On the Periphery? Understanding Low and Discontinued Internet Use Amongst Young People in Britain [PDF, 46 pages] is a new report by Rebecca Eynon and Anne Geniets from the Oxford Internet Institute, funded by the Nominet Trust. Here are the report's conclusions in full:
The rhetoric around young people’s uses of technology are leading to assumptions and practices that are likely to make some individuals even more excluded from society in two main ways. First, such assumptions lead to an increased likelihood of a lack of support being offered in the engagements they have with the organisations that are designed to help them. When such assumptions are strong it makes it difficult for people to ask for help.
Second, while a ‘digital by default’ strategy works well for those who need to be persuaded to do online, such a strategy does not work well for this group of young people who are willing to go online, but find it difficult to do so for a variety of reasons. As more and more services both in and outside the public sector go ‘digital by default’, for example, supermarkets only accepting online applications, the relative disadvantages for this group increases. We need strategies that both remove barriers to being online and support young people in developing their agency and skills to use the Internet.
Thus from our analysis we would propose strategies that:
- Facilitate connections between young people who used to be outside the digital mainstream and those who are currently still living outside the digital mainstream.
- Allow for the possibility that young people may need support in using the Internet and enable young people to identify problems with their skill sets that they have with going online.
- Improve the quality of physical access to computers and the Internet for these young people.
- Move forward with educational initiatives to ensure all young people have an opportunity to fully explore the online world and develop all the skills needed to support that process while in education.
- Create initiatives that may develop and extend social capital for these young people.
In some ways this report offers some positive messages. While these young people are well aware of their difference in relation to their peers, and do not see themselves as proper Internet users, they are able to access and to some extent use the Internet and see it as a normal and necessary part of life. Speaking in social–psychological terms, not being able to navigate the Internet for these young people outside the digital mainstream means they are no longer part of the ‘in–group’ of the other young people who can, but belong to the socially ‘outcast’, the ‘out–group’. As social psychological research on in–groups and out–groups has shown, belonging to ‘out–groups’ can have a significant negative effect on identity development and the perception of self. For young people who are already disadvantaged this is less than ideal. Acknowledging this group exists, incorporating a more nuanced understanding of what it means to use the Internet in a meaningful way, and developing strategies to reduce digital inequality would significantly help in this regard.