Is There Really an Ethnic Technological Gap?


            Year after year, countless studies are released that show the achievement gap widening between Whites and minorities.  And with the advent of the Internet, many critics anticipated that gap widening because it was believed that urban youth would not have access to the latest technology.  The term digital divide was often used to describe this prediction.

            However, assumptions do not always equal fact as Motivational Educational Entertainment (MEE) proves in their recently released report on the digital divide between lower income youth and their more affluent counterparts.  According to the report, “the overwhelming majority of low-income urban teens are accessing the Internet, buying the latest cell phones and engaging in online social networking.”

            MEE surveyed 1,512 mainly African American and Hispanic youth, between the ages of 15-20 in cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.  The data was strategically collected from the participants at schools, community centers and housing projects in these large urban areas.

            Contrary to popular belief, the report showed that 96 percent of urban youth have access to the Internet, either at home, school or in the workplace.  Furthermore, 68 percent are utilizing high speed Internet connection via cable, DSL or wireless. 

Nevertheless, the study showed that the digital divide does exist in the home with only about half of the participants stating that they had Internet access at home.  However, the report showed drastic improvement in home Internet access among Africa Americans, with 58 percent stating that they had home Internet access in 2008, compared with only 43 percent in 2002.  Forty-two percent said that they use the Internet daily, with 68 percent of those stating they spend at least two hours on the Internet everyday.

The popularity of social networking has contributed to the decline of the digital divide.  According to the report, “Youth mentioned using the Internet for email (50 percent), social networking (31 percent), downloading music (30 percent) and instant messaging (29 percent) … Six years ago, the most popular uses of the Internet by Black youth were email (22 percent), searching the Web (13 percent), school work (12 percent) and games (11 percent).”

Additionally, the necessity of cell phones, especially the popularity of “smart phones,” has contributed to the decline in the digital divide.  The vast majority of participants, 92 percent, reported owning a cell phone, according to the report.  Most participants stated that they use their cell phone for text messaging, taking photographs, filming videos, playing games and accessing the Internet. 

The most popular cell phone carrier amongst young people is T-Mobile (36 percent), according to the report by MEE, followed by AT&T (22 percent), and Sprint/Nextel (18 percent).  Of those surveyed, 61 percent, reported buying a new cell phone annually, and 60 percent reported they planned on purchasing a “smart phone” within the next six months.

The study, co-sponsored by Black Entertainment Television (BET) and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy was conducted to learn how to better understand the lifestyles and habits of urban youth in an attempt to better understand the digital divide and provide them with socially relevant messages through various forms of media.

James is a writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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