Monday, May 07, 2007

America's digital divide

TechCrunch reports on a new study (pdf) from the Pew Internet & American Life Project that shows a growing digital divide across America. Not exactly a light read (65 pages) -- it sorts Americans into 10 distinct groups of information and communication users:

  • Omnivores: 8% of American adults constitute the most active participants in the information society, consuming information goods and services at a high rate and using them as a platform for participation and self-expression. (Median age 28)

  • The Connectors: 7% of the adult population surround themselves with technology and use it to connect with people and digital content. They get a lot out of their mobile devices and participate actively in online life. (Median age 38)

  • Lackluster Veterans: 8% of American adults make up a group who are not at all passionate about their abundance of modern ICTs. Few like the intrusiveness their gadgets add to their lives and not many see ICTs adding to their personal productivity. (Median age 40)

  • Productivity Enhancers: 9% of American adults happily get a lot of things done with information technology, both at home and at work. (Median age 40)

  • Mobile Centrics: 10% of the general population are strongly attached to their cell phones and take advantage of a range of mobile applications. (Median age 32)

  • Connected but Hassled: 9% of American adults fit into this group. They have invested in a lot of technology, but the connectivity is a hassle for them. (Median age 46)

  • Inexperienced Experimenters: 8% of adults have less ICT on hand than others. They feel competent in dealing with technology, and might do more with it if they had more. (Median age 50)

  • Light but Satisfied: 15% of adults have the basics of information technology, use it infrequently and it does not register as an important part of their lives. (Median age 53)

  • Indifferents: 11% of adults have a fair amount of technology on hand, but it does not play a central role in their daily lives. (Median age 47)

  • Off the Net: 15% of the population, mainly older Americans, is off the modern information network. (Median age 64)

  • As I was looking at the report I had series of thoughts -- now excuse me while I type out this mental process and let me know if it makes any sense or not... In October 2006 ALA announced Membership looking a little younger with:

    54% of membership was born between 1940-1959; 38.5% between 1960-

    With me so far? So comparing the two sets of data (which I probably technically can't do but who's gonna stop me?) -- in theory ALA should have 38.5% of it's membership in the top 5 tech savvy groups listed above, right? Of course that's nation (potentially content) wide -- what about your library? When I started my first professional library job back in 1999 I was told that there would be a large number of retirements over the next several years. Even the OLA Recruitment Committee reports:

    25% of the current librarians will be 65-years-old in 2009

    Which means there's a significant number of our colleagues are are not as comfortable with technology (at least in theory according to the Pew study). So my question for you is, Where do your colleagues reside in the above list? Now remember you can't rely on age alone you have to look at their tech habits. But how do you determine their tech habits or even their tech potential? You can always use resources like WebJunction's Sustaining Public Access Computing: Technology Competencies as starting point.

    So what is your library doing to recruit or to train professional to become Omnivores and Connectors? Better yet how is your library reaching out to patrons who fall into these broad categories?

    I know tons of questions -- and not many answers -- but I never claimed to have them but perhaps together we can figure it out?

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