Monday, August 17, 2009
7025: Deleting Digital Stereotypes.
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
Hispanics quickly gain digital skills
By Esther J. Cepeda
A few weeks ago, the City of Chicago released a report titled “Digital Excellence in Chicago: A City-Wide View.” It enumerated—among other sky-is-falling statistics—that African Americans in Chicago were 6 percent less likely to use the Internet than whites, called out Spanish-speaking residents as being the rarest users, and topped the entire thing off with: “Latinos as a whole stand out as the least-connected residents.”
My immediate thought—after hitting the roof—was this: That report may well be true, as far as it goes, but it leaves a dangerous impression that Hispanics in Chicago—and by implication all across the country—are digitally clueless. But, in fact, also true is that though they lag behind whites, a big percentage of Hispanics are online—and more wade into the Web every day, at a faster rate than any other group.
Plus, when Hispanics go online, surf’s up.
In a recent report called “The Power of the Hispanic Consumer On-line,” Scarborough Research says that a majority—54 percent—of Hispanic adults were online way back in 2007 and that number was growing by about 13 percent a year—so you know the percentage is considerably higher by now.
Then I remembered that in late March, Chicago-based research firm Mintel released results from a survey showing that Hispanics who are online are more likely to have profiles on social networking sites than non-Hispanics—48 percent of them have one compared with 43 percent of black Americans and 31 percent of whites. Other findings from that survey suggested that Latinos online adopt new media technology more quickly than non-Latinos, spend far more time than non-Latinos listening to Internet radio and downloading music and devote more time weekly to surfing, playing multiplayer games and blogging or commenting online.
Just last April, comScore Inc. released numbers that showed that during the past year, the growth of the U.S Hispanic Internet audience outpaced that of the total U.S. online population in terms of number of visitors, time spent and pages consumed. Those Hispanic online visitors—20.3 million just in the month of February—made up 11 percent of the total U.S. online population.
But a few statistics don’t tell the whole story. So I blew in some calls to people in the trenches with the young, old, black, white, brown, underemployed and out of work to get their take on things.
Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star Project, an organization that promotes better education in minority Chicago communities, was surprised by the Chicago study, too.
“From my perspective, there is absolutely a divide but mostly among middle-aged and older people,” he said. “The younger people realize you have to be connected digitally to even exist anymore and they understand many businesses only accept resumes and applications over the Internet.”
Alvaro Obregon, new communities program director for the Resurrection Project, said: “Yes, there are issues with access, but if you look out there you’ll see young children doing the texting, they’ve got their mySpace, and this is forcing parents to say: ‘I want to know what my kids know’ and they’re getting out there and learning it.”
Catherine Zurybida, a coordinator at the Odyssey Project, which offers free humanities college classes to low-income students, immediately articulated my gut reaction:
“If that assumption was made by employers, they might conclude that a white candidate has better ordinary, everyday computer skills than a minority,” she said. “I would say that’s certainly not true, and it’s a very destructive stereotype.”
Exactly! The easy-headline-grabbing reports are not necessarily inaccurate, but they don’t tell the whole story and have a way of getting stuck in people’s minds to form limiting stereotypes. But now you know better.
So, clip and save my stats, too. And never let anyone’s numbers keep you from knowing that if we really want to talk to each other, technological barriers can be overcome.