A year or so ago, if you had asked me to state my thoughts on homeless young adults using the Internet, my response would have been: Huh? I might be able to imagine someone homeless using a library computer to search for a job but the idea that someone might be home but also on Facebook or another Social Networking Site (SNS) never would have occurred to me.
Thus when my colleague, Dr. David Pollio, started describing the results of a recent study on homeless young adults, I was surprised. He found that they not only use technology, they own technology: an old laptop or phone, have a network of friends who are also homeless and use technology. They trade information on free wireless hotspot locations and regularly use the Internet to keep in touch.
This occurred just as I was realizing how obsessed the college students in my classes had become with Facebook (As an aside, I once asked my class of 200 what they used Facebook for, expecting them to tell me they used it to keep in touch with friends. They said in unison: "To stalk people!").
As a result of these experiences, David and I, along with one of my graduate students, Nicole Muscanell, set out to assess Social Network Site use among college students and age-matched homeless young adults. Overall, we found that nearly all college students reported using Social Networking Sites, especially Facebook. That would not be surprising to most people who watch technology news.
The surprise to us was that nearly 75% of homeless young adults reprorted using social networking sites. We also found little differences in what they use it for.
This left us wondering: has the digital divide gone away?
Guadagno, R. E., Muscanell, N. L., & Pollio, D. E. (2013).The homeless use Facebook?! Similarities of social network use between college students and homeless young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 86-89.