Who Is the “Smart” Resident in the Digital Age? The Varied Profiles of Users and Non-Users in the Contemporary City

Blog by Tali Hatuka and Hadas Zur


Created
20 Jun 2019, 3:43 p.m.
Author
Tali Hatuka and Hadas Zur
DOI
10.1177/0042098019835690

Abstract: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0042098019835690#abstract

 

In recent years, the smart city paradigm has gained traction in urban studies and urban policy.

Scholars have also pointed to the cultivation of the smart resident. The idea of the smart resident, and particularly its participatory dimension, can be viewed as a bi-directional contested political concept. On the one hand, it provides the resident with tools to participate in the local or central affairs of his or her municipality. On the other hand, it provides the municipality with (intrusive) tools to respond to and engage with its residents. The smart resident idea has been highly criticised by scholars, who have argued that it enhances a digital divide that deepens the disadvantages of already socially disadvantaged residents. Both supporters of the smart resident idea, who celebrate its participatory ethos, and critical scholars, who emphasise how digitisation deepens inequality, share the same underlying premise: that ICTs are essential to daily practices in contemporary cities.

 

This paper represents a departure from the many existing studies that have focused on digitisation processes in cities and suggests studying the varied profiles of digital users in the city. The key questions are as follows: Who are the contemporary residents of the city who use municipal digital platforms? What are their profiles? What influences their digital use? The key argument of this paper is that the profile of the smart resident is not unified and that a lack of participation does not necessarily imply a digital divide or digital illiteracy but should be viewed within a wider spectrum of parameters and choices, especially with the growing public consciousness regarding privacy.

 

Empirically, this paper studies the digital practices of the residents of Tel Aviv. It focuses on the use of digitised services provided by the municipality and the use of the celebrated project Digi-Tel, a digital card that offers residents services, information and benefits throughout the city. The assessment of residents’ practices is based on a survey (n=490) conducted in four neighbourhoods with different socio-economic, ethnic and geographic characteristics. The survey is supplemented by interviews with prominent figures in the Tel Aviv municipality, with a focus on participation and privacy concerns.

 

Figure 1: Tel Aviv and the geographical locations of the four districts

Figure 2

Figure 2: four neighbourhoods with different characteristics

 

In the paper, we present the findings of the survey that expose how residents from different geographical areas in the city develop distinct patterns of use and attitudes towards digital municipal platforms and privacy. The findings illuminate how digital skills and socio-economic divides are only part of the explanation for why people choose to use or not use municipal platforms. Daily needs, age, ethnicity, and socio-economic background influence the practices of participation. Furthermore, the level of participation is increasingly influenced by perceptions of privacy and by personal choices. With residents’ growing awareness of their own power as well as of the risks that they are taking in using digital platforms, the complexity of the smart resident profile is enhanced.

 

Figure 3

Figure 3: differences in accessibility and use of digital governance platforms

 

Although digitisation is an unavoidable process, participation itself is not unified.  We argue that there is no one prototypical smart resident; rather, there are multiple profiles. Based on the study in Tel Aviv, four key prototypical profiles have been identified: the active user, the watchful user, the non-user, and the conscious non-user.

 

Thus, being a smart resident in the digital age does not necessarily mean active participation but rather reflexive participation: choosing the means and conditions of participation, keeping choices open, being selective, and using digital platforms strategically. Being smart also implies negotiating the role, scope, and practices of digital municipal platforms.

 

Read the paper on Urban Studies - Online First here

 


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