Roberto Gallardo has a new research report on Gauging Household Digital Readiness. I spend a ton of time focused on access – but as a librarian, I have been worried about readiness (information has morphed into digital) for decades. Access is a piece of digital readiness but as Roberto points out – it only a piece.
Here are the key findings from the report…
- Regarding device & internet access, nonmetro respondents relied more on their smartphones and mobile data to connect to the internet compared to their metro counterparts. They also had slightly higher device performance issues as well as more extended downtime periods with their internet access. Despite these disadvantages however, they connected to the internet as frequently and with diverse devices as their metro counterparts. In the end, nonmetro did have a lower DIA score compared to metropolitan respondents.
- Regarding digital resourcefulness and utilization, metro respondents had a slightly higher and statistically significant score but overall had similar digital resourcefulness levels as well as number and frequency of internet uses as nonmetro. On digital resourcefulness, while both metro and nonmetro respondents felt electronic devices made them more productive, a higher share of nonmetro respondents needed help setting up new electronic devices as well as finding it difficult to discern online information as trustworthy. Likewise, the share of nonmetro responses was higher compared to metro in all three statements regarding online echo chambers. On internet utilization, both metro and nonmetro households used the internet on average 11 different ways (out of 25 listed) at least once monthly. As expected, households relying more on mobile data (50 percent or more of the time over the past year) had a lower internet utilization.
- Regarding internet benefits and impact, there is ample room for growth. A higher share of respondents saved money online compared to earning money regardless of metro status. More than four-fifths of respondents did not make money online gauged by selling, freelancing or renting. In addition, about twelve percent of respondents, regardless of metro status, saved money online regarding healthcare. Less than ten percent of respondents obtained a promotion due to online educational credentials, but nonmetro households had a higher share compared to metro. Lastly, a little more than one-fifth of respondents (metro) secured a job due to the internet over the past year, while less than fifteen percent of nonmetro did.
- Regarding the digital readiness index score, metro households had a higher score (5.2) compared to nonmetro (4.5), leaving ample room for improvement given 10 is the highest score. More interestingly, when it comes to digital readiness a metro-nonmetro divide was not as large and surpassed by income and occupation differences.
- Lastly, the dimension that yields more bang for the buck regarding improving digital readiness is digital resourcefulness and utilization after controlling for specific socioeconomic characteristics. On the other hand, of the three dimensions analyzed, internet benefits and impact had the lowest score. In other words, the impact of the internet on households—as measured by this study—is lagging. This implies that focusing on improving digital literacy and skills is critical to ensure the benefits of internet continue to accrue to households.
I am most excited by the final point – the focus on digital resourcefulness and utilization. Because that’s when technology changes from being a challenge to a solution. It’s like the change in grade school, when kids go from learning to read to reading to learn. A world opens up! You need to have access, you need to have devices that work – but that’s technology. A big enough check will take care of that. Resourceful and utilization is all people.
It is interesting to see what people do online based on their location…
Also interesting to see who saves money and who makes money online. Non-metro people seem to make less money freelancing; I wonder how much of that is attributed to Uber/Lyft. Whereas non-metro households earn more in rent. Maybe that’s Air B&B – certainly that could be true in some of Minnesota’s lake areas. Non-metro households also report greater savings with online healthcare.
Some factors I’m sure reflect the difference in rural/urban areas and some reflect the difference in people who choose to live in one or the other.
On top of being an interesting look at what people do online I think this report does help propose some options to encourage greater use. First non-users can see how much is to be gained by moving some activities online but also digital inclusion professionals can focus on getting beyond that learning to read stage to encourage greater satisfaction and stronger desire to learn more. It reminds me of one of my favorite digital inclusion activities – the scavenger hunt. Get people to travel the city of town using online apps and other tools for prizes. Encouraging resourcefulness and utilization!