Attenuated Access: Accounting for Startup, Maintenance, and Affective Costs in Resource-Constrained Communities

Pei, Lucy; Crooks, Roderic

The term "digital divide" indexes a body of research at the intersection of digital technology and social equity, including research on inequality that criticizes and recapitulates the original concept. Based on a qualitative study at a community literacy center serving resettled refugees and immigrants, we show that the digital divide framework rests on a distributive logic, one that implies that distributing access to digital technology constitutes a form of social equity. Because this framework only considers valorized goods, skills, and uses, research has frequently ignored the startup, maintenance, and affective costs we found accompanied digital access for our participants. To account for these costs, we propose a theoretical adjustment to the digital divide framework, one where design is an act of configuring both costs and benefits together. We argue that considering such costs enables HCI researchers to engage more effectively with host communities in the non-innocent work of confronting inequity.