Digital Discrimination

Are all arts organisations increasingly discriminating against the disadvantaged?

When I like something, I usually share it via Facebook and Whatsapp. As a result, all of my friends and family (including Gran, an avid Facebook stalker) are updated on my latest cultural discoveries. I do have one friend who can’t afford a smart phone. We still keep in touch and share recommendations, but he is an outlier.

Communicating with the outlier is extra effort, but it’s worth it. That friend is usually connected to movements, bands, composers etc. which I’d never normally discover, and because their latest opinions aren’t continuously summarised into a couple of lines on social-media they’re always fresh, powerful, and interesting.

Despite the benefits of keeping connected through non-digital means, increasingly, arts organisations are focussing on digital communications to publicise opportunities and create artistic work. In the search for wider more diverse audiences, many of us are turning to social media, yet the more disadvantaged individuals are, the less likely they are to have access to internet and to smart phones.

Digital communications open up countless opportunities. For example, we can upload new music to be discovered by anyone moments after the final mix is finished, use social media to crowd-source the creative process, or invite hundreds of people to a concert in minutes. In addition to greater reach, “digital” is cheaper than printing and postage, and means we can communicate with people instantly.

The democratising openness of the internet means that arts organisations are now better than we’ve ever been at reaching out to people of all backgrounds.

Except maybe we’re not.

58% of households in the lowest income bracket in the UK have access to the internet, compared to nearly 100% in the higher brackets. In 2011, 61% of disabled people lived in households with no internet, compared to 14% of non-disabled people.

digital discriminations


The digital communication space is driven by private organisations, which are in turn driven by pursuit of profits. There is little or no market for a communications solution that reaches the poor. We focus on mobile-optimisation, but only 58% of the UK population access the internet on mobile devices.

The arts sector adopts practice and solutions from the commercial world, so must supplement the amazing tools at our disposal with communications aimed at the digitally-disconnected.

With stretched resources, and – in the case of Sound and Music – with a national audience to reach, digital communication is the only solution to long-term audience development, but it can’t be the only activity. Until everyone has internet access, “audience” can’t be short-hand for “people with smartphones”.

Having said all this, “Word of Mouth” remains one of the most effective channels by which people discover our opportunities. Maybe by being digitally louder our voice is reaching the disadvantaged and marginalised more effectively too.

So are we discriminating against our digitally-disconnected audiences? It’s certainly a conversation Sound and Music will be exploring further.


3 thoughts on “Digital Discrimination

  1. Hi Adam, an interesting piece. I have a very keen interest in “the diigtal divide”. Though i must say, i find it quite dangerous when people throw around statistics and percentages without explantion behind them.

    I also feel the it is exaggerated. You can buy an android smartphone for as little as £50 (including mandatory top up). Indeed, it is not unusual to see people selling the big issue on a mobile phone up and down the country. The cost of entry to “being digital” continues to drop. Tech companies actively seek ways to get “all connected”.

    While you seem to focus on cost, i think the barrier for entry is more to do with accessibilty and education.

    Though we don’t really like to talk about it in the UK there is a clear correlation between the the less educated and low incomes. Being less educated can also impact on your priorities and decision making. Indeed, if you smoke a 20 box of cigerettes a week – you an afford to run a smart mobile phone.
    If people do not fully understand how being connected can benefit them, then it may not be a pritoirty.
    They may even pop over to a friends to use the interent for a job search or pop to the local library.
    there are a huge number of people still alive who have lived most of there lives without the internet and are fine. They understand how some things can benefit them but are content with their lives and do not desire great change. Or haven’t been introduced to the feature they feel they need.

    There is a much greater issue with how we interface with didigtal than the cost of it. Using a traditional mouse is not ideal for all especially with motor issues. Impaired sight or hearing can each pose their own problems yet in general we have a one type fits all for most of our interfaces.

    Regarding your comment about mobile use – 58% usage is a huge amount. To downplay it’s significance just seems odd. Not to forget that these will be the “core users”. The demographic likely to spend more, the tech savvy etc. So while it is 58% usage, i wouldn’t be surprised if it’s around 99% were money is generated.

    If i have misinterpreted anything please accept my apologies. I sometimes feel we need to look deeper at the issues and make people aware of these than just putting out the stats which can present a more dire situation than actually exists.

  2. Hello, I’m glad you found it interesting, and thanks for the feedback! I agree with the need to look deeper at the issues, and that this goes beyond cost and economic disadvantage.

    What I’m saying is that a significant number of people do not access the internet, whether through choice or for access, education or economic reasons, and that we are developing increasingly sophisticated ways to reach audiences digitally, perhaps at the risk of leaving behind those large numbers of digitally disconnected.

    New Policy Institute put it better than I can:
    “While there has been a rise in internet use, the poorest households remain much more likely to lack what is today considered a basic need and the gap does not seem to be narrowing.” –

    I think I disagree that this is exaggerated. You’re right that internet use is high, but there are still millions of people who publicly funded organisations are responsible for reaching, who we might not be able to reach through only digital channels.

    You can find the relevant data for 2014 here:

  3. Thanks, Adam for raising a very relevant, timely – and often neglected – topic for discussion. Too often, assumptions are made about how people prefer to communicate and conduct transactions, and we can forget that the digital revolution is still a relatively new phenomenon . Not everyone can – or even wants – to engage with the virtual world or have a website, use social media or You Tube and Soundcloud. So much today can ONLY be done online – for example, many job applications, or grant applications – and in the latter case, some organisations won’t accept cds but insist on web links to hear music. This is another form of exclusion. Discrimination, whether intentional or not, can take many forms.

    Last year I ran a charity fundraising music event, and initially booking could only be done online, because I wrongly assumed that everyone would have some kind of access to the internet. Not so, and it soon became apparent from feedback that I needed to also manually sell printed tickets. In fact, when the event sold out, 70% of those sales were from printed tickets, sold from person to person, and not via the internet.

    Whilst the opportunities created for artists and performers in our digital age can be fantastic and life changing, we need also to be aware of issues around creating dependency on a single source or platform for communication and interaction. They should be additional – not replacement – tools, and people should still be offered a choice.

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