Diversification and Nuanced Inequities in Digital Media Use in the United States

Diversification and Nuanced Inequities in Digital Media Use in the United States

Eliane Rubinstein-Avila (University of Arizona, USA) and Aurora Sartori (University of Arizona, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8310-5.ch022
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Abstract

This chapter explores access to, and engagement with, digital media by United States' (U.S.) by nonmainstream populations. Framing the issue from a sociotechnical standpoint, the authors explore how engagement with digital media is shaped by socioeconomic status (taking into account confounding factors, such as race and ethnicity, and social and geographical ecologies). The authors highlight studies that focus on the robust digital practices with which nonmainstream populations already engage, and to which they contribute. One example is how some black Twitter users engage in signifyin'–a culturally specific linguistic practice—as a means of performing racial identity online. The authors also problematize concepts such as the new digital divide and digital exclusion, and finally, reiterate that a universal roll-out of high speed broadband alone will not necessarily lead to further engagement with digital media for ALL populations. In fact, the authors claim that providing more or faster access is likely not enough to prevent the entrenchment of a global digital underclass.
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What Is The Succinct Overview Of The Research?

Nonmainstream Populations Access to (ICT): An Incidental Predecessor to Digital Media

In the early 2000s the phrase ‘digital divide’ referred to a binary notion of access, or lack of access, that various demographic groups had to the Internet (Rubinstein-Avila, 2011). However, as access, per se, has become less of an issue, especially compared to the issue of speed, software, and advanced multiliteracies, the term ‘digital divide’ has become more nuanced. Although scholars from different disciplines have contributed to our understanding of the ways in which digital media is used across race/ethnic groups, and especially socioeconomic lines, ICT access and engagement among the most vulnerable groups (e.g., the poor, elderly, and disabled) have by no means been resolved.

Because the use of digital media is reliant upon ICT, and because such a large portion of the extant research focuses on the digital divide, we find it is essential to explore ICT use among nonmainstream populations as a foreground into a more detailed discussion about the ways in which nonmainstream populations are using digital media. Therefore, in this section, we explore the digital divide as it is conceptualized both in terms of access to the Internet in general, and to broadband and mobile technology specifically. After presenting the demographic trends, we reflect on the limitations of quantitative results that are not contextualized in social theory, and attempt to frame the issue from a sociotechnical standpoint, exploring how engagement with ICT and digital media is shaped by socioeconomic status in the U.S. (with obvious confounding factors, such as race and ethnicity).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Homophily: The idea that similarity leads to connectivity. In other words, the tendency of individuals to bond with each other who are similar in regards to social factors such as: age, class, ethnicity, gender, and/or organizational roles.

Digital Underclass: Vulnerable populations who are infrequent (or non) Internet users. Despite improvement in infrastructure policy and greater access, digital inclusion is not likely to include all groups, and even create an additional barrier to social mobility.

‘Second’ Digital Divide: White the initial (first) digital divide revealed a gap between the “haves and the have nots” (those who had access to Internet connectivity and those who did not, the ‘second’ reveals a gap between those with more or less ICT skills.

Social Proprioception: Awareness of the spatial positioning of a group in order to organize/coordinate themselves.

Nonmainstream Populations: Language or ethnic groups that are not a part of the white, abled, middle class population in power.

New Media Ecology: The study of complex communication technologies and systems as cultural environments.

Cell-Mostly Users: Internet users who connect primarily or only through their cellphones. Cell-mostly users tend to be younger and low-income.

Racialized (Online) Identities: Are often conveyed actively by members of minoritized groups, from a position of social and political resistance to their marginalization by mainstream society.

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