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Rethinking the digital divide: General insights

Updated: 18 November, 2021

Internet access

Digital outcomes are heavily shaped by the quality and type of internet devices in households

Economic hardship is still a valid indicator of digital inequality; however, it is no longer a simple matter of the haves and the have nots.

  • All households which participated in the study had internet access (whether fixed or mobile), used digital communication tools to keep in touch with their extended family and friends, accessed online entertainment, had at least one gaming (Xbox or PlayStation) device, and had to varying degrees the digital skills to carry out basic household administrative tasks online.

  • Although most families are likely to have some form of access to the internet, access limitations still do manifest, such as when having to time-share devices, or through constraints placed on access, suggesting both economic and social factors shape access.

  • Measuring the quality of internet access remains important, as the degree of investment in digital technology and device choices result in different kinds of digital use.

Digital skills

Most parents and children believed they had sufficient digital skills to meet their digital use needs, but this varied significantly between households.

  • Parents and children throughout the study generally rated themselves as having good digital skills, but this self-assessment was of course made within the boundaries of their own knowledge, experience, and expectation of what digital technology could offer, and so actual skills varied dramatically between households, as did the activities and digital outcomes. These expectations were strongly influenced by occupation and educational class factors within families.

  • Resolving shortfalls of internet access and digital skills (first level and second level divide factors) alone will not, therefore, significantly alter digital outcomes for children.

Resolving shortfalls of internet access and digital skills alone will not significantly alter digital outcomes for children.

Values can be a barrier

Family digital practices are undergirded by cultural and value based judgements about what is important in life

Being online is not necessarily regarded as progressive, and for some  it conflicts with important family values

  • A review of the literature revealed that over time the definition of ‘digital inclusion’ has been strongly influenced by industry and public policy objectives. An assumption within public and industry discourse that being digitally connected is evidence of societal progress tends to portray that digital exclusion is always about deficit and marginalization. However, not all families sought to maximize digital opportunities, seeking instead, a balance between digital and offline activities.

  • For some families the digital world supported their values and norms, while for others the digital world competed with values and cultural beliefs which they held to be essential to living a good life.

  • Some families rejected digital technologies for cultural or value-based reasons, potentially perpetuating unequal digital outcomes.

  • While others resisted fully integrating digital technologies in their daily life as they failed to see how it added to lifestyle, relationships, or human capacity. Further, these families viewed too much time online as diminishing children’s cognitive skills and development.

  • For other families, managing digital use was more purposeful and crafted around conscious intentions to gain capital benefits making them better able to flourish in the digital society.

Six familial digital dispositions emerged from this work.

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