From Pakistan to Posting

An individual person has freedom to create his own identity in this complex world. Personally, I have experienced years of my life with no technology access before I moved to Austin, Texas from an underdeveloped country named Pakistan. It was a life changing moment for me. Austin has become a technopolis city where everything is interconnected with technology. I believe that the world is moving forwards in term of technology but gap of digital divide still exists to certain extent. Author writes in the book digital divide about technology diffusion, “… technology adoption and diffusion could increase traditional structural inequalities such as income and education.” (Straubhaar et al)

The issue of digital divide exists everywhere around the globe. When I was 16 years old, I was studying in an English medium school so I can go to an American university to get top quality education. In my school there was lack of access to technology. We were taught how to use computers and their hardware components but not the virtual world of internet. I had personal access to dial-up connection at my house which was 100 times slower than today’s internet speed. Secondly, there was no internet access on cell phones. There was no means of connecting online socially. The situation is getting better as there are more broadband connections across the country.

I moved to America when I was about to turn 21. I supposed that it was like a dream come true. My friends used to tell me about the adventures of their trip to America. I was back to my school life but the first requirement was access to internet. From my admission to exams everything is dependent on technology. I realized that there are public libraries which are very helpful to those who do not have access to internet. The two countries were completely different economically, socially, politically and technologically. I analyzed that having the knowledge of information and communications technologies (ICT) can also raise the issue of digital divide.

I joined University of Texas, where I met students of different race, culture and religion. In my opinion discrimination still exists. It’s not the same as it used to be in the segregated Austin as mentioned in the book, digital divide. Technology has given a platform to connect and socialize with others around the world. The usage of internet is sharply increasing but there are some who are not aware of the internet. We discussed in class about the articles on neighborhoods in Austin, Texas. We found out that neighborhoods with majority of white residents had a full length description on Wikipedia compared to African American and Latinos neighborhoods. I was amazed how digital divide can take place. I was just wondering that if it matters to me. My belief was that everyone is equal but reading several articles changed my mind.

My stand on issue of digital divide generates more questions in my head. Why only 8% of users on Tumblr are rich? Or why is Instagram female oriented? Or why African Americans use more Twitter than Facebook? Social networking leads to identity construction in this technological society. People use Twitter, Facebook or any other social networking website to portray themselves with the help of status updates, tweets, pictures and videos. Identity constructed online would be completely different in an offline environment.

The new world of technology has completely changed our lives. Everything is done online. Most of the time we browse internet using our cellphones, tablets or computers. It used to take forever to send a letter to someone but now it happens in few seconds via electronic mail. I think the issue of digital divide still exists in the society.. In near future the access to internet would be available to everyone. I believe it will the end the issue of digital divide.

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“It’s My Life. Don’t you understand? It’s my life!” and the Digital Divide’s Place Within

a.k.a. How About We Add In Education, Subtract Greed, Multiply the User Base and Get Rid of This Digital Divide

My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by technology. Never do I remember not having access to a computer, both at home and at school. I learned to type in kindergarten; in second grade, I created my first email address. This ease of access to computers and the Internet I took for granted for many years. I simply assumed, at that young age, that because I could jump on a computer virtually any time of the day, everyone else in my school, the country, the world could as well. How naïve! (But, truly, what kid isn’t?)

As the years passed, I grew more aware of the inequities that existed across the globe both online and offline. The journey I took especially opened my eyes. Culturally, I identify much more strongly with white, middle class, American males than I do any other culture. After living in America for centuries (and in Texas before Texas was American), my family has more than assimilated with American culture. I speak to my grandparents (who are native English speakers) in English, I understand more Spanish than I speak but am far from fluent, and I’d usually much rather have sushi or pizza than Tex-Mex or Mexican cuisine. This has led to interesting comments to me in real life (from acquaintances) and virtually (where anonymity lets people be more blunt than is typically socially acceptable): “You don’t seem very Mexican”, “I don’t think of you as Hispanic”, and even, yes, “You’re the most white-washed Hispanic dude I know” (and, on the opposite side of the spectrum, “Don’t forget where you came from, your culture, your roots” despite “my roots” being much more entrenched in the United States, understandably, than those whose ancestors immigrated more recently). Am I supposed to take these statements as compliments? As insults? Yes, I listen to NPR, grocery shop at a local co-op, own a variety of kitchen gadgets, kiss my dog on the lips, will sing along (poorly, I might add) to Toto’s Africa, read books for fun, unironically use words like “ebullient”, “magnanimous” and other sesquipedalian terms in everyday conversation, have a great love for all things cheese, enjoy musicals, plays, and instrumental music, and have willingly seen more than one Wes Anderson movie, but what good do stereotypes such as these serve? Why is there still a need to excessively categorize people on the basis of race (a purely social construct), ethnicity, or even nationality in an ever-shrinking, increasingly connected world?

