Mobile Phones and the Digital Divide Part 2

evoJason Griffey and I are having a discussion via our blogs regarding mobile phones and the digital divide to catch up first read my original post Why Mobile Phone Are Not the Key to the Digital Divide then read Jason’s response Why mobile phones are one key to the digital divideThis is my response to his post.

Jason states:

I believe strongly that the idea that a desktop is somehow superior to a mobile phone for Internet access is an accident of the time in which we live and the historical nature of the rise of computing. One can easily imagine that 10 years from now the then-digital-natives will look aghast at the desktops of the past. “What do you mean, you had to sit at a desk to use a computer? You pushed actual buttons?

I agree with this or at least don’t doubt the likelihood of it.  Except for one part, there are no digital natives. At least not in the sweeping generational assignments we technophiles want to apply.  You can not say all Millennials are digital natives, or that the generation after them will be, until we close the digital divide. There are too many children without exposure to the technology they would need to be considered digital natives. *

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 100 million Americans don’t have broadband at home because they either can’t get it, can’t afford it, or aren’t aware of its benefits. Some 65 percent of U.S. households have broadband, a far lower adoption rate than in other technologically advanced countries such as Singapore (88 percent) or South Korea (95 percent). – PC World February 2010

The National Broadband Plan from the FCC looks to address the issues created by the digital divide today, not in 10 years.  So when Aaron Smith states he thinks mobile phones play a key role he means now, in 2010, not 2020. That is my complaint. In 10 years this may be perfectly true.

Jason points out there are some who prefer mobile access:

There are examples, even today, of people who prefer mobile access to the Internet to using a desktop: the entire country of Japan, for instance. Many of them could easily afford desktops, but overwhelmingly they choose mobile phones as the mechanism they use for accessing the Internet.

Again he is correct. However this isn’t about choice, it is about assigning a substandard option for a class of people. We are moving toward better mobile, but in the mean time we can not apply a separate but equal philosophy to the ways in which individuals access the internet.

So unless there are some actual things that can be pointed out as to why Mobile access is second-class (and I swear, if someone says Flash, I quit)….I’m calling this cultural and historic bias.

Ok so it sounds like if I can convince Jason mobile access is not as good as a PC I might start to sway him.

For smartphones to replace PCs, they would have to take on all the features of a PC — they’d need to input and edit text as easily as a PC, create spreadsheets as easily as a PC, edit pictures and presentations as easily as a PC, and manage large databases as easily as a PC. To do that in a small mobile device, you need a color folding screen (so you can work with large documents), either a full-size keyboard or perfect voice recognition, a pointing device a heck of a lot more sophisticated than a five-way rocker, enormous amounts of storage, and a fast processor. Michael Mace CEO of Cera Technology

PC World magazine looks at Laptop vs. Netbook vs. Smartphone and asks Work, school, and play: Which portable computer is the do-everything device for you? A smart phone was not their first recommendation in any of the categories.

Here is a list of the things I attempted last night from my Smartphone, HTC Evo from Sprint. I’m sure there is a much longer list but I was tired, and my battery died 🙂

  • print – Government agencies are no longer issuing print forms.
  • inspect page source code – How do you think I learned most of what I know about html?
  • change my Facebook privacy settings – we all know why this is important
  • create a Facebook page for my new small business, manage the FB page I already have
  • edit the videos I recorded before uploading them to YouTube
  • play World of Warcraft
  • apply for a job
  • spell check my comments on blogs before posting, so I don’t look any more foolish than I already do. On my PC this is something Chrome automatically does for me (thank goodness)

I was able to do somethings like check my bank account or access Google docs but good grief was it slow and if you’ve ever seen me text you know I can hold my own with most 14-year-old girls.

The screen size and lack of a real keyboard are still huge issues for me. Can you imagine trying to write a paper on one of these? In an age when being a citizen in a democratic society means participation and creation smartphones are still primarily a tool for consumption.

Battery life my netbook gets something like 10 hours and its over a year old. My phone doesn’t last the day with heavy use.

My mom lost her Blackberry last week. Who knows where, somewhere at home she thinks but its gone, as is everything on it. I know your PC could be stolen (or lost I guess) but the odds are slimmer. Even if your computer crashed you still have the hardware to rebuild upon.

* Can I just add on a personal note that I hope whatever we’re doing in 10 years is more comfortable than sitting at a keyboard all day because my back is killing me.

6 thoughts on “Mobile Phones and the Digital Divide Part 2

  1. I think you have some great points here. The many family members I know who do not have internet or own a computer also do not have smartphones. The cost of a smartphone and the data plan is still too high for many people (even though compared to the cost of a laptop/desktop and internet service it’s much cheaper). But for many of them, they just don’t see a need. They don’t seem to accept smartphones as the new, easier, cheaper way to get online (OK, all aboard!). Instead, it’s equated to a laptop/desktop and why bother?

    For the older generations that do or don’t have internet access in my family, it’s also a question of need. They don’t feel that they need it when they’ve done without it. A few have desktops and use the internet heavily, but for them, the smartphone was never an option. Tiny buttons and tiny text make it much more difficult to use.

    I don’t see smartphones as bridging the digital divide. I agree with you that they are still just a tool for consumption. And while I could say, oh yes, in ten years everyone under the age of 15 or 20 will be digital natives, that just isn’t true. Again, I have very young family members that don’t have access to it at home because their family felt there was no need in light of the cost. They go to the library if they need to access something online.

    Great posts.


  2. If there is a digital divide, then how do 70% people in rural Nebraska, and in paticular those in towns under 500 people complete on line orders. There is no difference in town size and most rural towns with 5,000 people have at least dsl and satelite service and some have optical service and the smallest ones are less likely to have wire based broadband.

    The non shoppers are seniors who still by airplane tickets and hotel rooms on line. So how many fall on the other side?


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