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Are We Connecting?
Pattern number within this pattern set:162
While our perceptions of Black, Hispanic, and low-income households as victims of the Digital Revolution continue to grow, there groups are embracing the Web with enthusiasm. Yet recent reports reveal that most organizations advocating for these population are finding themselves on the wrong side of the divide - unable to harness this technology to advance their positions and unprepared to influence policy that will share our digital society. If these conditions continue to exist, these communities risk becoming the lurkers of the Internet, and hence invisible to the New Economy.
This is the real Digital Divide - the gap between our dreams of empowerment, and the capacity to strategize, chart and execute a program that positions Black, Hispanic and low-income household as stakeholders in the digital transformations occurring today.
The perception that the Internet is wealthy and white is now passe. Consider that:
50% of African-American adults now have Internet access
8.6 million African-American households and 5.3 Hispanic households are now online, as of Feb, 2001
African-American households increased Internet access by 44% and Hispanic households increased by 37% from 2000 to 2001
Households with incomes less than $25,000 increased by 46% in 2000 and number 6.3 million
African-American households are now larger in absolute number than their Asian-Americans counterparts, whom number 2.1 million, and are considered by all Internet observers to have the highest percentage of Internet users from this racial group.
A picture of an engaged and sophisticated Black and Hispanic surfer emerges when usage patterns are measured. The Pew Internet Life reports that Black and Hispanic surfers outperform their white counterparts in web manipulation skills. In addition, these surfers find the Internet more useful than their white counterparts for major life activities such as school research and job training, along with job and housing searches. Finally, these surfers get political and news information online more than their white counterparts.
These surfers are the high brow of the Web - applying the Web for personal advancement and social understanding, rather than day trading and gathering weather reports. These surfers form the current and potential audiences for more than 10,000 Black-focused web sites, and thousands of Hispanic and alternative media sites. These surfers will form the backbone of support for an Internet policy that shapes the Web into a bootstrap tool for social progress. These surfers can be authors of their own stories, which is the most fundamental precondition of a democratic process: the ability to speak.
Why haven?t progressive and liberal organizations harnessing these new communications technologies to communicate to these segments and further their ability to shape society? The answer lies in our misunderstanding of the pattern of technology adoption. And a misconception that Blacks and Hispanics aren?t adopting these technologies because of the barriers they face in broader society.
Understanding the patters of technology adoption and stimulating diffusion and integration is the key to overcoming the real Digital Divide: the inability to integrate these new technologies to make life better.
Technology adoption patterns predict human behavior. The key elements are: a communications channel , identifying people by their embrace of technology, and disseminating re-inventions of these technologies. With this framework in mind, implementing a de-centralized diffusion model then becomes the crucial step to technology integration: the ability to harness the technology to improve lives.
De-centralized diffusion patterns have been used in the IT industry for many years. They occur in user groups or SIGs. This is where people share their re-inventions. Information is shared among peers, particularly by nonexpert users. Participants decide which innovations to adopt, and to whom and in what route the information will travel. The goal is mutual understanding among members. Friendships are formed based on technology sharing. Many techies attempt to repeat this process within corporations and broader communities with little success. Their fatal flaw: misunderstanding the communications channel.
Outside of innovators, the communications channel is off-line relationships. As an IT support worker, I found that computer fixes and work-arounds traveled among friendships within a corporation, and many times skipped individuals sitting next to each other! By utilizing the communications channels within the corporation, I was successful in getting new technologies and processes adopted.
When organizations see the pattern of technology adoption in this way, their own Divide seems bridgeable. But more importantly, they will have a framework to understand how technology can be integrated in their communities. And they will have a vision that can shape Internet use and policy for generations to come.
On the community level, this pattern can be implemented in the following ways. Identify early adopters and pair them with late adopters. As an example, pair youth and their parents together to send money via the Web rather than Western Union. Identify innovaters and early adopters in the neighborhoods who will talk and share knowledge about computers. Connect these folks with techies who can help with more complicated issues. Gab. Make sure that the gossips in the neighborhood know how people in the neighborhood are using these new technologies, i.e., disseminate the re-inventions. Let people observe someone using these technologies. This is the key motivator to try something new: someone just like me is doing it.
And if I can see it, I can believe it.
And they will fly, and carry you to heights that we are just now dreaming.