Digital capital and online activities: An empirical analysis of the second level of digital divide

Ruiu Maria Laura and Ragnedda Massimo (2020), Digital capital and online activities: An empirical analysis of the second level of digital divide, First Monday, 25(7) DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v25i7.10855

Abstract: This paper explores inequalities in using the Internet by investigating several digital activities that require different levels of digital capital. Data collected in the U.K. through an online survey of a national representative sample (868 respondents) shows that levels of digital capital and type and quality of online activities are intertwined. The analysis shows that digital capital, conceived and measured as a specific capital, is entangled with the frequency/intensity of social, economic/financial means, ordinary/daily entertainment, and political activities, but not with learning-related activities. This work contributes to the literature in both empirical and theoretical terms by testing the reliability of digital capital and expanding its use to investigate digital inequalities. From a policy-making point of view, the awareness of citizens’ level of digital capital may help tailor initiatives to support citizens in using ICTs on a wide array of fields, such as job seeking, sociability, savings, familial relationships, and several online activities. Finally, this paper highlights that digital inequalities cannot be tackled by considering access and competence separately. By contrast, the adoption of measures that synthesise the two dimensions might help simplify policy-making’s initiatives to tackle digital inequalities.


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Reconceptualising the digital divide

Mapping the Digital Divide in AfricaRagnedda, M. (2019). Reconceptualising the digital divide. In Mutsvairo, B., and Ragnedda, M., (2019) (eds)., Mapping the Digital Divide in Africa. A mediated Analysis. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 27-43.

Introduction

The term “digital divide” emerged in the 1990s to define inequalities in access to the Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), framing it as a matter of having or not having access to ICTs (Compaine 2001). The firsts empirical researches have shown how some specific socio-demographic variables, such as employment status, income, education level, geographic location, ethnicity, age, gender and family structure, influenced the access to the ICTs, creating a digital gap or divide among citizens (domestic digital divide) or countries (global digital divide). Such inequalities have widened during the years, despite the fact that the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Geneva (2003) and then in Tunis (2005) has stressed the idea that no one should be left out from the benefits offered by the information society. The importance of the Internet as a pre-requisite for economic and social development, has been further stressed by the United Nations in 2015 when the Internet has been included among its goals for resolving the most persistent social and economic challenges of our time (UN, 2015: 15). Indeed, in a digital enabled society, part of the human activities depends on how we access, generate and process information. It is then worth asking how the phenomenon of digital divide and digital inequalities has been approached and analysed by both scholars and policy makers and how such approach has changed over the years. Hence, the aim of this chapter is to discuss the change of perspectives in analysing and attempting to bridge the digital divide, and reconceptualise this concept by offering a nuanced theoretical approach to analyses the rise and persistence of digital inequalities.

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The evolving digital divide: from the first to the third level

emeraldIn this blog written for the Real Impact blog @massimoragnedda  and @marialauraruiu  discuss the inequalities in accessing and using technology

The rise of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) was seen at the beginning as an opportunity for freedom of information, and to level up existing inequalities (Rheingold, 1993; Negroponte, 1995). However, scholars realized soon that access to ICTs would give an advantage to specific citizens/users (Resnick, 1998; Hargittai, 2000). The term “digital divide” emerged to describe inequalities in access to the technologies of the information society. At the early stage of research on the digital divide, access to the Internet and ownership of ICTs was seen both by scholars and by policy makers as the most crucial factor. The possibilities for an individual to access and use the Internet are at the base of the first level of digital divide.

Moving beyond access….

Nevertheless, access to the Internet alone cannot determine how much value users gain from the Internet and, therefore, this dichotomy of “haves” and “have nots” is ineffective to describe a phenomenon that is no longer based only on the possession of technology or simple access to it. After the fading of the initial euphoria surrounding the rise of ICTs, it become clear that users with more information skills, more resources, and more social and economic capital would gain greater advantages than others. These digital inequalities opened up new dimensions of social segmentation, interwoven with traditional cultural and social inequalities and potentially reinforcing them. Digital divide started to be seen as a phenomenon relating to complex issues that involve all aspects of community life, in economic, political, cultural and social arenas.

We have moved from the first level of digital divide (mainly based on access to the Internet) to a more sophisticated and multidimensional second level (based on the disparities in computer and Internet use). Skills, competence and abilities to use the Internet have become more important than even. Not only the material access to the Internet is taken into consideration, but also the different uses of it. Recently a new approach defined as the third level of digital divide emerged (Ragnedda 2017). It focuses on the social and cultural benefits deriving from accessing and using the Internet. It analyses the offline returns of accessing and using digital technologies, attempting to understand who gains the most advantage from the Internet (van Deursen and Helsper 2015).

How do we close the divide?

Accessing and properly using ICTs constitutes a new civic right. Narrowing the uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of ICTs between individuals, must be ranked as one of the top human rights priority. The possibilities that the Internet offers to citizens in economic, political, social and cultural areas are not exploited by everybody in the same way. The Internet influences possibilities for citizens to improve their life chances, but in a vicious circle, based on their original social position. In other terms, social strata that already enjoy social advantages become further privileged by using the Internet.

The different uses we make of the Internet lead to completely different roles of the network in people’s lives. Socio-economic and cultural backgrounds affect the access to and the use of the Internet (first and second level) and that this online experience influences people’s life chances and the opportunities they have in the offline world (third level). Digital inequalities, therefore, tend not only to reinforce social inequalities already existing in the offline society, but also to enlarge the gap between the less advantaged and the most advantaged individuals. Social strata that in the social realm tend to obtain more valuable resources are the same that tend to exploit ICTs most advantageously.

Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu examine how digital capital can be defined, measured and impact policy in their recently published book Digital Capital: A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide. Find out more here.

Digital Capital. A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide

cover book digital capitalMassimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu (2020), Digital Capital. A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide, Emerald Publishing

Description

Starting from the assumption that digital capital is a capital in its own right, and can be quantified and measured as such, the authors of this book examine how digital capital can be defined, measured and impact policy.

Using the Bourdieusian lens, this book makes a critical contribution to the field by examining in depth the notion of digital capital and by introducing a new theoretical toolkit in order to fully conceptualise it. Against this theoretical background, the authors propose a set of indicators that can be used to measure digital capital at an individual level. Ultimately, readers will learn how this can be used by policy makers to tackle social inequalities which are based on the digital exclusion of citizens.

Reviews

As digital communications becomes ever more central to everyday life, work and leisure, their impact on inequality becomes increasingly profound. Is there a new ‘digital capital’ acquired by those who gain most from these technologies? The authors, established experts in this field, address this problem with a thorough and informed analysis of the concept, and its implications for policy and understanding.’

– Peter Golding, Professor, Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, UK

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Does Digital Exclusion Undermine Social Media’s Democratizing Capacity?

New Global StudiesMutsvairo, B. & Ragnedda, M. (2019). Does Digital Exclusion Undermine Social Media’s Democratizing Capacity?  New Global Studies, doi:10.1515/ngs-2019-0035

Claims have been made that the advent of social media and its assumed ability to fuel social strife and organize anti-government protests has empowered people around the world to successfully challenge repressive authorities. However, in an era in which several issues ranging from digital colonialism to digital exclusion among other challenges, have become so dominant, it is our role as researchers to question some of these claims especially when they seem unsubstantiated. Sharing or finding solidarity is something that can be done on social media platforms but nothing is as critical as being part of the digital community. In that regard, questions surrounding digital exclusion are critical especially when discussing the extent to which social media influences democracy, questions that several scholars from every corner of the world are currently seized with. In this article, we not only identify social media’s potential but we also probe problems associated with beliefs that digital networks have the capacity to support democratization. Contemporary societies should be asking what the real gains of the fall of the Berlin Wall are in the work of these fundamental digital shifts, which have left both negative and positive outcomes on all countries including established Western democracies.

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Measuring Digital Capital: An empirical investigation

nms-cover-socialMassimo Ragnedda, Maria Laura Ruiu, and Felice Addeo (2019). Measuring Digital Capital: An empirical investigation. New Media and Society. 1-24.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819869604

Abstract

This article develops a Digital Capital Index by adopting the definition provided by Ragnedda, who defines Digital Capital as the accumulation of digital competencies and digital technologies, and the model for measuring it developed by Ragnedda and Ruiu. It aims to develop a measure that can be replicated for comparison in different contexts. This article contributes both theoretically and empirically to the literature by (a) consolidating the concept of Digital Capital as a specific capital and (b) empirically measuring it. A Digital Capital Index is developed through an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and validated with a representative sample survey of 868 UK citizens. The validation procedure shows that the Digital Capital Index is associated with socioeconomic and sociodemographic patterns, such as age, income, educational level and place of residence, while it appears not to be related to gender.

Introduction

This article develops a Digital Capital Index (DCI) by adopting a definition of Digital Capital as ‘“a set of internalised abilities and aptitudes” (digital competencies) as well as “externalised resources” (digital technology) that can be historically accumulated and transferred from one arena to another’ (Ragnedda, 2018). This definition conceptualises Digital Capital as a specific capital (though intertwined with other capitals). Moving on from this conceptualisation, Ragnedda and Ruiu (2019) proposed some indicators to measure Digital Capital. However, this model construct has hitherto never been tested. This article fills this gap in the literature by exploring the empirical application of these indicators which were developed only at a theoretical level.

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IAMCR MADRID 2019

IAMCR presentationThe IAMCR 2019 was the largest conference ever organized by IAMCR, with 1,785 registered participants from 83 countries and 5 continents. The International Association for Media and Communication Research – the preeminent worldwide professional organisation in the field of media and communication research – organized the conference at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid from the July 7 – 11, 2019.

The day before the main conference, I co-organized with my colleagues Bruce Mutsvairo (University of Technology Sydney) and Kristin Skare Orgeret (Oslo Metropolitan University) a preconference/Special issue Information, Communication and Society. The preconference Era or Error of Transformation? Assessing Afrocentric Attributes of Digitalisation has been really successful with 18 case studies presented and discussed. Continue reading “IAMCR MADRID 2019”

Access to, and use of ICTs is as a new civil right: an essential necessity to be a full citizen

Liverpool LondonThe Digital Inclusion Policy and Research Conference 2019 (18 June to 19 June, London Campus of the University of Liverpool, University of Liverpool in London) brought together academic research with policy makers and stakeholders to review the current state for the art in digital inclusion policy and practice. DIPRC2019 drawn upon over two decades of research, policy, and practice. Over this time digital inequalities, digital inclusion and digital literacies have changed in response to developments in digital technologies and media. The primary aim of this conference was to link up international policy efforts to address digital inequalities, access and skills with the outcomes of recent research at from around the globe.

 

I underlined how the benefits of digital equity go well beyond the single citizen but impact on the community as a whole. We all known that an insufficient and unequal access to the Internet can create new forms of social segregation that exacerbate already existing social inequalities (Ragnedda 2018a). In fact, in a digital-reliant society being excluded from the digital realm means missing opportunities to improve one’s quality of life (Ragnedda and Mutsvairo 2018).

Continue reading “Access to, and use of ICTs is as a new civil right: an essential necessity to be a full citizen”