It seems only yesterday that computers were luxury items. Today, nearly everyone views them as a necessity of life. This changing viewpoint towards technology is creating battle lines in governmental and private agencies everywhere. Research indicates a serious problem, called the “digital divide,” runs rampant among the American population. Some studies even predict doom and gloom will befall us unless the government intervenes. No hidden Armageddon exists inside this problem, and no money wasting policies are needed. The true nature of the info-chasm is simply a matter of personal choice based on a mixture of income, cultural background, and the interest level of the individual, commonly referred to as the natural human condition.
Some researchers would like you to believe American firms are on the brink of being economically unstable because segments of our population lack Internet access and computer skills. Thomas P. Novak and Donna L. Hoffman, associate professors at Vanderbilt University, suggest economic Armageddon is right around the corner. They claim, “only 5.2 million African-Americans have ever used the Web compared to 40.8 million Caucasians, and the Internet may provide equal opportunity only for those population segments with access” (Novak and Hoffman).
A few American businesses have joined the cause screaming the sky is falling because people are not using computers in abundance.
Technological industries helped to create the problem by following a concept known as Moore’s Law, which states that new technology will be developed and dumped on the public every eighteen to twenty-four months (Kurzweil).
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Reports about how many high tech jobs are being left unfilled assault the public’s ears daily. This alarmist attitude is partly to blame for keeping the digital divide fire going. Difference will persists as long as varying education and income levels between certain population segments exists and not because of skin color.
Our own Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Michael Powell, believes the digital divide is a natural part of capitalism and making sure infrastructures are in place so that all Americans have computer or Internet access is enough. Wealthier segments of the population will always buy more technology than lower income segments. Government intervention is unnecessary and may make manufacturers unwilling to even produce technology (McClintock).
In effect, the feared Armageddon would become a reality if the politicians passed intervention policies. Most American businesses agree with this assessment.
Joe Nickell, reporter for Wired News, quoted presidents E. David Ellington of NetNoir Inc. and Lavonne Luquis of Latino Link as commenting, “This expectation of everyone having equal online access immediately today is almost juvenile. As prices continue to drop, Internet presence will be ubiquitous in households” (“The Digital Divide”).
Using computers and accessing the Internet, outside of work, provides entertainment only. Spending money for a luxury item is a natural side effect of rising income levels. When individual income levels go up, interest in technology increases.
A United States Department of Commerce study indicates computer ownership and Internet access rates soared by 42.1% and 58% for Caucasians and African-Americans, respectively, in the past year alone. It is estimated that half of all Americans will be using and owning a computer by the middle of 2001. This equates to four out of five households accessing technology everyday. A direct correlation between individual income levels and computer ownership does exist (U.S. Dept).
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People are waking up to the possibility that the Internet is more than a fun toy. Minority groups may have entered the digital race slowly, but they made the biggest jump toward digital inclusion. Where is the economic instability?
If minorities do not own a Lexus or a Mercedes, is it because technology left them behind due to some missing skill? No, it is a lifestyle choice. Emily Robinson, Director of LatinoLibrary.com argues, “people aren’t poor because they lack access to the Internet; they lack access because they are poor” (Robinson).
They made a choice whether or not to incorporate computers into their daily lives. As people of every race and income level are becoming aware of the importance and potential of 21st century technology, most but not all of the digital divide will disappear. A small piece of the divide will continue to thrive because of the growing disinterest in anything high tech.
Before the public has the opportunity to get excited about, buy, or learn how to use technology, the gadget becomes obsolete. Manufacturers continually phrase out hardware and software only a few years old from the market place. When new applications are available, they present confusing or hard to use procedures in order to use them. The Pew Internet and American Life Project study reflects that 50% of the nation’s population is not using a computer. Thirty-two percent say they will definitely not access or even invest in an online service. Twelve million Americans, who accessed the Internet regularly, have completely stopped; and some no longer even own a computer. Fifty-seven percent of people living in rural areas are not given the chance to be interested or disinterested in technology because access does not reach them (“Who’s not Online).
