Connect digital divide

Curator's Note

The mobile media have achieved a more international presence than other media that have gone before them and in a much faster speed of time.  Because of the fastest growing of the mobile media, many organizations (e.g., International Telecommunication Union; and researchers (e.g., Rich Ling-- Telenor Research Norway; Jonathan Donner-- Microsoft Research India) around the world have documented and studied how people creatively use the mobile media to connect the digital divide.  The digital divide often refers to unequal access to the new media, to the new media content, to the new media literacy, and money to pay for the new media services.  One significant aspect of the digital divide is the difference between the developed and developing counties’ access to the benefits of the digital media.

In the developed countries, research showed that people use their mobile media for entertainment and socialization activities.  For example, “sending and receiving text messages” and “taking a picture” were the most frequent mobile media use on typical day according to the PEW both 2007 and 2009 studies.  The data showed a little bit of information seeking activities among the American mobile media users.  In 2009, PEW study reported that the African Americans were the fastest growing group to adopt the mobile Internet.   They were also the most active users of the mobile Internet than Caucasian or Hispanic adults in the US.  Castells et al. commented that African and Hispanics Americans appear to use the mobile media without the need for external help.  Charski found that the African and Hispanics Americans’ mobile media ownership and usage levels are higher than then Caucasian Americans.  They also used text messaging more than Caucasian Americans.  They liked to buy new mobile media and adopt new services sooner.

On the other hand, people in developing world use their mobile media as tools to information, communication, and knowledge that can help reshape their lives, families, communities, and societies.  Reports on famers and fishermen showed that the uses of the mobile media can promote social welfare and economic for both providers and consumers.  People also sent their money via the text messages to avoid the cost to the bank.  In the developing countries, people share their mobile media or buy the prepaid card for their mobile phones.  The mobile media are considered to be more accessible and less expensive than the computer.  Some scholars interpret that the mobile media mean to connect digital divide.  Srivastave argued that people could find the mobile media in remote villages of the developing world but not the Internet.  Castells et al. commented that the mobile media divide could be narrowed more rapidly than the Internet divide because the mobile media are less expensive and easy to be used than the Internet.  The mobile media are used for business, banking, communication, networking, socialization, information seeking, health, and education purposes.


Another interesting column Yi-Fan, and one that raises age-old arguments concerning technological determinism. On the one hand the nature of mobile telephone technology (cheaper to buy than computers, portable and so not reliant on fixed infrastructure, relatively simple to use etc) means that mobile phones are more likely to be of use to those in the developing world over other technologies such as computers or landlines. On the other hand, presumably the usefulness of these technologies needs to be proved somehow before what infrastructure is necessary is put in place. And of course the ways in which that technology is actually used cannot be predicted based on what it is capable of (as with the immense popularity of an 'add-on' like text messaging). So the relationship between technological capability, the social uses of that technology and the wider impact of those uses become really interesting here. How much does the technology of the mobile phone lead to a closing of the digital divide, and how much is it that the social contexts that lead to such a divide encourage the development of the mobile phone in certain ways (easier to use, cheaper handsets for example)? Not sure there's really an answer to that, but the complexities inherent within the question really come to the fore here.

 Thanks, Yi-Fan, for this interesting post today.  I'm wondering: do the mobile devices available to developing nations employ smart phone features (internet-access, etc.) or are telephony and SMS features alone responsible for some of these movements toward a 'divide' closure in the mobile media-scape?

I'd be curious to find out whether or not mobile telephony, via the mobile devices, was also instructing newly internet-connected users on the methods for communicating, finding, and using content online or if, instead, mobile telephony (minus internet-accessed features) was being adapted and evolving to answer the needs of communities that require something akin to networked online communication in its absence.



for Elizabeth

I am also wondering if mobile media could bridge the digital divide.  The “digital divide” was defined between “haves” and “have-nots.”  For mobile media, more and more people “have” the access to the devices.  How people use the technology is more interested to me.  As you said, there might not be an answer for the “digital divide.” 

I went to several conferences and I learned that the mobile media users in developing countries adopted the devices to fit into their everyday life.  In developing countries, research reported that the whole village shared a mobile phone.  There were “mobile phone ladies,” women loaned their mobile phones for others to make calls.  In some places, those ladies were also served as information mediators.  They went to remote villages to help people in need.  They used their camera mobile devices to communicate between doctors and patients.  Those ladies make small money from their devices to pay for their kids’ education.   I often believe that it is people decisions to make the technology to work for them.  In the US, I would think that the mobile media might not bridge the digital divide.  Many people use them “just for fun” or “because they are cool.”


for Emily

I don’t learn enough on how the mobile Internet use in developing counties.  Until now, I have learned that the Internet is growing but in a very slow speed.  Thank you for your questions.  It will be my future research direction.

 Thanks for the interesting post.  One of the things that has always troubled me (and drawn a lot of attention from scholars such as Lisa Nakamura and Henry Jenkins) is the way that digital divide rhetoric has traditionally privileged access over participation.  The clip's efforts to highlight mobile banking is an interesting attempt to illustrate the ways that users participate in technoculture in novel ways. 

I also wonder about how to pry apart the notion of mobile phone use in the developing world.  Vicente Rafael, for example, examines the ways that text messages and cell phones were used for political purposes in the Philippines; his analysis highlights the ways in which local and national politics, language, private enterprise, technology, and age connect to determine usage patterns and mobile cultures.  

Is this a broadcast from VOA (Voice of America)?  If so, this adds an interesting twist to the way that cell phone use is being viewed through a modernization or development lens.  

Thanks for the interesting post, Yi-Fan. I think the question of participation when considering the digital divide is a particularly salient one. How does one participate in mobile, networked activities? What does this participation look like? How does the use of mobile media allow that person to participate in other activities and exchanges? I think that all of these are interesting questions raised by your post and the accompanying clip.

I'm interested to see how, if at all, improvement of infrastructure in both developed and developing countries coincides with mobile media participation. While the adoption rates and preferred uses of mobile media around the world are proliferating, I think it's still important to read this augmentation not necessarily as an alleviation of a digital divide, but maybe as making the divide more complex.

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