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«Exploring the Multidimensionality of the Smartphone Divide: A New Aspect of the Digital Divide I. Introduction: Smartphone Revolution It is clear by ...»

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Exploring the Multidimensionality of the Smartphone Divide: A New Aspect of the Digital


I. Introduction: Smartphone Revolution

It is clear by now that the smartphone is fundamentally changing the way users access

information and interact with their social networks. The advent of smartphones and their wide

usage even among low-income communities and communities of different races has also

changed the dynamics of the digital divide debates, opening up the possibility that some of the inequalities of access that existed prior to the advent of smartphones might be bridged (King, 2011). The Pew Internet Project reports that nearly half (46%) of American adults are smartphone owners as of February 2012, an increase of 11 percentage points over the 35% of Americans who owned a smartphone a year previously. Only two in five adults owned a cell phone that was not a smartphone. This indicates that smartphone owners are now more prevalent (Pew, 2012).

The sudden emergence and the increasing popularity of smartphones have generated much interest on their implications for the digital divide. With the more advanced features available on smartphones, a new digital divide might be emerging: non-smartphone users can be further marginalized in terms of their ability to access information and applications (Hargittai & Kim, 2012; Fortney, et al., 2011; Horrigan, 2011; Rice & Katz, 2010). This gap involves “unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow” (Jenkins, 2009, p. 3).

Such mobile gap can lead to a “dual digital divide” (Kim, Shin, Kho, & Lee, 2011; Selwyn, 2004;

van Dijk & Hacker, 2003; Molnár, 2002; Hargittai, 2002): an intergroup divide between smartphone users and non-users, and an intragroup divide among smartphone users caused by differences in skill levels permitting some to enjoy more sophisticated and advanced usage. The differential usage even among smartphone users arises because a smartphone is a versatile multimedia platform serving diverse purposes and functions (Verkasalo, 2010; King, 2011).

While smartphones and feature phones share some functionalities, smartphones have more capabilities such as cameras, touchscreen, GPS navigation, Wi-Fi, and mobile broadband access (Table 1). Above all, the open environment of smartphone applications enables the creation of functions that were never intended. The more skilled a user is in operating the smartphone, the greater is the possibility that he or she would be able to fully exploit the technical capabilities of the device. Therefore, an intragroup smartphone divide arises between users who are confined to a limited set of functions on the smartphone, and users who are able to use a diverse set of applications. Accordingly, in a converged and smart media environment, it no lo

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Although there is an extensive literature on the digital divide in broadband access and use, only a few research efforts have addressed the digital divide in mobile phone usage (Hargittai & Kim, 2012; Wu, Chan, Chen, & Ishii, 2006; Wareham, Levy, & Shi, 2004; Rice & Katz, 2003).

Therefore, this research study aims to fill the gap in the literature by looking into new dimensions of the smartphone divide and exploring the differential usage of smartphone users in terms of usage level, awareness and usability levels, usage scope, and consequential uses controlling for demographics and socioeconomic status.

In the following sections, we first review the literature on the digital divide with particular attention to identifying different dimensions of the divide. Among other objectives, this paper intends to suggest a theoretical framework and lay the ground for further empirical research and conceptual explications. After this theoretical framework is presented, we describe a pilot study targeting smartphone users and non-users. The study intends to empirically investigate the multiple dimensions of digital divide. As described below, some of our theoretical expectations were supported while others were not. The conclusions follow, with some theoretical and policy implications.

II. Multidimensionality of Mobile Divide

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In general, a smartphone can be understood as a mobile phone built on a mobile operating system (OS) with advanced computing ability and Internet access (Definition of Smartphone, 2011). Differentiating features of smartphones are their mobility, immediacy, instrumentality, and not bounded by time and place (Verna, 2012). In addition, smartphones are operated easily for personalization and self-expression. All media can be integrated on one single device with the possibility of creative Page 3 of 23 extensions. These advanced features, thus, would make the digital divide a more complicated multifaceted phenomenon. The recognizable divide(s) will be different depending on media, and media differences produce variances in information, lead to differentiate the users and users' usage and amount of use would lead again to the discrepancy of participation (van Dijk, 2012;

Selwyn, 2004; Bucy & Newhagen, 2004; van Dijk & Hacker, 2003). Ultimately, a participation divide would result. Thus, smartphone users may be subject to an access gap, a utilization gap, a gap caused by use consequences and even a cultural and psychological gap. From this perspective, Song (2004) posited several distinct dimensions of the mobile divide as shown in Table 2. First, whether a person possesses a smartphone or not creates an access gap. Second, differences in the duration, extensiveness and variety of use creates quantitative discrepancies.

Third, users’ awareness and capability to use varied functions and services and their ability to benefit from applications would add another dimension to the digital divide. Finally, the consequences of effective use, or the ways in which smartphones enable users to achieve greater efficacy and efficiency in their daily lives, can provide the last but not the least critical dimension to the smartphone divide.

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Several broad themes emerge in the literature regarding the smart phone divide. In the paragraphs below, we identify and discuss these broad themes: the relationship between socioeconomic factors and mobile access and usage; the potential of smartphones to reduce digital inequality; and the cultural and psychological divide that is created consequent to the differential use of smartphones in society. We discuss each of these themes in detail below.

