Today, as mobile technology puts computers in our pockets, Latinos and blacks are more likely than the general population to access the Web by cellular phones, and they use their phones more often to do more things.
But now some see a new "digital divide" emerging — with Latinos and blacks being challenged by more, not less, access to technology. It's tough to fill out a job application on a cellphone, for example. Researchers have noticed signs of segregation online that perpetuate divisions in the physical world. And blacks and Latinos may be using their increased Web access more for entertainment than empowerment.
Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 46% of blacks use their phones to access the Internet, compared with 33% of whites, according to a July 2010 Pew poll. Forty-seven percent of Latinos and 41% of blacks use their phones for e-mail, compared with 30% of whites. The figures for using social media like Facebook via phone were 36% for Latinos, 33% for blacks and 19% for whites.
A greater percentage of whites than blacks and Latinos still have broadband access at home, but laptop ownership is now about even for all these groups, after black laptop ownership jumped from 34% in 2009 to 51% in 2010, according to Pew.
Yet mobile Internet access may not be the great equalizer. Aaron Smith
, a Pew senior research specialist, says there are obvious limitations on what you can do on a mobile device — updating a resume being the classic example.
"Research has shown that people with an actual connection at home, the ability to go online on a computer at home, are more engaged in a lot of different things that people who rely on access from work, a friend's house, or a phone," Smith says.
Smith, the Pew researcher, says more research is needed to understand the implications of blacks and Latinos moving so quickly to mobile Web access, because this technology is changing the patterns of Internet use as profoundly as the shift from dial-up to broadband did over the past decade.
"Mobile is a totally different experience," he says. "It's a huge change when the gateway to information in the digital world is always with you."Read More