Document (#33797)

Author
Mossberger, K.
Tolbert, C.J.
Stansbury, M.
Title
Virtual inequality : beyond the digital divide
Imprint
Washington, DC : Georgetown University Press
Year
2003
Pages
xvi, 192 S
Isbn
0-87840-999-8
Series
American governance and public policy
Abstract
That there is a "digital divide" - which falls between those who have and can afford the latest in technological tools and those who have neither in our society - is indisputable. "Virtual Inequality" redefines the issue as it explores the cascades of that divide, which involve access, skill, political participation, as well as the obvious economics. Computer and Internet access are insufficient without the skill to use the technology, and economic opportunity and political participation provide primary justification for realizing that this inequality is a public problem and not simply a matter of private misfortune. Defying those who say the divide is growing smaller, this volume, based on a national survey that includes data from over 1800 respondents in low-income communities, shows otherwise. In addition to demonstrating why disparities persist in such areas as technological abilities, the survey also shows that the digitally disadvantaged often share many of the same beliefs as their more privileged counterparts. African-Americans, for instance, are even more positive in their attitudes toward technology than whites are in many respects, contrary to conventional wisdom. The rigorous research on which the conclusions are based is presented accessibly and in an easy-to-follow manner. Not content with analysis alone, nor the untangling of the complexities of policymaking, "Virtual Inequality" views the digital divide compassionately in its human dimensions and recommends a set of practical and common-sense policy strategies. Inequality, even in a virtual form this book reminds us, is unacceptable and a situation that society is compelled to address.
Footnote
Rez. in: JASIST 55(2004) no.5, S.467-468 (W. Koehler): "Virtual Inequality is an important contribution to the digital divide debate. That debate takes two basic forms. One centers an the divide between the "information rich" developed countries and the "information poor" developing countries. The second is concerned with the rift between information "haves" and "have-nots" within countries. This book addresses the latter domain and is concerned with the digital divide in the United States. This book is the product of a cross-disciplinary collaboration. Mossberger and Tolbert are both members of the Kent State University political science department while Stansbury is an the Library and Information Science faculty. The book is extremely well documented. Perhaps the chapter an the democracy divide and e-government is the best done, reflecting the political science bent of two of the authors. E-government is very well covered. Unfortunately, e-commerce and e-education go virtually unmentioned. If e-government is important to defining the digital divide, then certainly e-commerce and e-education are as well. Mossberger, Tolbert, and Stansbury argue that the digital divide should be described as four different divides: the access divide, the skills divide, the economic opportunity divide, and the democratic divide. Each of these divides is developed in its own chapter. Each chapter draws well an the existing literature. The book is valuable if for no other reason than that it provides an excellent critique of the current state of the understanding of the digital divide in the United States. It is particularly good in its contrast of the approaches taken by the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Perhaps this is a function of the multidisciplinary strength of the book's authorship, for indeed it shows here. The access divide is defined along "connectivity" lines: who has access to digital technologies. The authors tonfirm the conventional wisdom that age and education are important predictors of in-home access, but they also argue that rate and ethnicity are also factors (pp. 32-33): Asian Americans have greatest access followed by whites, Latinos, and African Americans in that order. Most access the Internet from home or work, followed by friends' computers, libraries, and other access points. The skills divide is defined as technical competence and information literacy (p. 38). Variation was found along technical competence for age, education, affluence, rate, and ethnicity, but not gender (p. 47). The authors conclude that for the most part the skills divide mirrors the access divide (p. 55). While they found no gender difference, they did find a gender preference for skills acquisition: males prefer a more impersonal delivery ("online help and tutorials") while females prefer more personal instruction (p. 56).
The economic opportunity divide is predicated an the hypothesis that there has, indeed, been a major shift in opportunities driven by changes in the information environment. The authors document this paradigm shift well with arguments from the political and economic right and left. This chapter might be described as an "attitudinal" chapter. The authors are concerned here with the perceptions of their respondents of their information skills and skill levels with their economic outlook and opportunities. Technological skills and economic opportunities are correlated, one finds, in the minds of all across all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and income levels. African Americans in particular are ". . attuned to the use of technology for economic opportunity" (p. 80). The fourth divide is the democratic divide. The Internet may increase political participation, the authors posit, but only among groups predisposed to participate and perhaps among those with the skills necessary to take advantage of the electronic environment (p. 86). Certainly the Web has played an important role in disseminating and distributing political messages and in some cases in political fund raising. But by the analysis here, we must conclude that the message does not reach everyone equally. Thus, the Internet may widen the political participation gap rather than narrow it. The book has one major, perhaps fatal, flaw: its methodology and statistical application. The book draws upon a survey performed for the authors in June and July 2001 by the Kent State University's Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) lab (pp. 7-9). CATI employed a survey protocol provided to the reader as Appendix 2. An examination of the questionnaire reveals that all questions yield either nominal or ordinal responses, including the income variable (pp. 9-10). Nevertheless, Mossberger, Tolbert, and Stansbury performed a series of multiple regression analyses (reported in a series of tables in Appendix 1) utilizing these data. Regression analysis requires interval/ratio data in order to be valid although nominal and ordinal data can be incorporated by building dichotomous dummy variables. Perhaps Mossberger, Tolbert, and Stansbury utilized dummy variables; but 1 do not find that discussed. Moreover, 1 would question a multiple regression made up completely of dichotomous dummy variables. I come away from Virtual Inequality with mixed feelings. It is useful to think of the digital divide as more than one phenomenon. The four divides that Mossberger, Tolbert, and Stansbury offeraccess, skills, economic opportunity, and democratic-are useful as a point of departure and debate. No doubt, other divides will be identified and documented. This book will lead the way. Second, without question, Mossberger, Tolbert, and Stansbury provide us with an extremely well-documented, -written, and -argued work. Third, the authors are to be commended for the multidisciplinarity of their work. Would that we could see more like it. My reservations about their methodological approach, however, hang over this review like a shroud."
Anmerkung des Rezensenten in JASIST 55(2004) no.11, S.1024: "After reflecting an a requestfrom the authors of the reviewed book, 1 find that I did indeed err in my criticism of their methodology. The work's fault lies not with the methodology but rather with the discussion and explanation provided for the methodology. The authors do offer brief methodological explanation and justification in endnotes and appendices but are less clear in the book's text. I apologize to both the readers of the review and the authors for misinterpreting the text. For the authors' part, a methodology chapter would have been welcome. I am pleased to put right this misinterpretation that cast a shadow over an otherwise fine work."
Theme
Internet
Field
Kommunikationswissenschaften
LCSH
Digital divide
RSWK
Informationsgesellschaft / Digitale Spaltung
BK
05.20 / Kommunikation und Gesellschaft
71.43 / Technologische Faktoren <Soziologie>
06.30 / Bibliothekswesen / Dokumentationswesen: Allgemeines
DDC
303.48/33 / dc21
LCC
HN49.I56M67 2003
RVK
ST 650

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