yedioth Ahronoth, and Maariv–for the period under study.
These articles tended to fall into three main categories. First, there were articles that dryly reported a piece of news: an MoC decision, for instance, or a change in the tariffs charged by Bezeq. Second, there were longer articles aimed at introducing the public to the Internet, or the “Information Superhighway”, as it was known in the early days (in Hebrew, autostradat ha’meyda). These articles would explain what one would need in order to get connected, and what one might expect to find on the Internet once hooked up. Articles such as these might include a box on the various ISPs through which one could connect to the Internet, which provided another source of information regarding the dates various companies were open or, alternatively, had closed down (given that at least one ISP owner gave me incorrect data in interview). Third, there was a category of articles that were opinion pieces about the state of the Internet in Israel, usually criticizing the MoC for being slow, or attacking Bezeq for monopolistic practices. These are discussed at some length in Chapter 5, when I discuss the various values associated with the Internet by members of the ISP industry and the press, among others.
Articles were located in two main ways. The first was by searching the newspapers’ electronic archives. I searched these using a variety of words, such as “Internet”, “information superhighway”, “networks”, and even “computers”. The second method was to physically browse through copies of the newspapers from specific periods of time, such as the two or three days after an important event–the decision to allow the general public to connect to the Internet, for example.
It is possible that there are articles that slipped through my net and remained undetected, though even if there are there would not have been very many of them. I considered the possibility of scanning each newspaper for a certain set of predefined days or weeks per year. However, given that my searches of their archives proved fruitful, and given that my searches included such a general word as “computer”, I felt this method did not offer any advantages over the archival keyword search described above. Moreover, I found enough articles from which to draw out the themes discussed in Chapter 5, and it is most likely that any further articles I might have found would not have significantly changed my analysis, but would rather have found themselves aligned with one of the themes. In other words, even if there are articles on the early Israeli Internet that I did not locate, I am confident that the articles that I did find are thematically exhaustive. This contention is upheld by the theoretical uses to which I put the articles in Chapter 5.