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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Goodbye, Digital Divide

With all the bad news in the world, it’s good to know that one problem of concern to some librarians is solved. At least I assume it’s a problem of concern to librarians, because I found the article announcing the solution at LIS News.

The good news? The digital divide is no more. According to this article, smartphones have bridged that divide. We can now breathe easy about the whole digital divide problem.

The reasoning of the article is impeccable. For example: “While personal computers were disproportionally [sic] used by the rich, the white and the male, smartphones are more likely to be used by Blacks and Hispanics than Whites, and by girls as equally as boys.”

So because Whites (42%) trail Blacks (47%)  and Hispanics (49%) by single digit percentages, the digital divide has been bridged. Somehow I can’t help but notice that none of those figures is over 50%, which means more than half of each race/ethnicity doesn’t have a smartphone.

If PCs are the domain of rich, white males, then presumably a lot of those people without smartphones also don’t have PCs. Which side of the divide are they on? I mean, if there were a divide, which there’s not now. I’m confused.

Those concerned with the digital divide are to take comfort in the racial/ethnic disparity, because there are other changes that “may, in fact, disproportionately [sic] favor minorities. A separate Pew study last year revealed that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to use their mobile devices  for a wider range of activities than do Whites.”

Those Blacks and Hispanics are sure clever to exploit their mobile devices to their fullest. Or maybe, and here I’m just guessing, maybe they have to use their mobile devices for a wider range of activities because they don’t have a choice. They can’t apply for jobs or write school essays on their PCs, because the only device they can afford is the smartphone, except for the half that can’t, but to hell with them because they’re very inconvenient for this narrative.

For anyone concerned that smartphones have a limited range of productivity, just dismiss your concerns as “elitist,” the favorite go-to criticism for people without standards.

“Further, some have called the notion that smartphones are not designed for ‘real work’  an elitist view,” because checking Facebook is just as important for your work productivity as writing programs and manipulating spreadsheets. Although people without PCs are unlikely to be doing that sort of work anyway, so who cares, right?

This is in a brief section with the heading, “The Smartphone is the Computer.” Uh huh. I’m betting that guy didn’t write his column on a smartphone.

Finally, we’re assured that only one gap remains: the income gap. And all along I was under the apparently mistaken impression that the income gap was the only one that ever mattered in the first place. How naive of me.

Here’s where we see some statistically significant numbers. Likelihood of owning a smartphone with a household income of less than $30K: 38%. More than $75K: 68%. Plus I’m assuming that many of those households with income over $75K also have access to multiple computers.

So 62% of households with incomes below $30K have no smartphones, and quite likely don’t have computers either, and if they do have computers they probably don’t have Internet connections. If there were a divide, which we now know there isn’t, which side of it would they be on?

Assuming they don’t have computers or smartphones, why might that be, even though the digital divide has been bridged? Because they can’t afford them! Those are the people on the other side of the digital divide, and they’re still there, if there were still a digital divide, which we’ve been told there isn’t.

When the data you present in your article doesn’t support your own claim, maybe it’s time to change your claim, or just do what most people do and manipulate the data.

Supposedly the smartphone will be bridging the digital divide some day soon because they’re getting cheaper, except they’re not getting cheaper if you count the data plans. They’re getting even more expensive than dumbphones.

Which makes this all the more puzzling: “89% of the developing world has a mobile device. It’s a solid assumption that these mobile phone users will soon transition to smartphones.”

A solid assumption? The support for that claim is an article by the same author where he quotes some more numbers: an “‘entry level mobile broadband plan’ represents approximately 1-2% of per capita income in developed nations, in developing nations  the cost ranges from 11-25% of per capita income.”

That “per capita income” hides quite a bit. The per capita income in the US is about $50K. That’s also about the median household income in the US, and quite a bit more than the median income per household member. That means the majority of people make a lot less than the per capita income.

11-25% of per capita income spent on mobile broadband might be doable for the upper class, but it’s ridiculous to think that’s a viable option for most people. Imagine the half of Americans earning $30K or less per year spending $3300-7500 on a smartphone data plan. That’s what it would be like for people in developing nations.

The guy knows this response is coming, because he tried to deflect it this tidbit: “That said, mobile broadband is often cheaper than wired-broadband in developing countries.”

Most thoughtful people concerned with the economics of the digital divide would therefore conclude that it’s going to be a long, long time before smartphones and mobile broadband permeate the world the same way cheap mobile phones with relatively cheap phone networks have.

Or we could just celebrate that the digital divide has now been bridged, and any people coming into your library because your Internet is the only access they can afford are apparently just not getting with the program.

Stop your free Internet for the freeloaders. Go tell them to get a smartphone and a data plan. And presto, the digital divide is gone!



  1. I think the real problem here is everyone’s difficulty with the word “disproportionately”. The author butchered it the first time and AL smacked him with the [sic] even when he spelt it right. I mean, can’t you just look it up on your smartphone?

  2. DavidNC says:

    Righteous rant, AL. The comments on the original article are also great reading.

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