I ran across the latest two reports by the Pew/Internet and American Life Project today, entitled: Mobile Access to Data and Information. It’s more of a brief than a full-blown report, but interesting nonetheless.
According to the Pew website, this report describes that:
62% of all Americans are part of a wireless, mobile population that participates in digital activities away from home or work. Not only are young people attuned to this kind of access, African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are more likely than white Americans to use non-voice data applications on their cell phones.
Another insteresting finding in the report is that with the changes in access, there are also changes in how people value their media access tools, with the cell phone now being the most valued one. Nothing really surprising here. However, the report also found that “for the most part, untethered access is not a substitute for online access at home”. For more detailed information about usage patterns by age and ethnicity, take a look at the full report.
While the numbers quoted in the Pew report on mobile data are not really surprising, it was put into a little bit different perspective when reading a non-US response to this report, in this case by Andy Black. He states that
I have rightly or wrongly always had the opinion that North America and specifically the US was a bit behind us due to variety of factors.
- complex networks
- role of free local calls etc etc
This report seems I think to support that view.
Based on what I know about the mobile phone world in the US as compared to the rest of the world (especially Europe and Southeast Asia), I would probably agree with him. However, I would also add that one of the problems with mobile phone use in the US is the fragmentation of networks, i.e. every provider has its own proprietary stuff. Not very conducive to large scale developments in mobile phone technology if you ask me (aside from the contractual hell many companies put you through).
The second Pew piece is a two-page memo entitled Seeding The Cloud: What Mobile Access Means for Usage Patterns and Online Content. It accompanies the mobile access report. It makes the case that Internet access and usage on mobile phones tends to be less ‘elitist’ (i.e. more affordable for more and a greater variety of people). Consequently,
it is important to recognize that the users in this emerging environment look different than those of the late 1990s desktop era. Groups that have in the past trailed in “traditional” internet access are in a better position to shape cyberspace as the internet becomes more accessible using wireless devices.
This last comment is an important one when we put it within a context of digital technology use in education. An increasing number of students is accessing the Internet from mobile devices, whether it is to access information or upload content to share with a wider audience. Therefore, we need to take a closer look at their usage patterns, and how we can take advantage of those for educational purposes. More importantly, we need to consider what we as educators need to do to make sure that students understand the importance of using this ubiquitous access to information in ways that are constructive, responsible, and safe.
Image Credit: “First land based wireless mobile: 1901”, from abaporu’s photostream: