Thursday, July 21, 2011

Defying easy categorization: Latinos and communication technology

by Andrew Speyer

Three reports released recently -- "Latinos and Digital Technology" by the Pew Hispanic Center, "35% of American adults own a smartphone" by Pew Internet, and "Mobile Snapshot: Smartphones Now 28% of U.S. Cellphone Market" by the Nielsen Company -- on the use of communication technology among Latinos provide ammunition for very different conclusions about the dynamic between Latinos and technology and where the market may be heading when it comes to phones and internet usage.

The studies themselves are excellent, unsurprisingly, given the sources. But they challenge us to avoid oversimplifying and to think flexibly and holistically about how Latinos use communication technology today.

On the one hand, there is data to suggest that Latinos, despite some dramatic increases, still lag behind the General Market in a number of important areas; the Pew "Latinos and Digital Technology" study reveals that Latinos are still less likely than the General Market to have Internet access at all (55% vs. 75%). And among Latinos with Internet access, only 69% have a home broadband connection vs. 84% of non-Hispanic whites. Similarly Hispanics are "less likely than whites to use any non-voice applications on a cell phone (58% vs. 64%), and they are also less likely than whites to send or receive text messages (55% vs. 61%)". These numbers could be interpreted to mean that the digital divide between Hispanics and the General Market is still very real.

However, other data suggest that Latinos lead the market in the use of some communications technology. Nielsen reported in November of last year that 28% of mobile phone users in the U.S. now have smartphones and that 20% of those smartphone owners are Latino; Pew reports that Latinos are just as likely to access the Internet and send or receive email using their phones and are more likely to instant message with their phones (34% vs 20%). 

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