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Understanding Numbers

I was reading a blog entry today that reminds me to be cautious with simple numbers-based statements to drive strategies. Discussions based on such numbers about “a community which has computers in only slightly more than half of the households” is too simple. This drove speculation about completely disenfranchising those who are on the wrong side of the Digital Divide by using too many digital strategies. Household penetration is a different concept than actual ‘available’ Internet access. Most research studies and censuses combine the numbers for home and work access to determine the base lines for participation in the web-based world. Indeed some studies show that a significant portion of web access is through work computers (banking, homework, vacation arrangements, e-mail, etc).
(Employers may worry about the productivity aspects of this but community qualit of life increases and there are loads of positive unintended consequences to this access when it doesn’t spiral out of control (which is another issue altogether). I once worked for a company that didn’t allow any personal phone calls so productivity plummetted when school let out as every mother worried until she got the call that the kid as home. In the pre-cel world, everyone took a break and headed for the pay phone. Foolish policy!)
You then also need to add to that those numbers the web-literate people who use other options – boys and girls clubs, social clubs, friend’s PCs, shared PC’s in group homes, co-ops and apartments, hotels, government offices, hospitals, and indeed, libraries. Other e-mail devices that are not PCs need to be included too (Treos, Blackberries, gaming devices, etc.)
The availability of web access goes beyond home access and lack of home access is not completely disenfranchising. Indeed there is some competition for libraries in this space – just imagine what the availability of a sub $250.00 laptop would do – Can you say Starbucks – More than WiFi? We need to be careful. If we feel comfortable that the digital divide will protect a core group of digitally disenfranchised library users – the number might be far smaller than we think.
Anyway, the long and short of it is to be careful with statistics. I once heard that less than 50% of people worldwide have ever used a phone – should we stall progress and wait for them to catch up?
Stephen

Posted on: January 6, 2006, 8:16 am Category: Uncategorized