It seemed like yesterday when there was concerns of the converge of the digital age. Fears floated around the idea of certain people being cut off from the rest of the world, disadvantaged communities severed because of the inability to afford faster connections. Minorities and individuals in rural communities remained at the burnt end of the stick for long, hammered by the lack of internet access or knowledge to operate technology in the early part of the decade. Yet, in the past few years researchers have found that the individuals that were once segregated through in the online world are now not only beating the digital divide but surpassing their counterparts. But at what cost?
Minorities have become more technology savvy in the past decade, research shows. Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of blacks are using their phones to access the Internet compared to 33 percent of whites, a July 2010 Pew poll shows. Forty-seven percent of Latinos and 41 percent of blacks use their phones for e-mail, compared with 30 percent of whites.
The numbers are evidence of a growing community finding ways to use technology to empower themselves. However, one professors believes that we can’t get too excited about the statistics.
“I don’t know if it’s the right time to celebrate. There are challenges still there,” Craig Watkins, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “The Young and the Digital”, told USA Today. “We are much more engaged, but now the questions turn to the quality of that engagement, what are people doing with that access.”
Researchers found that even though blacks and Latinos are using and accessing the web at a higher rate than their peers, the focus of the usage is centered on entertainment. Social media is driven by black users; Twitter has a large stock hold, with 25 percent f its users being black. Online usage in the community, as seen with other groups, has highly concentrated around entertainment sites, adult content, and social media. This leverage in online value is in an important point to consider.
“What are we doing with this access? Are we simply sending e-mail, downloading adult content, sending texts for late-night hookups?” Anjuan Simmons, a black engineer and technology consultant, said. “Or are we discussing ideas, talking to people who we would not normally be able to talk to?”
Internet has become a new form of the media, one which we can be used for both good and bad. It provides access to encouraging web magazines, minority-owned businesses, and information that can be used for social advancement. Professional connections can be made online and digital doors are opened for job opportunities. It is clear that some minorities have taken advantage of this and working to create a progressive, safe online environment for their community. However, does our concept of the black community’s access or attachment to the interwebs change when we reconsider what values exist in the icons we are clicking on?