Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Smartphone- and Tablet-Reliant Internet Users: Affordances and Digital Exclusion

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Abstract:  In countries where digital-only service delivery has become the norm, the removal of offline services and channels risks exclusion and alienation for marginalised communities, many of whom have access to the internet exclusively through a smartphone or a tablet computer. These users have been described as part of a “mobile underclass” who face challenges interacting with systems that are difficult to use on devices other than laptops or desktop computers. This article uses the theoretical lens of affordances to explore the everyday realities of digital engagement for economically and socially marginalised communities who only have internet access through a smartphone or tablet computer. This allows for an examination of the ways in which these devices might discourage or refuse certain actions such as applying for a job, as well as how they might encourage or allow other courses of action. Using data from qualitative interviews with people working at community-based organisations delivering support to digitally excluded unemployed people seeking welfare and employment support in three cities in the US and the UK, we seek to understand the role of the affordances of devices in preventing smartphone- and tablet-reliant users from accessing their basic entitlements and finding work. In doing so, we offer new perspectives on mobile-only internet access, digital divides, and digital inequalities.

Keywords:  digital by default; digital divide; digital engagement; digital exclusion; mobile internet access

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.8173


© Becky Faith, Kevin Hernandez. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.