money talks

Teens without smartphones encounter a new digital divide

With low-income kids unable to participate in the social media conversations of their wealthier peers, a new form of digital inequity is emerging.

In this digital age, we have assumed that smartphones and apps are the new normal for youth.

A recently released Pew Research Center report on teens and technology further corroborates this belief by showing that 88% of US teens have access to a mobile phone. Of these, 73% have smartphones and 15% only a basic cell phone.

But it’s worth pausing to consider what online participation looks like for the 15% of teens with basic cell phones or the 12% who don’t have access to any form of mobile phone and what kind of a new “digital divide” might be emerging.

In other words, low-income teens are unable to participate in the social media conversations of their wealthier peers.

Our team at the University of California, Irvine, has been conducting research and developing programs in coding and digital media for these less-connected youth. The nationally representative sample in the Pew data provides context for these populations of urban teens who we work with day-to-day in Southern California.

Teens use of social media

Last summer, we helped organise and conduct research on a digital storytelling course for teens in South Los Angeles. The 30 teens who participated all came from low-income households, were evenly split in gender and were predominantly Latino, with some black and Asian participants.

We designed one program around photo-sharing apps and mobile phone cameras, as we believed that was what teens would be most comfortable doing. It turned out, however, that none of them had an Instagram account and few had ever shared a photo online.

We were struck by the contrast between the subjects of our study and those in the Pew study.

More recently, we conducted interviews with 14 teens in the same demographic, who were participating in a workshop using the Scratch programming platform, a creative online learning tool in which young people can develop and share their stories, animations and games.

When we asked the teens participating in this program about their mobile and social media use, all of them said they texted to keep in touch with friends and family.

Only half had a smartphone.

None of them used the photo-sharing tool Instagram. Only one used Snapchat, another photo messaging tool. They did have Facebook accounts, but none described themselves as active on the site. In a group interview, one of the boys called out the one boy who did use Snapchat. “We are all ghosts on social media except you. You have Snapchat.”

What’s notable is that these low-income teens do not use the social media in ways their wealthier peers do. One of our interviewees notes that she doesn’t use social media at all. “When I’m on my phone, I’m either reading or texting,” she said.

Peer groups will gravitate to the modes of communication that are most widely shared.

Income differences and smartphones

In low-income communities, fewer teens have smartphones, so texting is the most common mode of communication. It’s no fun being on Instagram and Snapchat if your friends are not.

Indeed, we’ve seen proclamations in the media about teenagers’ flight from Facebook and the growing hegemony of smartphone apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

In other words, the shift to smartphones means low-income teens are shut out of the dominant communications media of their generation.

These observations are backed by the Pew survey data. Teens in wealthier households are more likely to have smartphones and to prefer Snapchat and Instagram.

Compared to those in households earning less than US$30,000 annually, twice as many teens in households earning more than $75,000 annually say they use Snapchat as their most visited website.

For Instagram, the differences are less pronounced but the survey shows a slight tendency for teens in higher income brackets to prefer the app. That’s not surprising given the high cost of mobile Internet plans. Contrast that with Facebook use, which is higher among lower income teens.

While 51% of teens  in households earning less than $30,000 use Facebook often, only 31% of the teens in the wealthiest households, earning more than $100,000, do so.

Facebook can be accessed through a shared family PC or a public library computer, making it a much more accessible platform than those that rely on smartphone connectivity for an app.

An area of concern

Teens’ access to Snapchat and Instagram may not seem like something we should be terribly concerned about, but it is an indicator of deeper and troubling forms of digital inequity.

Social digital and networked media use is where young people gain everyday fluency and comfort with the technology and social norms of our times.

Whether it is managing a LinkedIn network or learning to code, young people who lack digital fluency and full access will always be a step behind their more connected peers.

In many ways, this emerging smartphone divide is more troubling than the digital divide we faced back in the 1990s. The digital divide at that time described the gap between those who had access to desktop computers and the Internet and those who did not.

Public concern led to policies and community efforts to bridge the divide through public infrastructures. Schools and libraries emerged as important access points for children and youth who did not have access at home.

Today’s smartphone divide is potentially much more difficult to bridge as it goes hand and glove with expensive consumer technologies and private infrastructure.

We need to address this new divide head-on before it becomes entrenched in the experiences of this rising generation.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

These GIFs show you what it means to miss breakfast

That monstrous roar is your empty stomach.

Let’s take a glance at your every day morning routine. You crawl out of bed, go for a quick shower, pull out and wear your neatly ironed clothes at the speed of light and then rush out of the house, making sure you have your keys and wallet in place.

Giphy
Giphy

You walk into office, relieved because you have made it to work on time. Stifling yawns and checking emails, you wonder how your colleagues are charged up and buzzing with energy. “What is wrong with these people” you mumble to yourself.

Giphy
Giphy

Slowly, you start to change. You start snapping at colleagues and start arguing with your computer. You take out your frustration on anything or anyone in sight.

To add to the aggressive behaviour, you’ve completely lost your focus. After some time, you simply forget what you were doing.

Giphy
Giphy

Unable to bear the hunger pangs, you go for a mid-morning snack. It is only when a colleague asks you for a bite do you realize that you have developed into a fully formed, hunger fueled, monster. Try not to look at yourself in the mirror.

Giphy
Giphy

If only you had spared not even twenty or ten but just 5 minutes in the morning and not skipped breakfast, your story would look completely different - as you will see in this video.

Play

The fast dip in your mood and lack of focus is because your body has missed its most important meal of the day – breakfast. Research has shown that skipping a meal, especially in the morning, worsens the mood because there is a drop in the blood sugar. This in turn affects the levels of serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals produced in the brain that control our moods and feelings. In simpler English, not having breakfast is going to make you really cranky and confused!

Morning is also when the body needs maximum nutrition to function efficiently through the day as you’ve just woken up from a full 7 hours of no food (and if you’re sleeping less than that, that’s a whole other article).

So in short, having a breakfast could make you go from looking like the earlier GIFs to this:

Giphy
Giphy

But with changing lifestyles and most people hard pressed for time, a healthy breakfast is taking the backseat. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. MTR has come up with a range of widely loved Indian delicacies like Poha, Upma and Halwa which can be made in (hold you breath) just 3 minutes! All you have to do is add hot water and wait for 3 minutes to get a delicious and filling breakfast.

Giphy
Giphy

These amazing and delicious breakfasts can be made in a jiffy and consumed with the least hassle, even in the midst of your frenetic morning routine. So grab your #MTRbreakfastin3 to start the day on an awesome note.

Click here to make breakfast a part of your morning routine.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MTR and not by the Scroll editorial team.