On the Internet, I assume every anonymous user interacting with me is a white male unless the text, context, image, or video proves otherwise (especially when taking into account the vast digital divide and resulting access imbalances; viz., this person at the other end of the screen typing in English is highly unlikely to be a Nepalese middle school student); such is an unfortunate bias of my own, a relic of a time past, and one that I am trying hard to correct. Still, to others, this bias remains de rigueur, or, at the very least, usually unobjectionable. I’ll post a picture of myself somewhere on the Internet where it’s germane to the topic, and I’m inundated with “What are you?”s and “Where are you from?”s. Guesses are, quite figuratively, all over the map: I’m apparently Italian, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Filipino, and Arab all at once. Speculation becomes wilder if I throw in a picture of me with my (light-skinned, but ethnically identical) mother, with few believing she is my birth mother, even though I resemble her more than I resemble my father. To satiate the curiosity, I am an American of Mexican descent, with more distant ancestors from Ireland and Spain.

Spanning the years I’ve been alive, my personal, online identity has steadily changed from “I’m a guy browsing the Internet looking for cool things” as a kindergartener to one typified by confusion and occasional frustration with the parochial ways real life manifests itself throughout this media. Instead of being free from the shackles of socioeconomic class, race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender, all of these societal cues by which one is judged in the physical world apply equally, if not more so, online. A visual, judgmental macrocosm (real life) becomes several, anonymous, judgmental microcosms (everywhere on the Internet). Precisely because not everyone has the ability to have their voice heard, ignorance still remains ingrained in humans. The Internet has helped many voices spread further and be louder than they otherwise would, but it’s not yet enough. Filling the canyon that comprises the digital divide will get us closer to a truly peaceful society without ignorance of other cultures, peoples, and lifestyles. I, forever the idealist, believe it can happen if we put forth the (immense) effort.

But to those who suggest that the Internet, in its current state, has solved all of our problems and is a utopia of free thought because they cannot see the problems from their perspective (which is of no automatic fault of their own), I have but one response: how naïve!

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I’m from some technically challenged States

My first memories of a digital divide was getting beat on video games by my younger brother, Manny. He also was always in charge of the remote when my parents weren’t around, as he seemed to be less apt to break it. This being said, I was one of few kids in the public lower school, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with a computer at home. We didn’t use them often at school, but when we did, I knew an average amount about them in comparison to my peers. My parents couldn’t ever really help me with anything I didn’t know. They were both college graduates and of relatively high education levels, but decided to go into the coaching profession, where their ambition to learn how to work new technologies decreased.

In middle school my exploration of the digital divide was somewhat halted by my parents. I was the last one of my friends to get a cell phone and my phone didn’t have a full keyboard or internet access, until I was a sophomore in high-school. By this point we were living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and I was going to a highly academic private school, and I found myself behind the curve quickly. In middle school, these kids had gone through a computer class that I had not, and it was very obvious.

Now I feel like I had somewhat caught up, at least on the things that I need on a daily basis. I am still not strong using remotes, fixing things, or knowing how to construct anything involving technology but I get by day to day in school. Both of my parents are the same in this sense, so I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Fortunately, both me and my parents have people who can help us if there is something we need that we can’t figure out. For example, I have recently broken my phone (water damage) and my laptop somehow but I have an advisor and tutors in study hall that can make sure I still get my work done.

I currently use social media applications and websites much more than anything else technologically. I use twitter, Instagram, and Facebook predominantly, and I also check my email occasionally. I typically don’t tweet, because I feel like most of what I think either isn’t appropriate to post, or isn’t witty enough to be enjoyed by my followers. I mainly use it to get news about swimming, fashion ideas, and to see what my friends are saying. Instagram is my favorite social media. I like posting pictures and seeing what my friends post as well. As a girl in my generation, I read into likes and posts more than I probably should. This can be entertaining and evoke more emotion than you would think, when the app on a basic level should be very straightforward. Facebook is outdated to my, and has been taken over by an older generation but I still enjoy the combination of statuses and pictures, and how everything is organized chronologically by date. For me, email is strictly business. I check it every couple days but it’s typically nothing too exciting to me.

