The concept of digital natives and digital immigrants is a controversial one. Is age a good enough predictor of digital proficiency? Or do other variables play just as important a role? This is part one of a series of three entries that look into what factors affect our digital development.
According to the Internet Access Quarterly Update 2011 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there is a correlation between poverty and internet use. Of those adults who have gross pay of less than £200 per week, 9.2% had never used the internet. This is compared to there being no internet non-users amongst those earning £1000 per week or more. This will impact on the digital development of any children in the household, and will be only partially offset by unevenly resourced schools.
Similar statistics can be found in regard to smartphone use, highlighing two key correlations. First of all, is the correlation between smartphone ownership and income. In every age bracket, those on lower incomes are less likely to own smartphones than those earning more. For example, 55% of 18-24 year olds earning less than £15 000 per year own a smartphone, compared to 70% of those earning between 50 and 75 thousand pounds per year. The number of high earners owning smartphones between the ages of 18-24 and 35-44 is also very similar. This further suggests that income is as important as age in determining technology usage and, by extension, proficiency.
What is also interesting is that after the age of 44, the rate of smartphone ownership falls faster, including for high earners. This suggests that there is a really-existing generational cleavage, but renders the concept of digital natives as people born before 1980, as arbitrary. What the statistics do show is the complex intersectionality of income and age, demonstrating clear, but not mutually exclusive correlations.
– People who are part of the ‘digital immigrant’ generation should not be written off as incapable of learning new skills.
– Campaigns aimed at younger publics must take into account class when deciding on what role newer digital technology (e.g. smartphone apps) plays in that campaign
The CIPR, as part of its, Diversity Strategy, has committed itself to tackling glass ceilings within the sector. What may be needed is a focus on digital poverty. Demanding cheaper access to the internet, and smartphones for the underprivileged, is outside of the remit of the CIPR. However the principle of equal access to communications technology is one that the sector should begin to advocate.