Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Remembering the Digital Divide


Ask any professor of mine at Ohio Wesleyan, my papers were at times, how does one say this, rushed? Ask any of my professors in graduate school, and they might agree my attention sometimes drifted when it came to say documenting statistics in an effort to push an argument. But one paper, rather one independent study over a semester nearly a decade ago, really grabbed this bull by the horns, and refused to let it go.  To this day I can’t stop thinking about the digital divide.

Various definitions are offered the internet for this phenomena open to your own interpretation, for the sake of simplicity let’s just call it the divide between those that have computers and internet access at home, and those that do not.

Social Media Experts Continue to Make Dumb Claims

A notable "social media expert" pontificated the other day that social networks had effectively replaced email as the form of communication on the web. In other words he explained, email is dead. Email is dead? When was the funeral? Who gave the eulogy? If we’re all communicating entirely on Facebook and Twitter, what happens to those that use the internet that are not on those networks? Will they simply no longer communicate with the outside world? Let’s hope they find a way.

Another one of my favorite notions coming from these so-called savants is that the tablet computer will replace the PC. I own a rather fancy iPad, and it can’t even save a file, has no hard drive, and as far as I can tell, isn’t able to print a damn thing, all qualities of my first laptop purchased over 15 years ago. The iPad and tablet computers though, are now the replacement for my PC that can do all those things and a hundred million more? To this I say not yet, and honestly, more than likely, not ever.

Saving Files

Forget the iPad, most poor people don't have any internet connection at home. According to a 2003 U.S. Census report approximately 62 percent of American households have a computer, with a notable 54 percent with internet access. While many celebrated this information as progress from the mere 8% access rate of 20 years prior, there is still nearly half the population of America that can’t access the internet at home to consider.

To reiterate, nearly 40% of America has no computer in their home. So we have a device problem. With no computers comes no real internet access. With fees starting at $50 monthly, those with less simply can’t afford high speed access at home, even if they had the device, which leads to a connection problem. Efforts like affordable netbooks, and complimentary WiMAX connections help, but are not yet solving the problem entirely. Sure, anyone with a smart phone can access the web, but are they really able to write papers, code websites, and do all the things one can with a desktop from a phone? It’s doubtful idea at best, even for the fastest fingers on the planet.

Click Here To Unsubscribe

So what does this all mean? It means that in an effort to keep up with the tech-savvy Joneses next door we’ve built up huge inventories of unused, but perfectly good, computers, routers, monitors, and peripherals. It means that we are so quick to jump on to the next fad; we rarely harvest the full crop of innovations from the last one. It means that people that make dumb claims online annoy me enough that I end up writing a blog post / diatribe on the unfair nature of tech reporting when it comes to issues dealing with the poor.

In the past several months I’ve unsubscribed to several noteworthy tech blogs for their alienation of nearly 40% of our population, many of whom, if given the chance, could change the face of tech for the better. Here’s hoping they will one day.

Postscript- Do This Now

If you have an old computer, consider giving it to someone that can make use of it, after all if it can access the web, the world's latest and greatest technology awaits.

Personal gifting not your thing? Why not take your old computer hardware to a preschool or nursery, it might be the only one they’d have to teach America’s youngest the tool of life as we know it.

If you like to pick fights, next time you read one of those idiotic predictions about the end of email, let the author know you’d rather hear about initiatives to make the country more connected for those that need it most. Simply not forgetting them, is doing something, at least that’s my sincere hope.


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