Why is access to technology insufficient to eliminate the digital divide?

Article originally written for my Langara’s Management Information Systems course – 06/15/2018

Even when access is provided, quality of use adds another component to the divide – more educated users will theoretically reach out for better quality and relevance, as well as being able to critically analyze what is being seen. Less prepared users may even spend more time connected, but will access poorer sources, and will lack the skills to evaluate the information received. U.S. studies have showed that ‘minority’ children were spending more time accessing media – which is a generic label for everything that can be accessed electronically, good or bad. Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner mention on their debut book “Freakonomics”[1], that

· successful/educated parents,

· parents that attend PTA meetings,

· book availability at home (among others),

are factors that improve chances of academic success. So, it should come to no surprise that quality is more important than quantity, and that ‘parental guidance and oversight’ may be the factor that tilts the scale. By extrapolating this data to minorities in general, we can see that is necessary more than just ‘throwing’ computers left and right – which is the ‘easy solution’. Physical resources (computers and internet access) are important, but a conscious decision needs to be made by anyone who wants a change of course: parents, civil society, businesses and government must agree on principles of how to address these two issues: enable users to fully benefit from the available resources and even up their distribution.

There is an interesting article debating this view point at https://thejournal.com/articles/2013/07/10/digital-divide-access-is-not-enough.aspx

By the way, the comments following the article also help shed some light on how hard it is to find a consensus.

I would like to mention a seemingly unrelated scenario, where the underlying cause is the same:

· Research in Canada[2] and the US demonstrate the direct relation between education/income and smoking. Tobacco industry detected the “growing disparities in cigarette smoking by social class”[3] and specifically targets the young adults labeled “working class/ present oriented”, whose “mindset is fully consistent with lowered levels of education”. These brutally honest industry reports are from the late 80’s, thus antecedent to the upcoming information overload. They hit the same mark though: young adults with less education pursue short term/modest goals and are more susceptible to be lured by marketing efforts, even by products that can not promise them one single tangible benefit.

The need for investment in quality education, training and oversight over technology use is clear. But it leads us to other issues, like individual liberty vs. common good, who should control what, to what extent and who would oversee the controller

[1] Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

[2] “Health Fact Sheets Smoking, 2016.” Average Counts of Offenders in Federal Programs, Canada and Regions. September 27, 2017. Accessed June 10, 2018. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2017001/article/54864-eng.htm.

[3] E, Barbeau M., Leavy-Sperounis A, and Balbach D. E. “Smoking, Social Class, and Gender: What Can Public Health Learn from the Tobacco Industry about Disparities in Smoking?” Tobacco Control. June 01, 2004. Accessed June 10, 2018. http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/13/2/115.

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