I grew up solidly middle class, and when personal computers became all the rage in the late 90s, my family was able to purchase one, along with the painfully slow dial-up Internet access that was standard back then. Sure, we couldn’t afford all the latest gadgets right when they came out, but we had access to Netscape email, Yahoo chat, Oregon Trail, and all the other things the cool kids were using. Over the years, I’ve been able to keep up with changing technology and always had the means to participate in the latest trends. Even though I have traveled to third-world countries and witnessed extreme poverty, and have even myself been in financial dire straits a time or two, I still have a definite case of “first world-itis,” in that I forget that not everyone in the world has the same access I do or can afford the things I can.
That’s why this week’s lesson on the Digital Divide was so valuable to me. When I stop and think about it logically, of course I recognize there is a divide between those who can afford access to technology and those who can’t, but it’s not something that is part of my everyday thinking. Yes, it’s great to talk about the latest gadgets and trends in digital media and how they benefit society, but we also need to address the fact that not all of society has access to these things. Or, interestingly, not all of society WANTS access to these things. I think the solutions to improving access for those who can’t afford it are relatively clear, if not easy to execute, but the solutions to improving access for those who don’t want to participate are not so clear. During our brainstorm session, my classmate and I decided that education is key to getting these people interested in technology. Many people are simply afraid of what they don’t understand.
So, one of the things that I think will help shrink the digital divide, at least in the U.S., is to strengthen technology programs in schools everywhere, giving all students access to and training in technology and digital platforms. When kids grow up immersed in something, they will understand it as adults and be much more likely to participate.
Despite my misgivings about technology (privacy, short attention spans, distraction), I can’t deny that our world is becoming centered around it. To be successful in the future, people will have to understand technology and at least be willing to participate in it to a degree. So I say, get to them when they’re young and make sure they understand why they need to at least tolerate (if not love) technology.