The New Digital Divide

I am currently reading John Palfrey’s book Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Native. In the book, Palfrey presents evidence that those born after the Internet age —mostly younger adults born after 1980 and raised with access to computer technology and the Internet—have dissimilar views on privacy and property rights than the “digital immigrants”—that is, everyone else.


However, a recent study by OCLC claims that variations between the habits and attitudes of younger people who have grown up with Internet technology and those born before the Internet era are no longer easy to sort out. The swift acceptance of Internet and mobile applications by users of all ages indicates that the time has arrived when it is no longer valuable to compare outlook and behaviors of people born before personal computers were common and those born after. The study suggests that due to the extensive adoption of digital technologies over more than twenty years, the behaviors of these two generations are beginning to converge. The usage of many Internet activities has grown considerably. Search engine use has gone from 71% to 90%. E-mail use has grown from 73% to an outstanding 97%. And the use of blogs had grown from 16% to 46% in 18 months. The use of mobile technologies has grown even more rapidly.


Librarians have spent a fair amount of time studying differences skill sets between “digital natives” and the older generations. What I really want to see is a study that examines fully the income disparity across the digital landscape. For many Americans, the now-commonplace Internet is still a luxury item they cannot afford. Nearly every public library in the country offers free Internet access, and for many people, the library is the only place they can get online. The digital divide can no longer be said to split generations, but it still exists at the income gap.


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