Is the Digital Divide Headed in the Right Direction?

There have been reports recently touting the growth in the use of the mobile web by African Americans and English–speaking Latinos. Research by Pew Internet & American Life Project found African Americans and English-speaking Latinos continue to be among the most active users of the mobile web. About 64 percent of African Americans access the Internet from a laptop or mobile phone, a seven-point increase in just one year.

Cell phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites (87 percent vs. 80 percent) and minority cell phone owners take advantage of a much greater range of features compared with white users. (You can read the report here.) Many have eluded that this shows the digital divide is closing. I’m not so sure I can start celebrating yet. Don’t get me wrong I am always happy to see increased usage of technologies by minorities but at the same time, I always push to make sure that any group understands the real ways that access to Internet can benefit them. Are they checking for vital health care info they otherwise had no access to or are they checking the latest celebrity gossip. Did they gain access to all the free education information available or download some music?

Yes, the Internet is a great new medium for entertainment but in order it to truly empower us and for the digital divide to truly close, it has to be a means of improving and equalizing access to education, health, and career advancement. Don’t let reports like this give you a false sense of satisfaction. We must continue to educate and push for adoption. And once we reach those goals we then must push for people to use this access to really improve their lives and the lives of the people around them. So as we LOL, ROFL, OMG and BRB to our friends. Let’s also push people for the right level of awareness of what’s available to them so they can GTD in the right areas.



murray says:

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mikeydigital says:

@Wm_Tucker – I agree with you 150%..

Wm_Tucker says:

“And once we reach those goals we then must push for people to use this access to really improve their lives and the lives of the people around them.”

It's therefore incumbent upon those of us who are the developers, programmers, entrepreneurs, etc., to develop computing and communications technologies that innovate the way we educate, work, trade, socialize, and so forth. Collectively, we've done a poor job in this aspect of technology.

rmcaldwell says:

Hey sweetie pie! Love your comment. I remember when I visited your university and had a conversation with one of the deans about the lack of hardware available on-campus and the curriculum. Cos put a lot of money into that one facility with the goal of creating competitive students. Not to say it can't happen but it can.

MBA.Block says:

Agreed. I was just talking to Herman last night about the fact that our youth do not envision themselves with the tools to become “techies” and, on the other end of the coin, nor do most VCs.

navarrowwright says:

I totally agree. I've said for some time now that part of the issue is the knowledge about what is out there and how to use it is evident among black and hispanic youth. They just don't see enough examples to figure out how to gain the skills or even to know how important they are. You just gave me and idea for another post.

Kellea Tibbs says:

Great and please keep doing research on this topic. I work in higher ed at an HBCU and the digital divide is definitely evident. Something I also notice that's interesting, is not only the digital divide as it pertains to the hardware, but also as it pertains to digital “knowledge” like the basic use of social media, blogging, online job search tools, etc., all things that I expect students, who are way younger than me, to know about, and I expect them to know more than me, but often, I'm teaching them about these new tools, which leads me to wonder what's happening in the classroom, because I'm not in the classroom, I'm in administration.

mikeydigital says:

Great point @Rahsheen about the SMS/Voice..

Rahsheen says:

Great points, Navarrow. Definitely something I thought about when I saw their previous study. I agree that the one thing we can take from this is that minorities probably have a cell phone. Do they have a data plan? Maybe not. I do tech for a living and just got a data plan on my phone last month.

This is also one of the reasons why I think we shouldn't overlook supporting SMS/Voice where possible to reach a more diverse audience.

mikeydigital says:

I agree with @Terrance.. Also, great post Navarrow.. I couldn't agree more.. we shouldn't get false sense of satisfaction..

essentially the report Pew just released is basically the same conclusion for the same report that they released either last year or earlier this year (I believe it is the former).. Personally I wish they would go a little deeper..

Perhaps they could juxtapose blacks and Latinos who access the internet via their mobile phone versus those same blacks and Latinos who have a mobile phone of some sort and want to access the internet, but can't afford the data plan, which is what some of the youth we work with here in Chicago have told me and my team.

Mike Lang
Noire Digerati

To add and to steal a comment from a colleague “The digital divide won't begin to close until minorites shift from primarily media consumers to media creators.”

One thing I find encouraging about the new research on “minority” mobile usage is that it offers mission-driven public media a clearer sense of direction as they reach out to engage and serve diverse Americans.
Julie Drizin

Damion White says:

Great post Navarrow! This dynamic has been front of mind for me since my undergraduate thesis. Is our 'culture' of adoption, with respect to technologies, motivated in ways “best” for us? Or, is it driven by the 'pop-culture-machine' (where most times the less intelligent something is the better/more appealing it becomes), and by design giving us a false sense of hope and accomplishment like so many other institutionalized massively consumed entities.

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