Vicious cycles: digital technologies and determinants of health in Australia

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Abstract

Digital technologies are increasingly important as ways to gain access to most of the important social determinants of health including employment, housing, education and social networks. However, little is known about the impact of the new technologies on opportunities for health and well-being. This paper reports on a focus group study of the impact of these technologies on people from low socio-economic backgrounds. We use Bourdieu's theories of social inequities and the ways in which social, cultural and economic capitals interact to reinforce and reproduce inequities to examine the ways in which digital technologies are contributing to these processes. Six focus group discussions with 55 people were held to examine their access to and views about using digital technologies. These data are analysed in light of Bourdieu's theory to determine how people's existing capitals shape their access to and use of digital technologies and what the implications of exclusion from the technologies are likely to be for the social determinants of health. The paper concludes that some people are being caught in a vicious cycle whereby lack of digital access or the inability to make beneficial use reinforces and amplifies existing disadvantage including low levels of reading and writing literacy. The paper concludes with a consideration of actions health promoters could take to interrupt this cycle and so contribute to reducing health inequities.

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