Government Technology
By Ulf Wolf: Citizen engagement and responsibility in the digital age.

The Digital Divide Grows Medical

April 18, 2011 By Ulf Wolf


A Kaiser Family Foundation Public Opinion Note caught my eye, and it made a very interesting point.

A key part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the development of a site which will provide a host of health information along with coverage options, especially for those who are currently uninsured, those with lower incomes, and those of racial or ethnical minority groups—in other words those groups who are most likely to not have broadband (or any) internet access.


To quote the opinion, which presents a very succinct and up-to-date view of the current digital divide (this data is based upon a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University Race and Recession Survey, which was conducted between January 27 and February 9, 2011):

Racial and ethnic differences in computer use and Internet access have long existed, and while progress has been made over the past decade in narrowing these gaps, disparities still exist.

The current survey found small but substantial differences in terms of who uses the Internet, how they access it, and whether people are already obtaining health information online. Hispanics are least likely to report being online—72 percent say they use the Internet or email at least occasionally, compared to 80 percent of blacks and 87 percent of whites. In other words, 13 percent of whites, 20 percent of blacks and 28 percent of Hispanics report that they are not online.

This difference appears to be driven at least in part by racial and ethnic disparities in income. While nearly all higher-income whites, blacks and Hispanics report using the internet (95, 94, and 93 percent, respectively), among those earning less than $40,000 per year, 24 percent of whites, 31 percent of blacks and 36 percent of Hispanics say they are offline. Blacks and Hispanics are also less likely than whites to report having a computer at home. Nearly nine in ten whites (89 percent) say they have a desktop or laptop computer at home, compared to roughly 8 in 10 blacks (78 percent) and Hispanics (81 percent).

Among those with lower incomes (less than $40,000 per year), blacks are least likely to report having a computer at home (63 percent, compared with 75 percent of whites and 73 percent of Hispanics with lower incomes).

Racial and ethnic disparities also exist when it comes to the speed at which people access the Internet. While majorities across racial and ethnic groups report having a high-speed connection at home, the share of Hispanics (56 percent) and blacks (63 percent) who report connecting at high speeds is lower than that of whites (77 percent).

Among those with lower incomes (less than $40,000 per year), about six in ten whites (61 percent) report connecting at high speeds, compared with closer to four in ten blacks (45 percent) and Hispanics (42 percent).

Which brings us to the next question: Out of those who do access the internet, how many are actually—or have ever—searched for medical or health-related information.

Again, the opinion gives a nice overview:

Six in 10 adults overall say they have ever used the Internet to access health information, and again there are discrepancies by race. Forty-three percent of Hispanics report having ever used the Internet to access health information, while 56 percent of blacks and 65 percent of whites report doing so.

The differences are even more striking among those with lower incomes. Just three in ten Hispanics with incomes under $40,000 say they have ever used the Internet to access health information, compared with 44 percent of blacks and half of whites with similar incomes.

The problem, as hinted at above, is of course that those most in need of this information in order to enroll in affordable health plans (which will be mandatory come 2014) are those two are most likely to not have the means to do so.

The ACA is banking on the Internet as the primary means of communication, yet seems to leave those who they really need to reach out in the digital cold.

As the opinion puts it:

Finally, as noted above, the ACA uses the Internet as the primary means of communication to help individuals learn about coverage options, and once the exchanges are in place in 2014, to enroll in health plans and renew policies. Those who are currently without health insurance are among the groups most likely to need access to this new information, but currently, just half of the uninsured (51 percent) report having used the Internet to access health information. This percentage drops to 36 percent among uninsured Hispanics. This finding has significant implications as implementation continues and more coverage options become available for the uninsured.

To succeed, the powers that be need to seriously step up the efforts to bridge the digital divide, or this health care reform implementation will stumble even before it reaches the gate.

Food for thought, this.



Leave a comment

E-Reader Divide

April 11, 2011 By Ulf Wolf


Richard Scheinin of Contra Costa Times brings up a subject dear to my heart, and one which I seem to have a hard time letting go of.