Even ethnicity studies conducted by the Access Worldwide Cultural Access Group show that a person’s tastes and proclivities affect how they use computers and the Internet (Bartlett).
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Whether or not a person believes the digital divide exists and needs a solution is even a choice. Many personal choices about technology are based on misconceptions, ignorance, and self-efficacy. If people could be shown proof that computer knowledge can have a positive effect on their lives without going into debt or facing complicated hassles, wouldn’t they be more likely to use it? Television, magazines, and newspapers run stories nearly everyday about the millions of high tech jobs left vacate each year because of the declining interest in computers.
Is there a solution to the digital divide quagmire? Yes, rounded not tunnel vision education is the answer. American businesses did not adequately estimate the amount of time the educational system would need to bring the public up to speed; nor did they anticipate the declining interest in technology. People want to believe they are skilled at making informed decisions. They do not like to appear foolish. Education should help build and reinforce people’s view of themselves in addition to imparting technology expertise. Teaching people how to obtain self-confidence, how to be persistent when faced with obstacles, and how self-efficacy is a belief system not a measurement of their skills can convince them to try technology.
Current education programs fail because they do not address all aspects of the info-chasm. They focus on imparting the data and passing the tests, not whether the public learns how to physically apply the knowledge. Twenty-five years ago, schools incorporated subjects designed to teach determination, self-worth and self-esteem. The school system should conduct feasibility studies into educational programs geared to provide more than just hardware and software. How much confidence can teachers inspire, when they are uncomfortable with their own technological skills. People should not have to seek out a rounded education. It should be something incorporated into their daily lives as much as technology.
Millions of dollars are wasted each year in fast band-aid solutions, which cause confusion and frustration in the end for everyone. Decisions made in the heat of battle will always adversely affect the overall outcome of this digital divide issue. Politicians and researchers need to realize they play a very dangerous game with an individual’ s right to choose a certain lifestyle. A division between the “haves” and “have-nots” will always exist to some degree, because of the diverse backgrounds that make up our culture. Education is but one possible lasting solution, however, the ultimate answer may be to do nothing at all.
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“The Digital Divide.” Wired News Online. 29 July 1998. 19 March 2001. .
“Who’s Not Online: 57% of Those Without Internet Access Say They Do Not Plan to Log On.” The Pew Internet and American Life Project. The Pew Internet Organization Online. Washington, D.C. 21 September 2000. 21 March 2001. http://www.pewinternet.org/.
Bartlett, Michael. “Internet Not Colorblind-Study.” Newsbytes News Network. 6(2001) Education America Academic ASP. Education America. Little Rock, AR. 22 March 2001. http://web1.infotrac.galegroup.com/.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines. New York: Penguin Group, 2000.
McClintock, Pamela. “Powell: No Gov’t Reason to Bridge Digit Divide.” Cahners Publishing Company. 2001. Variety. 4(2001):29 Education America Academic ASP. Education America. Little Rock, AR. 22 March 2001. http://web1.infotrac.galegroup.com/.
Novak, Thomas P., and Donna L. Hoffman. “Bridging the Digital Divide: The Impact of Race on Computer Access and Internet Use.” Science. 17 April 1998. Elab Manuscripts Ecommerce Research Center Online. 2 February 1998. Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN. 21 March 2001. .
Robinson, Emily. “Orange County Needn’t Be a House Digitally Divided; A New Program Will Expand Latinos’ Access to Computers and the Internet, But More Work Remains to Be Done.” Los Angeles Times Orange County Edition. 28 January 2001. BigChalk.com. 2000. Education America Academic ASP. Education America. Little Rock, AR. 21 March 2001. http://www.elibrary.com/.
U. S. Department of Commerce. “Falling Through The Net: Toward Digital Inclusion.” October 2000. 19 March 2001. .