Computers, Phones, and the Internet: Domesticating Information Technology

By Robert Kraut; Malcolm Brynin et al. | Go to book overview

3
Passing By and Passing Through

Ben Anderson

It is by now quite well known that there are fundamental differences between those who undergo brief but transitory periods of poverty and those who are in poverty, however defined, for some considerable length of time (Layte & Whelan, 2002). Transient poverty is actually fairly common: it is quite likely that many of us will, at some stage in our lives, undergo a period of poverty. However, it is far less likely that we will suffer from persistent poverty. If the kinds of people who suffer from transient versus persistent poverty are substantially different, then policy responses to these two phenomena also need to be different. Differentiating between these two phenomena requires a certain kind of survey design. This is the longitudinal panel design in which the same individuals are followed over time; it can therefore show who is currently in poverty, for how long they have been in poverty, and what factors might affect their movements in and out of poverty.

There are some obvious parallels with current approaches to measuring the incidence of information and communication technology (ICT) adoption rates. Cross-sectional surveys are frequently used to measure overall ICT “diffusion,” and it is often assumed that such adoption rates are a oneway street. However, these measures can give a very misleading picture of the dynamics of ICT diffusion, with no guidance as to who might move in and out of access to ICTs, who might be persistent nonadopters, or who might be persistently excluded. The study of poverty dynamics, as opposed to poverty incidence, has produced extremely important results of relevance to poverty-alleviation policy-making. Might the same be true of the study of ICT adoption dynamics?

The extent to which such an analysis might matter can be seen in the United Kingdom and Europe by reference to statements about participation for all in the European Knowledge Society (CEC, 2002) and the U.K. e-Society (Office of the e-Envoy, 2003). Clearly, patterns of uptake, use, and nonuse are critical to the achievement of any policy objectives that rely on a close to 100% universality of access to ICTs (and in most cases, ICT is conflated with Internet). The government of the United Kingdom has recently congratulated itself on the progress made with household- and individual-level Internet access (Office of the e-Envoy, 2003), citing a recent academic survey (Rose, 2003) indicating that only 4% of the U.K. population does not have a reasonably accessible location from which they can access the net (home, school, work, public library). Is this reasonable, given that the same survey shows that 89%

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