Digital Inequality

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    • 00:01


    • 00:09

      DR: JEFFREY LANE: Hello, I'm Jeffrey Lane.I'm a professor in communication at Rutgers Universityand I'm going to talk to you about the relationshipbetween social inequalities and digital media.[Dr. Jeffrey Lane, Assistant Professor]And this is a subject I became increasingly fascinatedby after studying street life in Harlemand I'll talk a little bit about that research,but I want to focus broadly on how scholars

    • 00:30

      DR [continued]: talk about digital inequality.So I'm going to talk to you about that relationshipbetween inequality and digital media in terms of three waysthat scholars understand it.Put simply, we have to understand the relationshipbetween social inequalities and mediabefore we can do anything about it.[Differential access]

    • 00:53

      DR [continued]: So how then do scholars talk about this subject?We sometimes talk about digital inequalityin terms of differential access.In other words, technologies are not evenly distributedacross the population.There are haves and have nots in terms of hardware and softwareand connectivity and several other things.Those with lower socioeconomic status

    • 01:14

      DR [continued]: encounter certain barriers or troubleswhen it comes to technology.The communications scholar Amy Gonzales focuseson mobile phones and she conducted interviewswith residents of poor neighborhoods in New York City.And she found that cell phones are an essential assetfor psychological reassurance, crime prevention, and emergencyhelp.But she found also that the residents she studied often

    • 01:36

      DR [continued]: had broken or disconnected cell phonesand they were engaged in this ongoing challenge of upkeep,something she named technology maintenance.In other words, more affluent people probablydon't have these kinds of troubles-- keeping their phonefunctional and in service.For the poor, there is a great deal of innovationto address these barriers to access.

    • 01:58

      DR [continued]: I want to share with you an excerptfrom my research with teenagers at Harlemthat shows what may go into havinga phone and a connection.Not all teenagers will go with a parent to Verizon or Sprintto get a new phone and to make service arrangements.Let me tell you about Javon this is a fictitious name,I should say.Javon is a teen without steady support from family

    • 02:20

      DR [continued]: or a steady place to stay and one day, he enlisted my helpcutting on a phone.Cutting on a phone was a term I hadn't heard beforeand he used it for the reinstatement of phone service.So in April 2012, I helped Javon cut on a BlackBerry Curve givento him by Teon, one of his friends from 129th Street,

    • 02:41

      DR [continued]: with some expectation of later being paid $20.Before Teon's BlackBerry, Javon had either borrowed or takenwithout permission-- depending on whose story I believe--a phone from Christian in mid-Januaryand he used it until service expired a few weeks later.Javon then went without phone service for most of Februaryand all of March, borrowing phones from several friends

    • 03:04

      DR [continued]: and using Facebook to stay connected as best he could.Now Teon took the SIM card from the BlackBerryto keep for his next phone, so Javonhad to find another SIM card, which he got from Isaiah.Isaiah gifted the SIM card to Javonand the card also happened to be loaded with music.Javon inserted the SIM card and brought the BlackBerry

    • 03:25

      DR [continued]: to a Boost Mobile retailer at oneof the many multipurpose stores on 125th Street.These are stores that compete with Verizon, Sprint,and the other big providers along the same shopping artery.These stores are sometimes called side storesand they sustain a cell phone economysome people don't know about.Inside Fortune Jewelers-- past the displays with Gucci

    • 03:46

      DR [continued]: and Cuban link gold chains and video games for sale--the store's phone specialist charged Javon $10to activate the BlackBerry plus $60for the first month of service.And the phone service person told Javonthat his monthly cost would eventuallygo down to $45 per month if he was timely with payments

    • 04:06

      DR [continued]: for the next 18 months.Now Javon had arrived at the store expectingto pay the advertised $45 rate with money his godfather hadgiven him and a $10 connection fee with moneyI said I would help with him, so we chatted for a momentand I agreed to cover the balance.Javon handed the money and the phone over to the technician.

    • 04:27

      DR [continued]: About five minutes later, the manhanded the phone back to Javon, taking no personal informationwhatsoever.He assigned Javon a new phone numberand started him with service that includedunlimited talk, text, and web.Javon intended to pay his bills in cash at the store."Have a good day," said Javon, who got on his phoneas soon as we exited.

    • 04:49

      DR [continued]: OK, so Jay Vaughn had to rely on the help of fourseparate people to obtain a phone,to compile the necessary hardware,and then to get the service that he needed.With no certainty that a month later hewould have the cash to keep it on and without a timely paymenthistory, he would have to continue to pay morefor his phone service.

