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!
This post was written by a student, and has been left unedited by the admin.