His article, “Book clubs’ Digital Divide: E-readers cause strife among members” caught my interest, and it didn’t take long before I saw the outline of the divide: This being northern California, Silicon Valley nearby, it was not as I would have suspected, paper vs. e-readers, no, it was Kindle vs. The Others.

The Kindle people and the not-Kindle people (those who sport Barnes & Noble’s Nook, or Apple’s iPads or iPhone). Some divide, this.

Interesting though.

According to Scheinin, “The numbers of digital converts . . . keep multiplying in book clubs. Those who own the devices can digitally write comments about specific passages, save the locations and jump straight to them during discussions. There's no need to carry bulky printed books while traveling, and precious shelf space is preserved at home.”

Although he does go on to say, “Yet, for many, there's still something to be said for holding a book, savoring its yellowed pages, flipping ahead to see where the next chapter ends. And who needs a gadget, anyway, when passages can be marked by pencil or highlighter, and footnotes marked with a Post-it?”

I, as I have mentioned in the past, come down firmly on the side of the e-Reader in general and the Kindle in particular. I love trees, and applaud the fact that the e-Reader does save a lot of our oxygen exhaling stationary friends.

True, I do love the feel of the physical book, especially the well-made ones like the Library of America collection, or even Everyman’s Library. Some paperbacks are also tastefully designed and manufactured, and they can be a joy to just hold. But when it comes to reading, especially with a built-in dictionary and hyperlinked footnotes, the e-Reader has the edge.

Consider, too, that while reading in bed there’s no turning pages, and trying to catch the right angle to read it, the screen is stationary, and a light press of a thumb brings up a new page.

I discovered the other day that the Granta magazine (which I’ve subscribed to for years, and which I had every single issue of (all 114 of them) is going Kindle. Ah, good for them, I thought, and donated all of my paper issues to the local library (since I can access the archives online, now, and new issues will be available for download). Felt good, actually.

The only time I’ll resort to paper these days is if that particular book is not available in Kindle format, like the Everyman’s Library version of Montaigne’s Complete Works. I wanted it in that particular translation, and I saw no signs of it being Kindleized anytime soon, so I bit my lip and sprung for paper.

Montaigne, by the way, who wrote his essays in the 16th Century, is as relevant today as he was four hundred odd years ago; seems like the human core doesn’t change that much with time.

There is a free Kindle version available of the essays, but the new translations is so much more clear, and readable, I simply had to paper it. Sorry trees.

So what about the e-book divide? Eventually all readers will probably be able to read all formats, and so the divide will close by virtue of turning moot.



Leave a comment

Browser Wars

April 4, 2011 By Ulf Wolf


I remember the days when Netscape ruled the world and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (Version 1) was still in diapers. And, all things considered, that was not so long ago.

Fast-forward to March 2011: My, how things have changed.

These days, the three latest (official) Internet Explorer versions (6, 7, and 8) account for 38.26% of the browser share (6 @ 3.23%, 7 @ 9.07%, and 8 @ 25.96%). Internet 9 is out in beta and I’ve tried it (and do use it on those occasions when the site is not accepting Google’s Chrome, my personal favorite). IE9 is trim, slick and faster than its predecessors; and from what I read these days, IE9, although in beta, is gaining market acceptance by “bleeding edge” users at a rate ten times that of IE8.

Needless to say, at these numbers, IE6, 7, and 8 rule the roost in the browser department.

Three current versions of Firefox has carved out the second largest market share at 29.00% (3.5 – 2.07%, 4 – 3.47%, and 3.6 – 23.46%). Bottom line is that Firefox is giving IE a run for its money, and may overtake IE unless IE9 turns out to be a huge hit.

The two current versions of Google’s Chrome browser  (9, and 10) take on the number three spot in the browser rankings with a market share of 14.71% (9 – 3.43%, and 10 – 11.28%). It should be noted, though, that Chrome is actually the browser that is gaining market share the fastest at this point, and I can see why.

Chrome 10 loads almost instantly and displays pages equally fast. It also has the other bells and whistles (also known as functionality) that you’ve come to expect from a fully-fledged browser, such as “view page source” and “inspect page element” as well as Google’s “translate into English” when you land on foreign digital soil.

