Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

The Role of Smartphones in Increasing Digital and Social Inequalities among Romanian Children

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

The Role of Smartphones in Increasing Digital and Social Inequalities among Romanian Children

Article excerpt

Introduction

While studying digital divide, enthusiastic scholars raised the idea that inequalities generated by access or lack of access to new technologies lie in the ordinary problem of getting physical access. Many believed that once people skip the problem of physical access, the new technology will alter existing social inequality (Norris, 2001). However, several findings (DiMaggio et al., 2004) suggest that simply having access, independent of the quality of use and quality of speed and connection, it is not a solution since there are important differences among Internet users, besides physical access. Some Internet users are more experienced and equipped with essential skills which help them find relevant content online, while others are not able to complete the same functions or use the technology at to the same capacity (Servon, 2002). Therefore, while inequalities in Internet access remain relevant especially in developing countries, we argue that digital divide scholars should also focus on to the disparities between people who already have Internet access, disparities that lead to digital inequality (Katz & Rice, 2002; DiMaggio, 2001; DiMaggio et al., 2004; Hargittai, 2008). In the present paper we stress the need to contextualize the problem of digital inequality as a source of social inequality, as several studies show that socioeconomic status influence the ways in which children and adults have access and use the Internet and other technologies (DiMaggio et al., 2004; van Dijk, 2005; Hargittai, 2008; Fizesan, 2012). Accordingly, in addition to factors such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability status, education, and wealth, one's social surroundings are also relevant when search for ICT experiences (Hargittai, 2008, p. 938).

Literature review

An increasing body of scholars left behind the basic approach of digital divide and proposed a new framework for studying the relation between access and use of new technologies and social inequalities (Hargittai & Zillien, 2009; DiMaggio et al., 2004; Hargittai & Hinnant, 2008; van Dijk 2005). They argue that universal Internet penetration will not eliminate inequality but rather will fuel new types of disparities among people. Therefore, we have to consider other factors, besides demographic ones, in order to understand how and why both children and adults exhibit different levels of online opportunities (DiMaggio et al. 2004; Hargittai 2010; Livingstone et al. 2011; Barbovschi & Fizesan 2013). Accordingly, variations in the quality of equipment, in autonomy of use or digital skills could offer a more in depth understanding on how digital inequalities are mapped across children and adults (DiMaggio et al., 2004; Hargittai, 2010; van Deursen, 2011). According to van Deursen (2011), each of these types of inequalities is expected to shape in a significant way the experience that both children and adults have online and the benefits gained from it. In addition, van Dijk (1999; 2005) stresses that these differences should not be considered less significant than the differences in physical access, especially in developed countries.

Bearing in mind these aspects, van Dijk (2005) proposes a "conceptual division" of the general term access into four successive stages of "access" to digital technology, conceptualization that is important in the study of digital inequality. The first one is motivational access (motivation to use digital technology), followed by the material or physical access (possession of computers, devices and Internet connections). Skills access (possession of digital skills: operational, informational and strategic) is the third stage while usage access (number and diversity of applications, usage time) is the last one. Accordingly, between the first two stages of access to the last two there is a gradual shift. When leaving behind the problems of motivation and material access, the problems of unequal skills and usage opportunities come to the fore (van Dijk, 2005, p. …

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