That Thing in Your Pocket Is Not a Computer
Smartphones are great. I love my smartphone. I use to it to email, tweet, photograph, text, map, like, calendar, draw, comment, game, read, bank, and sometimes even talk.
But, sorry, my smartphone is no substitute for my laptop computer. It’s not. It just isn’t.
I can’t use it to apply for a job, or get into college, or write a report, or create a spreadsheet, or put together a presentation, or do my taxes, or format this blog entry or complete any number of tasks that facilitate my membership in the middle class in the early part of the 21st century.
Which is why I get slightly annoyed when I read a headline like the following:
“Smartphones Bridge Digital Divide”
According to a recent report by The Pew Internet and American Life Project, demographic groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide in basic internet access are using wireless connections and mobile devices to go online. In fact, African American and English-speaking Latinos are as likely as whites to own any sort of mobile phone, and are more likely to use their phones for a wider range of activities.
We at ZeroDivide love the fact that more people are getting smartphones and using them for more things. We think mobile phones, smartphones, and tablets are awesome sauce.
However, just because you're sending and receiving digital stuff over a phone doesn’t mean that you've crossed the digital divide. Even though a certain gadget has hopped over the divide, the essence of the divide can remain. What's important is meaningful technology adoption that enables you to fully participate in our digital society.
On the front cover of their report, Pew says as much: “While increased internet adoption and the rise of mobile connectivity have reduced many gaps in technology access over the past decade, for some groups digital disparities still remain.”
Smartphones could actually be a red herring that makes it appear as though we’re closing the digital divide, when in fact we’re exacerbating it. Computers for affluent, educated Whites. Phones for low-income, less educated People of Color.
At ZeroDivide, we view the digital divide as the technological manifestation of other divides - racial, cultural, educational, geographic, and socio-economic - which is why we’re all about technology as a means toward social good and not an end. Every day, we work with amazing organizations that are using technology to transform their communities. Technology can be a powerful tool for improving job readiness, educational attainment, civic participation, and community health.
But you need the right tool for the right job. More often than not, that tool is a computer with broadband access. And more often than not, historically disenfranchised communities remain digitally disenfranchised. People with incomes under $30,000, people with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, People of Color, people without a high school education, and people who live in rural areas are significantly less likely to own a laptop or desktop computer, have broadband access at home, or use the Internet.
Sadly, the digital divide is very much alive and well. Smartphones or no smartphones.