“Inequalities and digital Media in the mobile era: The case of Chile”

This we closed off our weekly LACIS guest lecture series with speaker Teresa Correa, associate professor in the school of Communication at Diego Portales University, in Chile. Teresa spoke of her research in Chile meant to investigate the factors associated with adoption and internet use in rural communities when mobile infrastructure was provided.

In 2010, Correa said that Todo Chile Connectado (Chile Connected) was created by different states of the government to improve territorial coverage of internet, and it provided antennas in rural areas which in turn provided mobile connection to the internet. One of the questions that emerged then, was what would happen when a public private initiative only provided internet infrastructure through the antenna in isolated communities, and whether that would be enough for the adoption of the internet?

Upon conducting a survey, she found that though the infrastructure was present there was still low levels of internet connectivity. Correa found that most users (80%~) were connecting to the internet through the use of smart phones. This led her to realize how contextual factors were intersecting with people’s psychological characteristics, needs, and motivations that explained personal level factors of how people understood technologies and why they were connecting to the internet.

Correa then became interested in how geographic isolation was shaping psychological characteristics, to which she found that the individuals in isolated rural communities were not welcoming to change. People in these communities grew up knowing everyone and everything in their community and thus foreign ideas and elements like the internet and even the physical presence of the antenna was going against the norm.  There was also this lack of communication and notification of what the antennas were or that they would be even placed there. Correa found that people developed a fear and health concern in residents of the community and got to the point where the community covered the presence of the antennas with wooden panels, which put off people’s use of the internet.

Another important factor that Correa found to impact the adaptation of internet use was the age of the population in these communities. In most of these localities there were only primary schools, which meant that the older kids had to be sent out of town for school. This was significant because the kids who can serve as agents and were very relevant in the digital inclusion process were not around to help the adaptation process. Kids could serve as agents and brokers who could include their parents and grandparents into technologies and were thus important agents in helping the community adapt.

According to Correa and her findings, she said that policy making initiatives that promote internet use by providing the infrastructure is merely the first step and is not enough on its own to ensure adoption.

Additionally, an interesting trend she found was the increase of mobile use and decrease in hybrid users who use mobile devices and computers. She found that mobile only users were more likely to be lower income, lower education and were people who had fewer years of interaction with the internet and tended to be content with their access and didn’t feel the need to use computers. Whereas the hybrid users were more critical of mobile devices and were able to think and switch from one device to another so they could compare advantages and disadvantages of the technologies and in which situation it was best to use them.

Teresa concluded that mobile connections and smart phones represent an opportunity to reach the digitally excluded population and reduce physical access gaps. However, she explained that there are relevant threats and challenges: like the need for ad hoc strategies in addition to the infrastructures to help excluded populations adopt technologies and the internet. Mobile connections leading to higher mobile only users. The gaps between mobile only use and hybrid use in perceptions of what it means to be online and what can be attained – the mobile only users perceive narrower possibilities with internet use. Finally, she stated that are differences difference by digital skills and type of uses accounting for gender, age, income, education, and experiences, and how mobile users are less skilled and have less diverse types of uses.

We would like to thank you for your support and engagement, and we look forward to seeing and sharing with you next semester!