Résumé

Both Have Good Points

Bobbi Newman and Jason Griffey had a recent tweet-versation(?) about mobile devices and broadband access. They ended up agreeing to blog about it instead of debating 140 characters at a time:

As this post’s title implies, both make good points about mobile’s place in internet access among all people. Due to semi-recent poll results, this argument is most apropos to cultural minorities and low-income respondents.

Bobbi — The Good

  • Shows compassion and caring as it regards equal access to information
  • Uses socio-economic context from poll-based articles correctly

Jason — The Good

  • Acknowledges mobile is different from PC, but not worse necessarily
  • Puts debate in a forward-thinking context

Bobbi — The Less-Good

  • It’s harmful to lump low-income and racial minorities together
  • Distinction between access rights and subsidized access is blurry

Jason — The Less-Good

  • Argument appears to assert that in the future everything will be better
  • Focuses on device capabilities rather than the end use of the device

Notes

  1. It’s wrong to lump cultural groups with economic groups when the behaviors of either, or each as separated sample groups, may yield clearer insights. For instance, it’s likely that low-income African Americans have a different browsing trend than higher-income African Americans. The same is likely true of Caucasians. The difference across income and between cultural identities may show us that the mobile trend isn’t entirely income-based or race-based. One indicator that this is true is that Young Adults are identified as a mobile-predominant group. It’s not insinuated that young people are low-income, while the articles and posts both tie race to income at least once
  2. As Bobbi alluded to in her post on the matter, there’s a difference between a right and an ‘entitlement'. That’s why it’s so difficult to talk about broadband access being a right without being very precise about what you mean. It’s also why it’s important not to lump racial and economic groups together. If there were racial discrimination with regard to internet access, that would be injustice. If people with lower-range incomes cannot afford the luxury of a massive information source and the technology necessary to tap it (speaking in present terms), then it becomes a matter of welfare politics. Citizens have the right to property (Locke called it ‘estate,‘ Jefferson “the pursuit of happiness”), but the government doesn’t give everybody lots of land just for being born. I’m not going to talk about my political belief on the matter of subsidizing broadband access; I’m just pointing out that whether or not broadband access is a right, the consequences of such a declaration revolve around entitlement politics
  3. While it’s likely that the near future will bring advances to mobile data speeds, more processing power within the same form factor, and perhaps further improvement in data layout/usability/etc., it’s merely wishful thinking. What about now? What about people who can’t afford top-of-the-line mobiles OR any PC + Broadband? Looking at it from a present perspective, people without a PC or a smartphone with data plan have limited options for accessing the internet. Is the playing field level or not? What can we do, working only from assumptions at our current level of technology/information, to level the playing field? Is there anything inherently wrong with the playing field not being level that would necessitate intervention?
  4. When talking about broadband access, the end use is the important part. Can mobile users, albeit in a different way, get to (and/or publish) the same information that PC users can? If not, is the alternative largely the same, save for form factor considerations? Can information, styled across form factors, be considered the same information?

I’m so glad that Bobbi has written on the topic and Jason has furthered the debate. Information access via broadband connections may very well be a huge social and political issue in our time, so I’m glad to see librarians taking up the cause.