An alert reader pointed out yesterday that the article I linked to about the growing digital divide was from 1998. I admit that I did a slightly lazy search, there–but it’s not like the information itself isn’t still valid. The 1998 source is the Department of Commerce’s report: “Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide.” Basically, it said that Americans with low incomes living in rural areas were least likely to have access to Internet technology. It also found low levels of access among certain African Americans and Latinos.
The report was followed up by another in 2000, titled “Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion.” (Are we seeing a trend?) Hopeful title, but all you have to do is Google “access to Internet Americans divide” or similar, and you’ll find plenty of evidence that we’re not including everyone yet. This article pulls information from 2003 census information showing that yes, wealthy people in urban settings are more likely to have access to the Internet. And yes, computer ownership for certain ethnic groups continues to trail that of others.
Given that you need money to buy a computer, and to pay an ISP, none of this is surprising. Still, it’s good to find more recent cites to support my slightly loose claim about that growing gap.
The reader (Laura) also pointed out that we’re not just talking about hard drives and phone lines, here–more and more of what we do online requires a high-speed Internet connection, and that gap is growing too. She points out speedmatters.org, an organization committed to addressing that aspect of the gap. Thanks, Laura!
I have to say, it’s sobering to remember that so much of what I do is basically irrelevant to a lot of the world, and even to a lot of students at Cal. If students don’t have their own computers or Internet connections, their choices are definitely limited. We do have campus computer labs, but anyone who’s ever organized their work or study life around a lab schedule knows that’s not an optimal setup. And while I really want to believe that online learning can reach more people than classroom teaching, there’s still the ugly fact of basic inequity of access.