Chrome’s tool box and bookmark management are also first rate, and I’ve come to appreciate them more and more as I seem to settle on Chrome for just about all my browsing.

Apple’s Safari 5 is the fourth most used browser with a 5.15% share, while Norway’s pride and joy, Opera 11, brings up the rear with a 1.23% share.

As I said, when I set out to browse Netscape and IE were battling it out for market share. Well, IE won that game, for Netscape is no more. However, today non-IE browsers make up for over sixty percent of the browsers used, and if Chrome continues to gain acceptance and popularity at the current pace, it might well knock IE off its throne one of these months.

It’s also interesting to note that apart from the five major players (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera) there are between fifty and a hundred specialty browsers on the market today, and who knows, perhaps one of those will in the near future catch on and go viral, as the expression goes.

Until then, however, I’ll keep using Chrome with IE9 as a backup. This has served me well so far, and I don’t see that changing all that soon.



Leave a comment

Digital Dictionaries

March 28, 2011 By Ulf Wolf

Perhaps expanding a little on last week’s post, and celebrating that Anthony Lewis (over in Brighton, England) has just brought out his last edition (i.e., upgrade) of his excellent WordWeb Pro product—which now stands at Release 6.4, I’d like to visit the world of digital dictionaries in general and WordWeb Pro in particular.

It is a given that if you don’t know what a word means, you won’t catch the drift of the sentence in which it is used; well, not very well in any case. Perhaps you can guess, but that’s not knowing, is it?

Words you learn growing up don’t necessarily make it into your vocabulary fully-fledged with suitable definitions. I know from experience that some of the Swedish words I’ve carried around a lifetime sat quite wrongly in my head, not meaning at all to others what they meant to me. And that can present problems.

More than likely, my mom didn’t understand them correctly either when she used them around me for me to osmose.

Not so uncommon, this, I gather.

Learning English (as a second language), however, was for me a matter of getting everything defined, and used, and perhaps defined again until I had it right. Long process. Many years. And during such an endeavor you learn to appreciate dictionaries.

I started out with paper dictionaries, of course, but the problem with those is that if you want a good one, a complete one, lots of words and all of their idioms and derivations, to boot, well, you’ll need a wheelbarrow, or a very strong man-servant. Still, I suffered through that stage quite gladly, proud owner of a small library of paper dictionaries.

Then, as I finally began writing in English (as opposed to Swedish), my little trove of dictionaries grew to include dictionaries of synonyms, idioms, and etymology as well.

Then, wonder of wonders, the first computer dictionaries began to appear. Not very user-friendly, nor very complete, but nonetheless easier to use than their paper brethren.

Microsoft brought out their Encarta dictionary, which, to me, was the best thing yet, and I got that onto my first laptop as soon as I could lay my hands on the software (it was part of the Microsoft Bookshelf, if I remember correctly).

The Digital Encarta remained my main dictionary of choice for years.

To be sure, I still kept (and still do keep) my paper library as well, and some of my favorite dictionaries over time included Chambers Dictionary and more recently the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD).

In fact, once I discovered that Sharp had brought out their portable electronic version of the NOAD (the PW-E550), I rushed and bought two of them (one as a spare). And so, at this time, when writing on my computer I’d use the Encarta; when reading, I’d use the Sharp version of the NOAD.

(The Sharp PW-E550, by the way, is still available, and is an excellent product—look for it on Amazon).

Of the two, I had to confess that no matter how much I liked the Encarta, including its very nice interface, the NOAD was the better dictionary, better derivation, more complete. So, about four years ago I began in earnest to look for a computer version of the NOAD, though not with much initial success.

There was a CD version of the dictionary as part of a new NOAD release, but, to be honest, that didn’t work very well. The Encarta stayed on the computer, the Sharp in hand for reading (until, of course, I bought my Kindle which has the NOAD built in).

This changed about a year ago when I first came across WordWeb Pro. It came up during a Google search for electronic versions of the NOAD, and looking into this further I found that while the basic WordWeb dictionary consisted of a Princeton University dictionary database (and a good one, too, it turns out) the WWP offered the current NOAD as an add-on. And not only the NOAD, it also offered the Chambers dictionary that I liked, along with a great Chambers Thesaurus.

