Sunday, July 13, 2008

Digital divide - first thoughts

I got a bit annoyed yesterday evening when I noticed a question I'd raised on the 'live blog' for Birmingham's Big debate had been used in the context of a blog posting about some folks (especially older folks) not having mobile phones, in the context of the digital divide. Anyway once I got over my annoyance it was actually quite useful for me to get to grips with trying to articulate something about the digital divide. Here was my response to the posting:

I must have missed this one but as Technorati picked up your link to my blog and your quoting me I feel obliged to respond. The question I raised was in the context of the debate. Like you, my question was based on anecdotal evidence and intended to stimulate the debate a bit. Perhaps with all of this we each bring with us different ideas and perceptions about who we mean when we talk about the digital divide.

For me I guess it is born out of research work I've been involved in, looking at social inclusion in the creative industries - the digital divide often being cited as an issue or major contributor to exclusion. So perhaps I am/was thinking of a younger demographic than you or at least those of working age.

My point I suppose was that as mobile technologies become more sophisticated, more accessible and the various media converge, then the digital divide might not be as vast as we perceive. I think I was responding to an assumption often made that folks need to be sat at an expensive PC to get internet access, when in fact most mobile phones and increasingly TV's can get internet or digital services. My understanding is that approx 45 million mobile phones are in use in the UK belonging to something like 85% of UK households (not my stats from various online sources).

I think there are issues for example: if a job application form is only made available online, as I believe some local authority cleaning jobs are, then this is an obvious issue as a regular mobile phone would not be too handy in this situation. I guess my point is that a lot of assumptions are made about the digital divide and perhaps we need to be a little clearer about who we mean. Although I have worked with a lot of folks who would identify themselves as non-techy or not computer literate I also see them doing all sorts of sophisticated things with their mobile phones and accessing all sorts of digital services.
Incidentally both my parents and even my 91 year old Grandmother are or have been mobile phone owners.

Having slept on it I think what I was trying to say is a lot of this stuff is about individual perception and confidence, not necessarily about availability and as media converges, mobile phones and TV's become more sophisticated (and with them users) then the divide narrows. Of course this is not my specific area of expertise but certainly I think it is an area which will effect my own research - so thought on this all very welcome.

I should say that there is a disclaimer here: most of my experience related here is from a UK and urban perspective.

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