Monday, March 26, 2007

latinos online - a new report from the pew hispanic center and the pew internet & american life project

back in the 1990s, when bill clinton and al gore were running things, the national telecommunications and information administration (ntia) began publishing research reports about what we then called "the digital divide." in 1995, they published falling through the net, followed, in 1998, with falling through the net II. both reports brought much needed attention and public discussion about the internet, access, and inclusion. unfortunately, today, ntia is a shell of what it once was. fortunately, the pew internet & american life project has stepped up to partially fill the void.

latinos online, written by susannah fox and gretchen livingston, is a collaboration between the pew hispanic center and the pew internet & american life project. the report explores latinos/hispanics in the US and their use (and lack of use) of the internet. the findings are disturbing and sobering and remind us, once again, that race (and education and class and language) matter online.

the report is particularly timely. as fox and livingston note, "Over the last decade, the internet has become woven into American life, just at the time that Hispanics have become the fastest growing component of the U.S. population" (p. 1). further, the collaboration between the two centers is smart. although the pew internet & american life project has published previous research on the topic - hispanics and the internet (2001) - the interviews were conducted entirely in english. with help from pew hispanic center, the interviews and surveys that inform the current study were done in english and spanish. excellent.

so what do we learn?

1. the percentage of latinos/as online is well below other groups' adoption rates. as the report notes, "Fifty-six percent of Latinos in the U.S. use the internet. By comparison, 71% of non-Hispanic whites and 60% of non-Hispanic blacks use the internet" (p. 3)

2. much of the difference in use rates is related to education. "Individuals who have not graduated from high school are much less likely to use the internet regardless of their racial or ethnic background. Four in ten Hispanic adults have not completed high school, compared with about one in ten white adults. Therefore the low rate of high school completion among Hispanics contributes to their relatively low internet use" (p. 4).

3. further, among latinos/as, language use relates significantly to internet use. "Fully 78% of Latinos who are English-dominant and 76% of bilingual Latinos use the internet, compared to 32% of Latinos who are Spanish-dominant" (p. 9).

4. significantly, national origins is a factor for latino/a internet use. latinos/as who trace their origins to central america are the least likely to use the internet (50% of them go online). next is latinos of mexican descent (52%), followed by latinos of dominican republic descent (59%). this is followed by latinos of cuban descent (64%), puerto rican descent (66%), and south american descent (70% - pp. 10-11)

5. access remains a huge issue. according to the report, the reasons given for not going online were as follows: 53% do not have access; 18% not interested; 10% too difficult or frustrating; 6% too expensive; and 5% too busy or do not have time (p. 14).

unfortunately, there has never been ample academic interest in the field of race, ethnicity, and the internet. near the beginning of the decade, there were important works, including beth kolko, lisa nakamura, and gil rodman's race in cyberspace, nakamura's cybertypes: race, ethnicity, and identity on the internet, alondra nelson, thuy lin n. tu, and alicia headlam hines' technicolor: race, technology, and everyday life, and emily noelle ignacio's building diaspora: filipino cultural community formation on the internet, to name some of the most influential. these days, however, perhaps as a result of the web 2.0 hype that has seemed to dull the critical edge of the field, too few studies about race and the internet exist. (two important and exciting exceptions: native on the net: virtual diaspora in the digital age, edited by kyra landzelius, and information technology and indigenous people, edited by laurel evelyn dyson, max hendriks, and stephen grant. if you are interested in reviewing one of these books for RCCS, please let me know in the comments. thank you kim christen for bringing these books to my attention.)

latinos online is an important, timely, and sobering report about yet another aspect of american culture that needs major fixing. kudos to pew hispanic center and pew internet & american life project for addressing the difficult questions so many of us love to avoid and much respect to those of you working hard and creatively to find solutions.


Jay Fienberg said...

This is very interesting, and the access issue is really telling. I think the phone and cable monopoly situation in the US is causing a lot of harm through its model of under-providing and overpricing Internet access. said...

You are right on. Access is the big issue, but not only for Latinos. Millions of Americans in rural and low-income areas do not have access to high speed broadband because it does not yet pay for providers to invest in these areas. Only 11% of households with an income of less than $30,000 suscribe. We need a national policy in place to provide for high speed broadband for all Americans. We can stimulate investment with tax incentives and universal service fund reform. For more ideas on how to achieve a national high speed internet for all policy go to the Speed Matters website:

hunter said...

Google tried, San Francisco hesitated. said...

Hunter, I don't know if wireless is the answere, especially in dense urban areas. From everyone I have talked to it seems that wireless is too slow when a lot of people are on at the same time. I have heard the same with cable (from my gameing friends). Fiber seems to be the way to go. With new developments like telemedicine very high speed is needed. We just have to find a way to stimulate investment by the big companies so that all areas of the country are served.