11thOct2010

The Threefold Digital Divide

The Digital Divide
The common gap in internet accessibility is mainly based on socioeconomic status, determined by skills and resources.  The digital divide has often emerged along the familiar fault lines of social inequality: class, ethnicity, gender, age, and geographic location. Therefore, people from all socioeconomic backgrounds have to be taught or familiarize the skills needed to effectuate the potential of the internet. The term has its origins from the mass media when a report by the NTIA (2010) came out.

The Double Digital Divide
The double digital divide is the gap in geographic disparity. Inequality in internet access is not solely contingent on individuals’ ability or resources. The term "double digital divide" was coined to describe the gap in internet access and use segregated by both geographic locations and individual socioeconomic status (Fong, et al., 2001). Connectivity should encompass all regions to make sure everyone gets the same chances.

The Threefold Digital Divide
I propose a third fold in the digital divide, one based on social behavior on top of socioeconomic status and geographic location. It’s a gap between social online discourse, non-participants and people without internet. There is a certain attitude needed to bridge this gap for people to join greater open social networks where otherwise inaccessible discourse is taking place. Twitter is a clear development within the threefold digital divide. A social network like Facebook is used among contacts which have to be mutually accepted and is therefore limited in a context of greater discourse. Twitter on the other hand is aimed at public conversation and transnetwork communication using retweets, hashtags and other cross connectivity possibilities using the @ sign. A quick off record survey on Twitter usage compared with Facebook shows that most people do use Facebook and use Twitter a lot less (also in account statistics: Twitter / Facebook, disregarding the potentially large number of inactive Twitter accounts). This could imply that Twitter is used by a more specific group of people than the generally accepted nature of a social network like Facebook.

What defines the specific behavioral properties connected with Twitter usage is an anthropological question but nonetheless a valid one. I suggest that the following two attitudes are of high relevance: narcissism and condescension. The definition might seem as a harsh statement but only serves as a hypothesis based on recent research and events. A recent study (Mehdizadeh, 2010) found a strong relationship between narcissism and self-esteem with higher Facebook activity. The Sunday Times caused quite some stir on an article with statements of clinical psychologist Oliver James and cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis like, respectively , "Twittering stems from a lack of identity" and "We are the most narcissistic age ever".

Two recent events - one international and one national - also show interesting insights on turmoil on Twitter and underlying matters. For instance Iran's 'Twitter Revolution', #iranElection. Twitter was for a few days transformed into a big and bold movement, but with little perseverance and effect. In the aftermath of the Twitter protests, reevaluation of the impact of Twitter on the protests contrasts with initial romanticized reports (see articles on Guardian.co.uk and ForeignPolicy.com). Gaffney (2010) also shows that the protests on Twitter were temporal and one - Western - sided as shown by the amount of messages, accounts created, and the fact that most activity matched USA daily schedule. The observations suggest that there is not so much to speak of real ambient journalism (Hermida, 2010) in the Twitter Revolutions as Hermida generally attributes to Twitter; protests from inside Iran did not reach Twitter. A certain form of Western narcissism can be distilled in this event, one of showcasing powerful Western technology and values.

Another example of attitude with a hint of condescension is one of a supposed higher culture is the case '#Telegraafboycot'. Twitter folk in the Netherlands intensely bashed De Telegraaf for their premature phone contact and report on a young boy being the only survivor after a plane crash. The actions of De Telegraaf resulted in a lot of #Telegraafboycot tumult and response, response also by De Telegraaf itself. #Telegraafboycot made a general call to boycott De Telegraaf and was often accompanied with patronizing remarks (1, 2, 3, 4). Eventually there were no real consequences for De Telegraaf as the chief of the Telegraaf announced that only an extra of 20%-30% than normal terminated their subscription, clearly the involved Twitter public did not even have a De Telegraaf subscription.

To close the third fold in the digital divide, a certain attitude is roughly observed to bridge the gap. But what does this gap actually purport? Among others, politicians and television shows tend to use Twitter often in debate and can even be influencial. Television shows such as Zomergasten (video) now propose their own hashtags before the show. Skip to 3:13 and notice that the host will not explain Twitter to the guest and audience, it's a niche, a divide. People not involved in Twitter are left out of these discussions and miss out on increasingly relevant information. Verbeet, chairwoman of the House of Representatives in the Netherlands, requested the parliament to stop using Twitter during congress due to loss of control and unfair discussion vantages which illustrates this exact gap of the threefold divide.

References

Fong, E., Wellman, B., Wilkes, R., and Kew, M. The double digital divide. Ottawa: Office of Learning Technologies, Human Resources Development Canada, 2001.

Gaffney, Devin. #iranElection: quantifying online activism. Proceedings of the WebSci10. Raleigh, NC April 26-27th, 2010.

Hermida, Alfred. From TV to Twitter: How Ambient News Became Ambient Journalism. M/C Journal, Vol. 13(2), 2010.

Mehdizadeh, S. Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Vol. 13(4), 2010: p. 357-364

National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Falling Through The Net:A Survey of the "Have Nots" in Rural and Urban America. U.S. Department Of Commerce, 1995.

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