Many assume that everyone uses the internet in similar ways. Indeed, my use of ‘everyone’ underlines how blind some can be to the idea that in 2017, 9% of the UK population had never used the internet. Using the internet isn’t a highly specialised skill, but it is a highly individualised one. Web usage is contextual — it depends wholly on its relevance to one’s everyday life, and is directly affected by the implications of class, gender, ethnicity and social standing.
Those with less access to internet use the web differently: it’s difficult to be a digital ‘resident’, for instance, if you cannot frequently digitally engage. (Cornu & White, 2011). Inability to access consistent internet service ranges from social standing to even religious reasons: US internet usage ‘directly correlates with no religious affiliation’. Research on this topic has reminded me of the difference between myself and my cousins’ internet usage, affected directly by consistency of connection. I describe a little more in this soundbite:
As Lutz and Hoffman state, comfortability on the web also affects how people use it. This adds another dimension to the Visitors vs Residents thesis: if you are cyber-bullied, you’re more likely to only use the internet in a visitorial capacity; if you enjoy the internet, you’re more likely to use it in a residential capacity.
Digital differences can simply, however, boil down to one’s ability to function an operating system. In 2015, 27% of disabled adults have never used the internet, compared to just 11% for non-disabled. In terms of hardware, there certainly has been growth in designing technology specifically for disabled demographics, and this can be hugely empowering and integrating, making disabled people feel part of a wider community.
But mass market software is yet to catch up, and until it does – following work in Digital Design from those like Elise Roy – this is a digital difference that will continue to divide.
Christopherson, Robin, ‘Smartphones and people with disabilities: the power and the promise’, Digital Skills and Inclusion, January 2017, <https://digitalinclusion.blog.gov.uk/2017/01/24/smartphones-and-people-with-disabilities-the-power-and-the-promise/>.
DiDonato, Nicholas C., ‘Internet usage correlates with no religious affiliation’, Science on Religion, <http://www.scienceonreligion.org/index.php/news-research/research-updates/646-internet-usage-correlates-with-no-religious-affiliation>.
Lutz, C., & Hoffmann, C. P., The dark side of online participation: exploring non-, passive and negative participation’ Information, Communication & Society, 1-22. (2017).
Office for National Statistics, <https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/bulletins/internetusers/2017>.
Rust, Elizabeth, ‘How the internet still fails disabled people’, The Guardian, June 29 2015, <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jun/29/disabled-people-internet-extra-costs-commission-scope>.
White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).