Mobile Technologies and the Digital Divide

As you may remember from Hulu, Netflix, and Displacement Effects, I have a bit of an obsession with the ability of online video to displace traditional television viewing. The question of whether or not new media will replace traditional media is one that has been under discussion for some time now, however, the answer still eludes us. As planned, I further developed this line of thought into a research proposal for my Theories of Mass Communication course last semester. Considering that watching television online is a relatively new act, I didn’t expect to find much research in this area and, unfortunately, my expectations were met. Long story short, the paper ended up not being as exciting as I had hoped. On the bright side, my extensive research ended up giving rise to an equally interesting yet completely different inquiry – the behavior of mobile communities.

But, how did I go from displacement effects of new media to uses and gratifications of mobile technologies? It was pretty simple really. The amount of research available on new media is still pretty limited, so there is a lot of overlap. Whether you’re interested in uses and gratifications for television viewers or Internet users, mobile technologies can play a role in both.

At any rate, the research I found on mobile communities ended up being more intriguing than any of the recent research on displacement effects. Specifically, my research led me to study after study confirming that minorities are the dominant users of advanced mobile functions including accessing the Internet, sharing videos, using social media and so on. This was surprising news to me – and apparently many others in my program – considering the costs that come along with smart phone ownership.

So, it got me thinking. How can mobile technologies be used to narrow the digital divide? Or, better yet, are they already being used? Specifically, my research proposal set out to establish the mobile phone as a significant source of information-seeking online for persons of lower socioeconomic status (SES). In other words, are people with low SES using their mobile phones only for entertainment-seeking? Or do they use their mobile device as a means for knowledge growth and information acquisition?

Though currently just a research proposal and not a research study, I believe my inquiry is important for any future policy development and regulation that is placed on the mobile community – specifically any future legislation that develops over the debate for net neutrality. As I concluded in my paper:

“Advanced mobile technologies have become as prevalent among minorities and persons of low socioeconomic status as television has, which is certainly evidence of their influence – although arguably a better portal for information-seeking, the computer cannot say the same. This being the case, it is important to fully consider the implications of future policy decisions on persons of varying cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in an attempt to improve the existing digital divide and knowledge gap in America.”

As someone who comes from a family of lower socioeconomic status, this is an issue that is quite close to my heart. I have witnessed the perpetuation of the digital divide for as long as I can remember and I think it’s about time that we become accountable for the decisions that contribute to it.

Any thoughts?

One Thought

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