I think everyone if effected by the digital divide and I am too. Often times I ask guys for help when trying to figure things about my phone and laptop out. I find deeper meanings in social media than many of my male peers, and I think I am directly affected by the level of technology my parents are familiar with.

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In this day and age, it may surprise many that there are a large number of people without access to computers or the Internet. I myself was initially shocked to find out that this type of social stratification exists even in the United States. In fact, “As a national social and political issue, the digital divide emerged during the Clinton administration, which initially publicized the divide in terms of connectivity through the National Information Infrastructure (NII). Early analyses by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Pew Foundation, and other organizations stressed the dangers of an increasingly stratified society divided by inequalities in access, situating the divide as an issue requiring active national policy” (Straubhaar 110). This is a great depiction of how large the issue is and how embedded it is in our culture. The most likely explanation for my astonishment is due to the fact that I myself have been privileged with the means to utilize any technological tool necessary for education. Furthermore, I was able to own personal devices, some of which were non-essential. I even took a computer science class in high school that equipped me with many skills needed for the professional world. Certainly it is unjust that individuals with equivalent if not greater potential are subject to suffering in low-income conditions simply because they have not the means to better themselves. Meanwhile, a sardonic trend titled “first world problems” garners much more attention from the public. I have seen for myself through my frequenting of twitter, Facebook, reddit, and other social websites that many feel entitled to Internet access among other things. Hopefully though, some of these social medias can give a voice to those less fortunate.

Smartphones, along with action from organizations and governments, have made a marginal influence in closing the gap. For example, “The survey found that 56% of black respondents said they had a smartphone, compared with 53% of white respondents” (Reyes 1). In her study, Reyes found that many young citizens from low-income areas who do not have access to computers do own smartphones. These phones have many of the same functions as a computer such as access to social media sites but lack the capabilities that could help them improve their current standing. As a white male from an affluent family, I have found that I have been placed on the greener side of the pasture, so to speak. Not only do I not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, but also lack even the concern that I will not be able to complete even the simplest task that involves utilizing a computer or the Internet. Furthermore, I am unburdened by the clear and prevalent gender facing the majority of modern industries and businesses. For years, I took this for granted. Such a fortunate disposition with an absence of societal perspective is indicative of my very social construct. Those with money are able to provide for their children while those without cannot, ever perpetuating this stratification. The current condition is a crisis and needs to be corrected.

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Get Computers Outside the Box  

In the first grade, my classmates and I had a daily assignment that we were required to complete on the computer. It was a simple reading comprehensions quiz. We would read a short book, then log into our profile on this certain program on the computer, and then we would take a test. This sounds extremely simple, but the fact that a group of twenty, seven year-olds could log into a computer every day and take a quiz shows the fluency in technology at an early age.

Growing up in the school that I went to kept me from appreciating the digital divide that is ever present in the world. Michael Dell’s four kids attended my school and you could find at least three Dell computers in every classroom on campus. Not only that, but every student was required to own a laptop once you reached the ninth grade. So, it comes to my surprise when I learn of students who do not have access to a computer. When I heard the story about Johnston high school, I had a hard time appreciating the severity of it. Johnston high school was shut down June 2008 to be reopened under a new name and under new supervision. During the time of the shut down, the school was investigated. In their gymnasium, there were many boxes found, all full of computers. These students were never given the chance to become technologically fluent because they couldn’t even find a computer to use. In a world of increasing technologies, it is vital for students to have access to computers. Many students from Johnston high will be put at an immediate disadvantage because of their lack of knowledge with technology.

When it comes to educating people with technology and closing the digital divide, there will have to be a lot of patience involved. This process does not happen over night, and some people may not even be willing to try. We can’t expect people to fall in love with the idea of technology over night when they have never seen anything like it. When students are not given the opportunity to learn technology they become as helpless as the people who choose to ignore the advancements. We take away prospective jobs that they don’t even know are available. When I heard about the problems of Johnston high school, I was glad something was being done to attempt change. What I could not understand was how the teachers and administrators did not understand the way they were hurting the students by removing their chances at learning. It may not always work, but we have to try.