As if this was not all, the product interface also included tabs for Wikipedia lookups, and for expanded search in other dictionaries on your computer, such as the Encarta Dictionary and Thesaurus, and the Encarta Encyclopedia.

(As another aside, I’m a little bummed that Microsoft shelved the Encarta Encyclopedia, which for a writer is a very handy resource. I have, however, the 2008 version on my laptop as we speak, and well backed up at that).

This was all very well integrated, along with a great (and always working, in any program, whether browsing, or emailing or writing) quick word lookup by control/right-clicking it.

Once I installed it, and configured it to my taste, I had to keep pinching myself: It worked and it worked and still works wonderfully.

Today, I upgraded my WWP to 6.4, which also included an upgrade of the NOAD to their 3rd edition. Could not be happier.

For those of you who like words, and would like to facilitate both writing and reading, here’s the link: WordWeb Pro.

Happy wording.

Leave a comment

The Reading Divide

March 21, 2011 By Ulf Wolf

An interesting article caught my eye the other day. “E-Books May Turn Digital Divide Into a Reading Divide” proclaimed the heading.

Seeing as I’m very interested in everything e-reader and seeing as I didn’t quite agree with the statement right out of the gate, I read on.

The main argument made by the Terrence O’Brien article is that e-readers, which will eventually replace paper books (that is more or less a foregone conclusion, the only question open to debate is the time frame) will exacerbate rather than alleviate the digital divide, primarily due to costs, both of the digital reading device itself and then, with the device in hand, the cost of the reading material.

It is true that a device like the Kindle does not come exactly cheap ($189 at last check for the current version), but let me halt the cost argument right there.

Assume for a while that there are no more paper books, all gone; all we have are Kindles (and other digital devices, say enabled to read Kindle books).

Firstly, remember that the 3G-enabled Kindle can contact Amazon digitally and access reading material from pretty much any spot in the country. That, in itself, bridges a divide.

Secondly, there are well over 15,000 free items in the Kindle store, including most every classic novelist, story teller, biographer, historian, philosopher on record.

Thirdly, the Kindle provides free Wikipedia access for research.

Fourthly, I would be very surprised (playing out my scenario here) if not corporations (like Amazon, for instance) and both corporate and private foundations would do whatever they could to ease the cost burden of these devices, especially for the indigent.

Fifthly, a device like the Kindle makes reading not only easier (and greener—saves trees all the time), but richer. I say that because the built in dictionary is so well integrated, and so complete (it is the New American Oxford Dictionary—yes, the complete version with some derivation entries longer than the definitions to give you a full history of a word) that there is nary a word that you come across (and don’t understand) that you cannot look up within seconds—and if there’s a word within the definition you need to clarify, go right ahead, the Kindle will move back through the path you’ve traveled until you’re back with the text.

This point is not minor. Have you ever read something of interest that all of a sudden threw you a curve with some four-syllable stranger? Well, say you pressed on and kept reading past it. Not long thereafter you were floundering, not quite understanding the concept now. Dictionary, yes, but in this example, it was in the other room, and you’re actually not sure precisely where it was—and you did not fancy a house-hunt for it at the moment.

The same curve thrown you on the Kindle is cleared within seconds, and now you understand not only the four-syllable stranger, but the concept continues to trace its clear path across the page.

I would go so far as to say that using a Kindle (or any similar device—though let it be said that Sony did not integrate their dictionary nearly as well as the Kindle did, and is far from as functional) greatly improves your chances of understanding what you read, and what could be more important.

In fact, I think that e-readers, when all is said and done, will be instrumental in closing the digital divide rather than creating one of its own.

My 2 cents.



Leave a comment

Featured Papers

Digital Citizen Pulse

Digital Citizen Engagement - or how Government-IT empowers Citizen Participation and Input - is an important aspect of 21st century life given all the challenges communities face. This is a subject very dear to my heart and one I like to keep a constant finger on. This blog shares my findings and impressions with those interested.