Socioeconomic Divide

In the socioeconomic divide, smartphone users are differentiated from non-users by age, gender, income and education, as frequently identified in previous digital divide studies (Fox & Madden, 2005; van Dijk, 2005). That is, male, younger, higher income and better educated users are more likely to adopt and use smartphones (KCC, 2011). In a society with more advanced infrastructure, for example South Korea, the divide in broadband access was found to be negligible but the discrepancy in smartphone use was prominent (Lee, et al., 2012). In particular, Rice and Katz Page 4 of 23 (2003) analyzed three kinds of digital divides for the Internet and mobile phones: between users and nonusers, experienced and new users, and continuing users and those who have dropped out / discontinued usage. The study distinguishes the varied dimensions of the digital divide, and suggests that there are several digital divides, each predicted by somewhat different variables.

They found that early cell phone adopters had higher levels of income and education compared to nonusers. Wareham and his colleagues (2004) also discovered that income and education were positively related to 2G-based mobile phone ownership, but did not find any association with age.

The authors projected that for 3G-based systems, age might be negatively correlated with ownership due to the technological skills needed for the advanced applications of 3G devices.

This was verified in a cell phone adoption study in Japan (Akiyoshi & Ono, 2008) that found a positive relationship between income and education, and device ownership as well as mobile internet access. However, age was negatively associated with adoption and Internet use of cell phones. This finding coincides with the speculation of that older adults may not have the technological proficiency required for using the more advanced smartphones (Hargittai & Kim, 2012; Zickuhr & Smith, 2012).

Leapfrogging Effect by Smartphone

The recognition that advanced mobile technologies offer great potential to underprivileged groups has led scholars to hypothesize that mobile phones can help reduce digital inequality across population groups (Wareham, et al., 2004). That is, they speculate that mobile devices can have a leapfrogging effect by providing cheaper and more accessible resources to those who are not able to access more costly computers with broadband access. In stark contrast to documented trends in Internet use on computers where African Americans are behind Whites and Asian Americans (e.g., National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NTIA], 2010), Hargittai & Kim (2012) discovered that African Americans engage with more diverse types of mobile phone functionalities and have higher odds of using their phones for accessing email or the Web, playing games, listening to music, and using picture and video features than any other group. These results are consistent with findings from previous research regarding the prevalent adoption of mobile phones among African Americans (e.g., Wareham et al., 2004, Watkins 2009).

Horrigan (2012) investigated the substitution effect of smartphones for home broadband access by surveying 3,506 residents of Illinois. Considering the impact of minority groups' greater adoption rate of smartphones on closing the digital divide, Horrigan examined whether there were demographic differences between broadband access types (all broadband users, broadband, smartphone & tablet users, broadband & smartphone users, broadband at home only users, smartphone only users for Internet access). Relative to home broadband users, “smartphone only” users were younger, had lower levels of educational attainment, lower incomes, and were more likely to be African American or Hispanic, a result also confirmed by Yelton (2012). Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to own cellphones and use a wider range of their data feature but they are more likely access the Internet only from their phones.

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conscious compared to all other non-broadband users. Thus, the author concludes that “smartphone only” users are more likely to show a narrower scope of online usage and less confidence in their ability to find information online. Crawford (2011) suggested that there might be a big chasm between home broadband access and only wireless access in terms of closing the digital divide. Hagittai & Kim (2010) examined what functionalities younger users utilize on smartphones and whether there exist differentiated patterns of mobile phone usage that might result in the unequal access to resources depending on user background. Their conclusion also coincides with Crawford (2011) and Horrigan (2012): mobile devices seem to supplement traditional access to the Internet rather than replacing it.

Cultural and Psychological Divide

As indicated previously, the digital divide can be driven not only by external factors (socioeconomics) but also by endogenous psychological factors. That is, some people do not feel any need for obtaining new technologies and learning them, or in some instances, they may resist digital media (Facer & Furlong, 2001). According to the NTIA (2002), not only economic reasons but also lack of need and risk aversion were main reasons for not adopting technologies.

Kim (2005) identified two groups of people, digital laggards and “out-digitals,” Who lack access to digital technologies, but for quite different reasons. Digital laggards refer to people who want to adopt digital media but may have difficulties doing so, such as the elderly, the poor, the disabled and other underprivileged groups. On the other hand, “out-digitals” may appear to be misfit, internally resisting digital technologies and trying to keep to an analog life style. In Kim et al. (2010)'s study, some respondents without access were identified as either digital laggards or “out-digitals.” Individual attitude toward smartphones can be also a factor for the smartphone divide. The so-called “smartphone phobia” is associated with affective attitudes, fear and frustration, and usage-related stress. In particular, those people with fear of new technologies such as computers would have difficulty using a smartphone. Since phobias are primarily motivated by internal psychological factors, it is a reasonable assumption that within the same demographic groups, big gaps in attitudes towards digital media may be found. To date, however, research about the digital divide has presumed that users within the same demographic group will share similar features or characteristics and show the same patterns in adopting and using technologies. However, even in the same demographic and socioeconomic groups, so much variation is found depending on a person's environment, capability, and psychological attributes.

For instance, all younger users may not be digital natives or cyber kids (Facer & Furlong, 2001).

In this case, lack of self-efficacy or self-confidence will possibly explain the differences (Park & Chen, 2007). Self-efficacy in the smartphone environment indicates a form of self-evaluation that influences people’s decisions on what they can do with a given skill in order to produce a certain goal (Bandura, 1986). People lacking self-efficacy feel less motivation for using smartphones. The level of self-efficacy can be detected by observing use time, persistence of use, the frustration level when confronted with failure. Usually, low self-efficacy leads to lack of adoption and use, which can be a psychological factor causing the digital divide (Park & Chen, 2007; Stanley, 2003).

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