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With regards to computers…

With regards to computers, I was quite lucky growing up. My father has changed between jobs, but has always worked with computers at some point- many children see their parents obsoleted by computers rather than using them. I found myself in a number of schools thanks to frequently moving, but I recall all but one of them having a computer lab that I wound up using- this course has shown me that schools exist even in the States that have no computers, or leave them all in boxes for nobody to use. At twelve I got a machine of my own- it unfortunately had Windows ME on it, but I didn’t realize at the time why that was an issue, and it was more informative than having no machine at all. I also wound up with a book on C# and tried teach myself how to program- while the effort seemed futile at the time, I actually remembered quite a bit from it when I found myself in a proper Computer Science course at high school. From high school I had the final fortune of already living close to and being admitted to the University of Texas, one of the better schools in the nation when it comes to CS.

As someone who codes, I can say with certainty that computers are complicated. Getting an operating system to run properly with no memory leaks is complicated. Making it secure is complicated. Making programs that can run on a variety of environments is complicated. I see machines as fallible tools; necessary, mostly reliable, but very prone to particular errors that need to be known about. Nothing on a machine is perfectly secure; even before the NSA’s spying was publicized this was true. Likewise machines are never infallible; even if it’s running perfectly stable code (a myth in itself for anything non-trivial), hardware defects can and do happen.

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Digital Barriers

Most people are surprised by how much I know about technology. They simply don’t expect a girl to know that much about a predominantly male field. I was lucky to be introduced to technology from a very young age and actually build an interest for it.  Living in Mexico made my pastime a lot more difficult to maintain, since we were always almost 2 years behind in technology compared to the U.S.  The Internet speeds were ridiculously lower in comparison to the ones the U.S. had at the time. Even in the classroom, the digital divide was evident. Many of my classmates didn’t know how to use a computer or browse the Internet, and very few had a computer at home.

Even in the United States, there is a growing digital divide among native and foreign-born Latinos. According to Tanzina Vega, writer for The New York Times, more than half of Hispanic Internet users in the U.S. were born in the U.S., and “79 percent of those who said they did not use the Internet were foreign born.” Like Mexico, many countries don’t have access to quality technology, making language and computer literacy the two largest barriers for immigrants to fully integrate to American living. Without computer literacy, the chances of success for immigrants reduce significantly. Immigrants are extremely underrepresented online, causing their opinions to be vulnerable to distortion by anyone online.

Voices with power, money, and resources are louder than the rest.  When we’re online, once we’re wiped clean of the physical nature of our identity, when we’re interacting as a username, reduced to a thumbnail and a bio, each of our voices is equivalent.  Social media has no middleman; we can produce, consume, and exchange ideas with anyone online. It is the responsibility of those with Internet access to assist those who are not connected and act as their voice in a space in which they are underrepresented.

Certainly, social media is not the only area in which minorities and women are underrepresented. The issue of minorities’ lack of involvement online can lead to bigger problems, like misconceptions about their community and lack of political influence. The Internet is an incredible global tool of fairness, as long as we have access and a working understanding of the online world.

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Divide and Conquer

I am in a place where I am on the rising part of the divide. Places in the world are less fortunate than us, especially in technology. They don’t have the tools, resources, or funding that we are subject to. If I have ever needed to use technology, it has been there for me in some shape or form. In a lot of other places in the world though that is not the case. I have access to information that they couldn’t imagine. Do I think that is right? No, but hopefully more efforts will be made to eventually bridge that gap, and give access to more and more people. Race even plays a part in this technological divide. If you live in a Hispanic household, you are half as likely as a white household to own a computer because they see it as more of a luxury. I don’t like that statistic very much because in this days society people can not compete in the work force without the use of technology. They need it in order to make a living, and if some Hispanics view having a computer as more of a luxury, then I believe they are missing the point. They need to realize that to achieve success you have to compete with the best, and that cant happen if you are falling behind in technology. I saw this first hand when I went to visit a friend of my cousins in Chicago. Hey grew up in a poorer Hispanic family, and lacked a computer in their home. The kid had a research project due, but was at stalemate because he had nothing to do the assignment on. His mom was out for the day, so he had no way of getting to a library where he could get the work done. This just proves that everyone needs a computer in his home. He wanted to do the paper, but did not have the tools to do so. This divide is hurting our youth because they are being crippled by not having some of the same opportunities as we do. This really stuck out to me because I have always been fortunate enough to have the technology I need, and so have most of the friends I’ve hung out with. This kid had the drive to do the work, and the research for the paper, but not computer to put it all together. This really didn’t affect me until I took this class, and realized that this divide is real. People out there are struggling because they don’t have the access that they need. I know efforts are being made to shorten this gap, but I believe it is not being stressed as much as it should be, especially with the youth. This is the time where they learn skills they will use in the work force, and if there is a lack of technology, they are already starting one step behind.

