Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The smart phone vs. the digital divide

Photo by steefafa/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by steefafa/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by steefafa/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Much has been reported over the years about the “digital divide,” the lack of Internet access experienced by Latino and black Americans in comparison with other groups. Latinos in particular are on the losing end, less likely to have access than non-Latino whites, or to have a home broadband connection or a cell phone, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center study. They also lag behind black Americans in home broadband access.

But smart phones may be narrowing the gap. KQED's MindShift education blog in San Francisco has highlighted a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California, which concludes:

...although Latinos are the group least likely to have a computer or Internet access at home, Latinos who use their cell phones to go online are twice as likely as whites (40% to 21%) to say that they mostly access the Internet this way.

It's not the first research to find that Latinos put their smart phones to good use. In May, a report from The Nielsen Company concluded similarly:
Hispanics are very active on their smartphones, texting the most out of all races/ethnicities (943 texts per month) and employing a wide range of mobile activities, including mobile banking. Smartphone penetration has reached 45 percent, matching only Asian-American usage levels in popularity.

A divide persists in the use of computers, however. From a summary of the PPIC report:
Using a desktop to connect to the Internet is more common among whites (64%) and Asians (58%) than among blacks (49%) and Latinos (42%), as is use of a laptop to connect (65% Asians, 62% whites, 57% blacks, 38% Latinos). Use of a desktop or laptop computer to access the Internet increases with education and income.

But even there, it's not all bad news. According to the report, while Latinos are still the least likely group to have home broadband access, the share of Latinos with a home broadband connection has doubled since 2007, from 28 percent to 55 percent.