Our Online or Offline Life: Is There a Difference?
Hargittai and Boyd clearly express, empirically and theoretically respectively, that equal access does not result in digital equality. Hargittai is focused on the socioecononmic status and Boyd the racial status. Both articles conclude there are digital inequalities online similar to our offline lives.
Whenever addressing or exploring the barriers of socioeconomic status, my immediate reaction is, “how is that possible?” I grew up in a compromised socioeconmomic status and I have always surmised that I am not compromised…are there not genetics and environmental implications too? How about peer pressure or association? But when I read Hargittai’s empirical evidence and reflect seriously, it’s a reality; a compromised socioeconomic status does create digital inequalities. What Hargittai describes as the digital divide online is a real concern, not only for the inequalities but in the way it further divides and alienates the disadvantaged, whether they are the housewife with little time for access or the digital native with a low socioeconomic status. The Internet is confirming and reinforcing the barriers that already occur in the offline world. In Boyd’s article, she quotes Hillary Clinton, “The internet can serve as a great equalizer. By providing people with access to knowledge and potential markets, networks can create opportunity where none exists.” People need access and the ability to know how to use it before an opportunity can exist. Clinton should have said, “Education is the great equalizer. By providing people with access to education, it will create opportunity where none exists.”
I agree with Hargittai, the barriers of having a low socioeconomic status and minimal education have proven to “replicate” or even “amplify” the barriers to access and the productive use of the Internet.
Learners enrolled in online classes are faced with many challenges. It could be due to the digital inequalities discussed by Hargittai and Boyd. Hargittai writes about gender issues. Most would assume that the convenience of online will fit into the commitments of a woman’s family life because of the freedom of participation. However, “Hargittai and Shafer (2006) noted, among other things, that because of their larger share of household and child-rearing responsibilities, women have less leisure time for using the computer and browsing the Web suggesting that gender inequalities in Internet use remain even once we control for basic access differences.” Then, Hargittai cites, “Analyzing data from a national sample of Internet users, these authors found that those with a college degree or more were more likely to seek health information, engage in financial transactions, research and look for job information, and get news than those with lower levels of education.” This is certainly a barrier for those that may want to participate in online learning. An article by Rowntree (1995) describes the necessary literacy skills for online class success, that if lacking will cause a learner to drop out:
the ability to read messages from others and formulate appropriate responses: to read complex, sometimes lengthy passages, take notes, and create summaries of the information studied in a clear and succinct manner: communicate ideas and views and give an indication of one’s own expressed feeling in a textual medium, where the face to face contact is not available: to respond to other’s ideas and support, build on, modify, challenge, question. (p. 213)
More recently, Simmons and Simmons (2012) also reported that, “computer self-efficacy and task-technology fit are antecedents to trust in learning artifacts and impact student learning satisfaction and perceived learning outcomes” (p. 126).
I am sure there will be more evidence to come on the digital inequalities of the Internet, whether it is access or the type of use. Hargittai and Boyd, and might I add they are women, make very scientific and credible parallels between our online and offline lives.
References (outside of the readings)
Rowntree, D. (1995). Teaching and learning online: A correspondence education for the 21st century? British Journal of Education Technology, 26(3), 205-215.
Simmons, L. L., & Simmons, C. B. (2012). A good fit: Increasing online learner outcomes and satisfaction. Review of Business Research, 12(4), 121-128.