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The Inner Digital Divide

How is it possible that I did not even realize the extent of the digital divide? I was so caught up in my own little digital world, that I did not realize there was even a world outside of it. I say my “own little world”; however, my digital worse is enormous with an array of opportunities and uses I cannot even begin to list. I just as much assumed that everyone in the world had the same access to Facebook and Instagram as I did. Using a variety of technologies in my daily life, I was blinded by the fact that not everyone has the same access as I am privileged to have. Every morning, the first thing I do is pull out my handy iPhone and check Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Scary to think that some people are deprived of having any access to the Internet and makes me wonder what my life could possibly be like without these technologies.

I know the facts of the digital divide, the statistics, the ratios; however, studying it more in depth actually just makes it far more confusing. There are so many aspects to the digital world that have yet to be explored and as they continue to be discovered, it seems as though the gap between the digital and non-digital world is growing, not being bridged. As Danah Boyd says in her book, “It’s Complicated”, “over the past decade, social media has evolved from being an esoteric jumble of technologies to a set of sites and services that are at the heart of contemporary culture” (Boyd, 6).  Social media has grown to be much more than chatting online, for us at least. But what about those people who have not even been on the Internet once in their lives? Their opportunities to be expanding horizons online, even to just a sardonic Buzzfeed article, is really just dwindling into a dream they may not even be aware of. Now, they are missing out on the knowledge and entertainment the Internet is continuously providing to those with Internet access.

Although I make my argument that the digital divide is worsening, I realize the only people who will even be able to have access to this argument, are those who are online. I am referring to this non-digital world, when realistically I am only speaking to a digital one. If I could have one day without technology, I doubt I could make it through the painfully boring 24 hours; however, then I look at my Facebook page and realize people looking at that have a different perspective of me than who I actually am. Maybe those without access are, in a way, lucky that they are not hiding behind a screen that could create a warped perception of them.

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Everyday Internet

Everyday I wake up and check email on my iPhone. Everyday I bring my iPad to school. Everyday I sit down at my Mac to surf the web. Everyday I use these electronics to connect to the internet and take for granted a privilege that many people on this world haven’t experienced once due to the digital divide. Iv’e been given many opportunities that have connected me to technology and web resources. My parents are definitely not standard “digital immigrants.” They had computers thrust upon them through work and quickly learned them before the “digital natives” were thriving. According to Prensky, I fall into the category of a “digital native”, I feel like it’s because I was surrounded by technology and good teachers. I definitely don’t think I learned how to use the internet on my own, and maybe that’s simply because I didn’t have to. In my life I haven’t really experienced a native-immigrant relation. While I see some older people struggle with computers, I see their children having similar problems. Likewise most of my peers  that I know are good with technology have parents that are as well. This could just arise from having a small sample size, but it is what I’ve observed.

Starting from first grade I used computer programs to explore the world map or learn math. Every year after I’ve been in contact with computers and the internet for research or personal use, so it’s very hard for me to hear that many high schools don’t have access for their students. I never gave a thought to being privileged to have them, but now I really see the importance of all schools, especially elementary level schools. Lower income schools should be helped to get good access to the internet because it really helps students become acclimated to the new digital world as they learn rather than being thrown into the fire later just for wanting to do well in life. This becomes increasingly important if the students are considering college. I am very lucky to attend a top tier university, and I use the internet all the time. Sometimes its for researching, checking assignments, or for hobbies. Being at a university also provides me with access to computer programs for free that usually cost hundreds of dollars such as MatLab or Mathematica. I am also taking programming classes which I hope will help me become even more computer literate.

On the internet I’m the default: a white male. I can go to sites like Reddit without being attacked by racism or sexism. I’m in the majority of internet users as a white male and a sole consumer. I rarely use social media very often to create content. I normally just view and enjoy the content others have made on YouTube, Facebook, or other forms of social media. Since I don’t use these to speak out to the world, they aren’t as important to me as to other users. I’d likely be unaffected if social media disappeared, but I understand for others it can be one of their only lifelines.

Overall I think my position in the digital divide has been created through being surrounded by resources and teachers that understood the importance of learning the technology. I’m able to look at people without the same privileges I had and realize just how important it is to help them out and give them more equal opportunities. It’s very hard for me to imagine my life without computers. They have been so ingrained in me, and as I progress further into my career in sciences I will also need to rely on them even more for data and modeling, researching and publishing.

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