One of the goals of Berkeley Patch is to become a resource for the entire Berkeley community and not just a platform for those who have fast internet connections and the latest smart phone. But a recent study by scholar Jen Schradie suggests that the digital divide persists.
Schradie’s study suggests that “the social Web is becoming more of a playground for the affluent than a digital democracy,” wrote Yasmin Anwar in a UC Berkeley News Center article.
Controlling for race, gender, age and income, Schradie found that those with a college degree are, on average, almost twice as likely to generate online content than those who haven't gone to college. Specifically, the number crunching revealed that college graduates are 1.5 times more likely to be bloggers, twice as likely to post photos and videos and three times more likely to write an online rating or comment than are high school graduates.
“I was really interested in looking at online activities that people do that create content that is publicly available to anyone,” said Schradie, who is a doctoral candidate in sociology. Schradie’s study analyzed survey data collected from over 41,000 American adults over a nine year period by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Schradie found that having a computer both at home and at work increases the likelihood that someone will be a content creator. “A key mechanism to predict whether or not someone produces online content is the location of access,” wrote Schradie in the journal Poetics, a Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media and the Arts, where her study was first published in April.
Outside of the home or the workplace, Schradie found that the top three locations where survey respondents used a computer were “a friend’s house, a library or a neighbor’s house.”
Schradie has also studied internet usage at public libraries and said that libraries remain a keystone in bridging the digital divide. Some students she’s interviewed have said they regularly take a one-hour bus ride to use a library’s computer.
On a recent day at the ’s central branch, most of the branch’s 41 computers were in use, with many of them taken by teenagers and young adults.
Library employees said there's no other place in Berkeley for people without computers to use the internet at no cost. "The community colleges do a great job, but you have to be a student," said Alan Bern, the community relations librarian. "Here, it's free."
The library's 2010 annual report states that "nearly 200,000 individual sessions were logged" on 73 library computers that year. Fewer computers are available now, because the library's .
"Our computers are very rarely empty," said Shani Leonards, the central library's reference supervisor. "Whenever the library opens, there are about 30 people out on the steps waiting to use the computers."
Five of the computers at the central branch are specially outfitted for people with special needs, with large text for example. There are also computers available at each library branch for kids.
"Small children, they can't just hop on a bus and cross town to find another computer," said Bern. "It's the same with the disabled. This is a national issue.”
“I kept hearing things like ‘the digital divide is over,’” said Schradie. But despite popular social media like Facebook and Twitter, with their promise of simple, ubiquitous access for all, certain patterns persist, Schradie said.
“It’s a race to keep up,” she said. “It will be very challenging to address this gap.”
To obtain a copy of Schradie's article, write to schradie(at)berkeley(dot)edu.