While Ahead of the Digital Curve, Many Latinos Are Also 'Smartphone-Dependent' - Pew
Latinos, especially upwardly mobile millennials, have been shown by many studies to be "ahead of the digital curve" when it comes to being tuned into cutting edge digital media, as well as smartphone ownership and usage. In fact, Latinos own smartphones at a rate that's almost 10 percent higher than the U.S. national average, as we previously reported.
But some Latinos are simultaneously ahead of the digital curve and on the wrong side of the digital divide, as a new Pew report on smartphone use in the U.S. in 2015 found.
That's because, while smartphones provide high-speed Internet access, Pew's survey found that nearly 20 percent of Americans rely on smartphones for their high-speed access, with seven percent reporting they had absolutely no other alternative to tap the Internet at all.
Pew dubbed those Americans -- people who don't have broadband service at home and also have a "limited number of ways to get online other than their cell phone" the "smartphone-dependent."
It's a term that may evoke "first world problem" images of millennials attached to their iPhones at all hours of the day. But for the seven percent that are actually dependent on smartphones to reach the Internet -- with all of the economic, social, and educational benefits that connectivity brings; a necessity for success in the modern world -- it's a serious issue.
It's also a Latino issue, as Pew found that 13 percent of Latinos fit Pew's description of smartphone-dependent -- the highest percentage among the demographic backgrounds Pew studied. Perhaps not surprisingly, the survey also found that youth and low income tracked with the trend towards smartphone-dependence as well.
For these Latinos, cellular service is the only way to connect with the Internet, and with wireless data plans comes limitations broadband users don't run into (at least not yet), like data usage caps and a high monthly cost, especially if several members of the family have mobile devices on the same plan.
In fact, Pew's study found that nearly half, 48 percent, of the smartphone-dependent surveyed have had to suspend or cancel their wireless service due to finances, while 51 percent ran into their data caps occasionally and 30 percent did so "frequently."
That's not to mention the issues young students growing up a smartphone as their only Internet connection having to use those small screens and touchscreen keyboards to do homework and write papers, as NPR's Latino USA recently found teens in New York schools doing -- and as we previously argued was a chief concern when it comes to looking at whether or not smartphones are worth considering as a bridge over the digital divide. (Try doing a whole day's work using just a smartphone and you'll understand.)
And so it's interesting to see the results of another question Pew asked Americans in its 'Smartphone Use in the U.S. 2015' survey: Whether smartphones were essential or not.
A majority, 54 percent, of all American smartphone owners said it was "not always needed." That may just reflect individual attitudes towards their own smartphones, but it also reveals the prevailing attitude towards the mobile Internet, generally uninformed of the fact that, for many, smartphones and wireless service is all they have.
Along with that majority that found smartphones not always necessary, another 30 percent thought smartphones were a "leash" instead of freeing, 28 percent called it "distracting," and 7 percent said the devices were "annoying." Imagine how annoying it could be if that's your only path online.
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