Internet use among the poor: it's not funny and it doesn't mitigate inequalities

Robinson, L. (2009). A taste for the necessary. A Bourdieuian approach to digital inequality Information, Communication & Society, 12 (4), 488-507 DOI: 10.1080/13691180902857678

The “Diversity” issue of the journal Information, Communication and Society is out and it’s entirely devoted to the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association (CITASA). Laura Robinson’s remarkable article explores digital inequality among economically disadvantaged US youth. Her study focuses on everyday technological processes, by situating information seeking and media use within respondents’ larger social networks and access to resources. Unsurprisingly socioeconomic status does matter: it turns out rich kids use the Web for fun and recreation, poor kids are less autonomous and less playful. The empowering effect that is customarily ascribed to the Web has thus to be weighed with respect to class origin and “information habitus” – that differ from advantaged to less advantaged groups.

Common sense tends to see American teenagers as uniformly “wired”. That is because Internet penetration rate in North America is among the highest in the world (73.1% in Dec 2008 according to Internet World Stats). In reality, Robinson maintains, segments of the youth population lack high quality, high autonomy Internet access. She adopts a “holistic” (read: both qualitative and quantitative) approach to data collection in order to situate new media use within respondents’ (who are economically disadvantaged teenagers from a California high school) larger lifeworlds and examine the effects of digital inequality. (more…)