A Taste for the Necessary

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While American teenagers are often presumed to be uniformly ‘wired’, in reality, segments of the youth population lack high-quality, high-autonomy internet access. Taking a uniquely holistic approach that situates new media use within respondents’ larger lifeworlds, this study examines the effects of digital inequality on economically disadvantaged American youth. Analyzing primary survey and interview data, findings reveal the roles played by spatial‐temporal constraints and emotional costs in creating disparities in usage and skills among differently situated respondents. A close examination of the interview material discloses a dramatic divergence in the informational orientation or habitus internalized by respondents with more- and less-constrained internet access. Drawing on Bourdieu's concept of skholè, the work outlines the differences between the playful or exploratory stance adopted by those with high-quality internet access and the task-oriented stance assumed by those with low-quality internet access. Analysis reveals that those with low-autonomy, low-quality access enact a ‘taste for the necessary’ in their rationing of internet use to avoid what they perceive as ‘wasteful’ activities with no immediate payoff. The article closes with an eye to developing a theory of information habitus, a potentially invaluable concept in future research on digital inequality.