Whole Community: The New Digital Divide

I’m in Lisle, Illinois this week presenting on social media at the 2013 Whole Community Preparedness Conference, sponsored by the Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin Combined Statistical Area. I wanted to talk this opportunity to talk about messaging to our whole community messaging and making our messages easier to understand and receive. As the week goes on, I’ll update this post with links to the other posts.

I’ve written about the so-called digital divide before, when I said:

If you ask about going online at home, on a desktop or laptop computer, using a non-dial-up service, there is a divide. Because computers and broadband access are expensive! But when you ask if people get online, there is less of a divide. And the reason why is probably sitting on your desk, in your pocket or in your purse right now: smartphones.

And the research continues to pile up showing just that. Recently, the folks at Pew released some very specific data about Philadelphia’s digital divide:

The report found the proportion of Philadelphians with Internet access has been steadily rising since 2011, when about 76 percent of residents were plugged in, compared to an estimated 82 percent who have access now. The trend appeared to cut across all races, with roughly the same proportion of white, black and Hispanic respondents reporting having web access.

Study authors hypothesize the upward trend is due, in large part, to the growing availability of web-enabled mobile devices. Sixty-five percent of respondents reported using cell phones to access the Internet, up from 45 percent in 2011.

A FIFTY percent rise in mobile web access in only TWO years!?

And this data is borne out in national data, as well. Pew’s 2013 survey on broadband found the same thing:

Including smartphones in the definition of home broadband access helps narrow the differences between some demographic groups, but widens the gap between others. Differences between racial and ethnic groups are an example of smartphones narrowing the “broadband gap”: While blacks and Latinos are less likely to have access to home broadband than whites, their use of smartphones nearly eliminates that difference.

broadband and smartphones

Getting back to the Philly data, we can see where the real digital divide is at:

But the greatest digital disparity, by far, existed among age groups. Ninety-four percent of those aged 18 to 34 reported having Internet access, compared to just 54 percent of those 65 and older.

For communicators who are resisting embracing digital communication for fear of alienating minority communities, the data to back up that point simply doesn’t not exist.

Now, that does mean that we’re hitting elderly populations less than younger populations, but still, look at the percentage of 65+ that access the internet taken from this page (showing 2000 and 2011 data) and this page (showing 2013 data):

2000 broadband access among 65+: 12%
2011 broadband access among 65+: 41%
2013 broadband access among 65+: 43%

This is a rapidly rising percentage, and one that will only increase over time. Plan to utilize digital tools to become the centerpiece for your communication efforts one day (and probably sooner than you think).


3 thoughts on “Whole Community: The New Digital Divide

  1. Good stuff as always Jim. Wish I could join you at the conference. Enjoy … and say hello to all for me. – Andy

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