    • 05:09

      DR [continued]: So these are concerns and adaptationsto circumstances that don't apply to more affluent teens.Another point about differential accessis that the kinds of internet access onehas has implications for what peoplecan do online and the skills that they acquire.So compare going online on a computer versus on a phone--

    • 05:30

      DR [continued]: phone-based internet access is more widely availablethan ever before and, in many ways,this is a very positive development,given that for many users mobile internet accessrepresents the only way in which they can get online.Of course, some form of internet access is better than none.So there is compelling evidence across a variety of contextsthat mobile internet access provides those

    • 05:51

      DR [continued]: without traditional forms of internet accesswith opportunities to become better integrated into social,economic, and political life.But then there's also a large body of evidencethat tells us that this kind of accessis an inferior form of internet access on a number of fronts--content availability, speed, memory,

    • 06:11

      DR [continued]: interface functionality, and many other thingsthat make this experience lower grade.So to only have mobile internet accesscan be problematic-- there may be implicationsfor one's ability to write and to do researchand even just to use the internet effectively or safely.[Differential uses]

    • 06:34

      DR [continued]: So this brings us back then to a second waythat scholars talk about digital inequality.So I started us out on differential access,now I want to talk about differentialuses of technology.People do different things onlinewith media-- these different sorts of usesmay vary with socioeconomic status,with demographic and cultural differences.

    • 06:56

      DR [continued]: So even with the same access to technology,not everyone develops the same skills, proficiencies,and familiarities.Compared to those with lower socioeconomic status,more affluent people use technologyin ways more often rewarded in school or in the workplace.Now think about for a moment how much easierit would be to write a successful research

    • 07:17

      DR [continued]: paper if you knew how to do researchonline, if you knew where to look onlinefor academic sources, the keywords to search by,and then how to evaluate the material returnedin your search.If you didn't have the skills, youwould surely struggle to produce a quality research paper.So people adopt new technology to their ongoing circumstancesand relationships.

    • 07:38

      DR [continued]: Use depends on the life situationsinto which technology naturally gets introduced.So let's stay then with this example of cell phones.Heather Hurst and Daniel Miller studied cell phone useamong low income Jamaicans.A significant portion of phone activitywent to asking for and receiving moneyfrom relatives and other close social ties,

    • 08:00

      DR [continued]: but also from more recent acquaintances as well.By taking and giving money, the people in the studyboth sustain their existing network and built it out.This phone activity proved essential to the coordinationof financial support needed to cope with poverty.When these scholars then looked at text messages,they also found a special use.

    • 08:22

      DR [continued]: The local service provider introduced a featurenamed Call Me that allowed people running outof money on their accounts to send up to 21 textseach week with a request for a call.This worked like a collect call service--if the recipient of the text placed a call,its cost came out of the caller's account.In the researchers' field work, the vast majority

    • 08:43

      DR [continued]: of text messages were actually Call Me texts.OK, so what people do with technologydepends on their living conditions.[Differential surveillance]OK, I want to now tell you about a third waythat scholars talk about digital inequality, which is in termsof differential surveillance.

    • 09:03

      DR [continued]: By using the internet, mobile phones,and other networked technologies,our communication is subject to surveillanceby law enforcement and other government agencies.But not all populations are subject to the same degreesor forms of surveillance.Members of certain ethnic and/or religious minoritygroups, residents of poor neighborhoods,

    • 09:25

      DR [continued]: and other marginal populations may experience more intensivescrutiny than other people.So rather than talking about access or use,the relationship between social inequality and digital mediamay come down to what people in powerdo with the visibility of marginal groups online.I came to think about this point in my study of teenagers

    • 09:47

      DR [continued]: who hung out in the street in Harlem.To hang out in public, especiallyas a teenager of color in areas with neighborhood violence,is to be subjected to the highest levels of suspicionand surveillance by police.Now because the teenagers on the streetare also connected on social media,this surveillance followed digitallyand I found that the visibility on the street

    • 10:09

      DR [continued]: often got compounded online.So communication on social media offered police and prosecutorsa very powerful way to define, monitor, and prosecuteyouth gangs.What's so powerful about social mediaevidence is that prosecutors can quote defendants directlyfrom their posts and direct messagesand these can be treated as admissions of guilt.

    • 10:32

      DR [continued]: So rather than quoting a police officer or an informant,a prosecutor can say, you said this,you wrote that-- that can be very persuasive.So we can talk about the relationship between inequalityand digital media in terms of howsurveillance gets distributed across the population.Not all communication is subjected to the same scrutiny

    • 10:53

      DR [continued]: or leveraged in the same ways by people in power.It's people already viewed with suspicionthat are watched the closest online.[Conclusion]I've discussed three research threads on digital inequality.This was by no means an exhaustive lookat this area of study, but I hope

    • 11:13

      DR [continued]: it's grounded your interest.And if you're thinking about waysto mitigate digital inequality, you'llwant to consider the complexity of doing so.The provision of new media to under-served populationsmay be a key step, but it's important to thinkabout the broader context into which technologygets introduced.To this end, thinking about different uses of technology

    • 11:34

      DR [continued]: and regimes of surveillance within a given social worldcan help.

Digital Inequality

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Dr. Jeffrey Lane breaks the digital divide down into three categories: differential access, differential uses, and differential surveillance. Socioeconomic groups do not have the same access to digital technology, nor do they use it for the same reasons. Certain groups are also watched far more closely online than others are.

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Digital Inequality

Dr. Jeffrey Lane breaks the digital divide down into three categories: differential access, differential uses, and differential surveillance. Socioeconomic groups do not have the same access to digital technology, nor do they use it for the same reasons. Certain groups are also watched far more closely online than others are.

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