Digital Differences and Inequality

Digital differences refer to the factors which make our use of digital technologies different. As seen in the info graphic below, the factors are split in to macro (institutional) and micro (individual).

digitaldivide

The ‘digital divide’ has been referred to as these macro/micro factors mirrors the social inequality that we see offline, with many of the same vulnerable groups in society not getting the same quality of access/usage of digital technologies.

Digital usage and access has been an issue that the Government has taken interested in, with the Ofcom Connected Nations Report 2017 being used to make them aware of access issues (at least from a technical standpoint). This has led to the Government issuing a press release saying that ‘high-speed internet’ should be a “legal right”.

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Example of Macro/Micro Factors

A study by Davies, Eynon and Wilkin (2017) who tried to set up a scheme giving families with low-economic status access to home broadband access only to find that the families ran in to so many technical problems that weren’t fixed fast enough and teachers that soon lost interest in the scheme. In their conclusions they talk about how these families couldn’t utilise the technologies because they didn’t have the “power of choice” to change providers, demand for better service or change schools that were more adept at utilising technology. This exemplifies the digital divide economically and technically.

My Experiece

Growing up in the South of England and having access to medium-fast speed broadband since I was a child has helped me with my learning/access to information. Being a man, 21 and without any disabilities has meant that I have had an extremely fortunate use of digital technologies. With a Government that wants ‘high-speed’ internet for everyone as is a “legal right” and that also adopts net neutrality. I am extremely lucky to have the web access and digital usage capabilities I do.

Word count: 315

References:

Davies, H., Eynon, R. and Wilkin, S. (2017). Neoliberal gremlins? How a scheme to help disadvantaged young people thrive online fell short of its ambitions. Information, Communication & Society, 20(6), pp.860-875.

Department of Culture, Media and Sport (2017). High speed broadband to become a legal right. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/high-speed-broadband-to-become-a-legal-right [Accessed 25 Feb. 2018].

Ofcom (2017). Connected Nations Report 2017 [online] pp.1-6. Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/108843/summary-report-connected-nations-2017.pdf [Accessed 24 Feb. 2018].

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14 thoughts on “Digital Differences and Inequality

  1. Hi Luke!

    I really enjoyed your blog post, I feel like you gave a very detailed and complex view of the issue of digital inequalities in the U.K., while placing a specific emphasis on factors influencing it.

    This 2015 article outlines the benefits of net neutrality in the context of digital inequality. Recent U.S. decisions will impact the freedom and fair access to resources online that allow low-income families to remain connected. The United Kingdom currently follows the European Union strict regulations on Open Internet Access, but some believe that net neutrality might be overturned when Brexit happens, as discussed here. Taking all the current stats into consideration, how do you think an overturning of the law by the MPs will influence the population? What about the people in Davies, Eynon and Wilkin’s (2017) study that were already having a hard time?

    Iarina

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    • Hi Iarina,

      Thank you! Indeed I have kept up with the net neutrality debate throughout the year and if I had more space within my blog I would have talked about how important it is for equality of access online. I can’t find the source unfortunately now but I remember seeing a news article on the BBC about the UK wanting to keep net neutrality laws within the repeal bill despite coming away from the CJEU. I don’t think the law will be overturned there would be very strict opposition to it. If it did get overturned or amended to change net neutrality I think it would restrict fast-speed access for a lot of people (including those that are in Davies, Eynon and Wilkin’s study) that would go against the Government’s pledge in their press release I mention in my post.

      Luke

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      • Thank you for your reply. I definitely agree and I can only hope that the laws will be kept safe, so that we can continue developing everyone’s rights in the UK to become more and more connected.

        Like

  2. Interesting post, I liked how you were able separate digital divides not just into easily discernible social groups (macro) but also into more complex characteristics such as the role an individual has in society (micro). What might be helpful in order to add to this, would be to explore whether the web reproduces social inequalities through digital divides or whether it acts simply as a mirror of our offline World.

    Sharma and Brooker composed an interesting study on tweets under the #notracist which suggested that the authors of tweets where able to code racist statements hidden behind claims of simply being factually truthful (2016). The findings of the study suggested that online spaces may allow for racist discourses to be held behind a mask of plausible deniability. This in turn suggests that the web may play a role in not simply mirroring existing social inequalities but widening them.

    Reference:

    Sharma, S. and Brooker, P. (2016) ‘#notracist: Exploring racism denial talk on Twitter’ in Daniels, J. et al (Eds) Digital Sociologies
    http://opus.bath.ac.uk/53206/1/Sharma_Brooker_notracist_digital_sociology_preprint.pdf

    Like

    • Hi Ryan,

      I definitely think the Web reflects the offline world and the inequalities people face offline will only transfer to the users online experiences. I would like to have mentioned these things in my blog post – I really suffered the 300 word limit this week. Thanks for the study I will be sure to check it out.

      Luke

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  3. Hi Luke,
    A great post and I liked your categorisation of micro and macro factors affecting our Digital Differences.
    Davies et al. (2017) brings a new argument when we’re discussing Digital Differences – restraints imposed on us due to the hierarchies and systems of governance in organisations. This I see as a macro factor as it affects everyone in the country, but effects are only seen in small groups of people: “the schools narrowed-down their investment in the scheme’s young people to just getting a C grade in Maths” Davies et al. (2017). You also included the Ofcom (2017) Connected Nations Report that has a whole chapter dedicated to mobile data services. Do you think that organisations such as mobile data ISPs are controlling some people in rural areas with a lack of service, especially as only 58% of A & B roads are covered with a data signal (p.17)?
    Adam

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  4. Hi Adam,

    I definitely think that people in rural areas are definitely not getting the same access or “power of choice” to choose certain service providers because they do not have the technical capabilities to reach these people. It means that one or two big ISP’s can control what service the majority of people in rural areas will buy.

    Luke

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Luke –

    Firstly, a great blog. It is really insightful and as has been said in the previous comments, a demarcation of the various scales of digital difference – separating them into micro and macro factors – reinforces how many digital issues are problems-within-problems, affecting the wider scope whilst being affected by them. Your infographics are clear and incredibly useful for establishing your arguments and opinions.

    I wanted to ask a little more about the government’s issuing that ‘high-speed internet’ should be a ‘legal right’. Is this your opinion too? Even the proposal of it suggests that modern life in the United Kingdom hinges on one’s interaction with the web – as legal rights are usually reserved for processes or activities that without, would hinder an individual’s ability to function. What are your thoughts on this? Is the internet something that a modern individual cannot function without?

    Tom

    Like

    • Hi Tom,

      Thank you! I think that ‘high-speed internet’ definitely should be a ‘legal right’ as it will lessen the geographical and economical divide to users in the UK. However I think the way the Government has framed it to be a matter of technical access and not an issue of economics, which is wrong. To really make it a ‘legal right’ ISP’s would have to be told to reduce the price as economic barriers are put in place so that those as seen in Eynon et al (2017) can have access to a decent connection. I definitely think that the sentiment behind calling it a “legal right” for me would mean that the Government take the view that they know how important the internet is for the modern person. I agree with that and I’d argue one step further that without access to a good connection to the internet an individual would be excluded from the modern world and a majority of information, which may only exclusively be reported via the web and internet access.

      Luke

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Luke – I really liked your blog post, and I had much the same comment as Tom above! I don’t want to repeat the question however and I can see that you do think the web should be a right as dictated by Ofcom. I, therefore, would like to ask a little more about your own experiences if I may? I really like your micro vs macro factor analysis so I was just wondering where you felt you fitted on that, and whether there were any factors that affected you? Thanks!

    Like

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