Generally, talk of mitigating cities’ digital divides is often coded language for thinking up ways to extend broadband Internet and services to low-income neighborhoods still populated predominantly by minority residents—in Baltimore’s case, that’s nothing more than a quaint classification, as black residents make up the majority of this city’s population.
But for years now, backed again by a recent Pew survey, many Hispanic and black Americans, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods, are skipping the laptop model in the digital access equation and moving to smartphone and social media adoption at a faster rate than their white counterparts.
Which isn’t to say closing the digital divide is a misplaced effort in patronizing charity. But as Nielson and Pew data show, it’s work requiring a greater level of nuanced understanding with respect to what technologies different communities need. Black Americans, for instance, lead the way in using Twitter, according to a demographic survey of social media use released this month by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
Last March, Nielson research showed that groups typically grouped together as minorities—black, Asian and Hispanic Americans—own an average greater percentage of smartphones in the U.S.
The perceived digital divide appears more insurmountable than the genuine technological divide among people in cities.
“Everybody likes to talk about the digital divide, and assume that rich folks are the only ones on social media, etc.,” said 410 Labs’ Dave Troy in September, shortly after Charm City Networks’ founder Chris Whong placed on a map a collection of Baltimore residents’ tweets Troy had geocoded for location.
“Increasingly, that’s just not true,” Troy continued in a post on the Baltimore Tech Facebook group. “We’re just as segregated online as we are offline.”
Really, then, ameliorating any technological divide between groups of people means more than just guaranteeing Internet access.
Talk to Lance Lucas of Digit All Systems, or Andrew Coy of the Digital Harbor Foundation, and cleaving digital walls throughout Baltimore quickly becomes more an education-related matter than a simple one of access to the web.
As Coy advocated during September’s Ignite Education event, the key is creating “a pipeline of local talent” by equipping students and residents with the necessary skills to find tech work in Baltimore.
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