Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist
7 October 2003

“A new survey”:http://users.ox.ac.uk/~oxis/index.html by the “Oxford Internet Institute”:http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/ has provided some invaluable detail about the exact nature of the digital divide. I find the conclusions drawn in media reports as interesting as the data itself. The Guardian’s headline and opening paragraphs: Digitally divided by choice concentrate on the survey’s discovery that only 14 percent (mis-reported as four percent) of the UK population doesn’t have Internet access themselves and doesn’t at least know someone who could send an email for them.

It’s true that many of those who are not online themselves could get access at local libraries or ‘borrow’ Internet access from a friend, but without much first-hand experience of Internet access they are unlikely to understand what it could do for them.

The BBC: “Net ‘worth little to many Brits'”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3121950.stm gets more to the heart of the matter, though its headline is misleading – it should say something more like, ‘Net perceived as unimportant by many Brits’.

I think Tom Steinberg gets it exactly right when he “suggests”:http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2003/09/its_about_the_v.html that if 96% of Internet non-users don’t feel they are missing anything it is important that government and civil society organizations start giving them good reasons to get interested. I would add that the way the Internet is presented when it is discussed is also at fault. The Government depicts it as a way to learn and get employed, commercial organizations depict it as a place to shop and the news often depicts it as full of oddballs and paedophiles. There isn’t much room for discussion of how to use it to meet people (other than sexual partners), express yourself creatively or to organize politically.

It is worth noting that the questionnaire options for perceived disadvantages of lack of Internet access appear to be limited to: ‘could do job better [if I was online]’, ‘trouble being contacted’ and ‘disadvantaged at work’. Nothing about learning, information gathering or even saving money let alone political organizing as possible things someone might have missed out on.

The information available via the OII and news reports remains sketchy – the full results are due to be publicised and discussed “in Oxford on 22nd October”:http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/events.shtml

Thanks to “Techdirt”:http://techdirt.com/articles/20030918/0047201.shtml for the link

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