Monday, November 29, 2010

Yup, there's still a digital divide

I was just combing through a new report on Internet usage by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Honestly, I wasn't all that surprised by the findings, but wanted to recount a couple of the major ones, especially those that distinguish those in the highest of the high income bracket, with more than $150,000 in annual income.

First a couple of the basic data, which were gleaned from three telephone surveys conducted by the organization over the past year. The first set of data comes from a phone survey of 2,259 adults early in 2010. The second comes from almost the same number of interviews in the May timeframe, and the most recent data comes form a sample of 3,001 adults in August/September of 2010. Each of the data sets has some margin of error, which you can read about at the link I've provided. Here are a couple of the high-level revelations, which probably won't shock:

  • A huge majority (95 percent) of households with more than $75,000 in annual income report that they use the Internet at least occasionally, compared with 70 percent of those in households with less than $75,000
  • Almost ALL of the respondents (regardless of their income level) use mobile phones; the biggest exception is adults with less than $30,000 in annual income, where only 75 percent use mobile phones 

Both those numbers were taken from the August/September poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points. I like the mobile numbers, but sometimes wonder how people without mobile phones feel about the vanishing of public telephones from streetcorners, supermarkets and other neighborhood gathering places.

I'm not so worried about the richest among us. Pew Internet reports that roughly 150 of those surveyed in August/September 2010 earned more than $150,000 and, there, the digital divide became more pronounced. In fact, Pew says technology "saturates" the lives of these affluent Americans. Here are three examples:

  • 96 percent of them use e-mail, compared with 66 percent of all other income groups
  • 96 percent of them access the Internet, compared with 71 percent of all other income groups
  • And, 43 percent of them use video chat technologies, compared with 21 percent all other income groups (my theory on why it is less is because there have to be at least TWO people with a video-capable end-point to carry this off)

So, as our society debates how to fix things that are profoundly flawed in this nation, we need to remember that technology isn't always going to be the answer. How can we be proposing things like more cyberlearning when at least 36 percent of the households with an income of between $30,000 and $49,999 don't have broadband Internet? Time for a bit of a reality check.