In the first unit of our discussion of the digital divide, our class discussed the wide disparity in Internet accessibility and knowledge. We discussed how having access to the Internet was different than having the knowledge to fully utilize the Internet and reap its benefits. In Straubhaar et al.’s chapter “The Digital Divide” in Inequity in the Technopolis, the authors discuss how many critics claim that the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) focuses too much on access, and less on how to utilize the technology (124). In my life, I have been fortunate to have grown up with technology. At an early age, I started watching my dad use the computer and then finally in second grade I participated in the program “Type to Learn” so that I could improve my typing and computer skills in general. I was lucky that in elementary school they taught us how to search the Internet to gather information, create PowerPoint presentations, and even educated us on reliable Internet sources. Then, in middle school, they introduced us to databases and the knowledge we could gain from these scholarly sources of information. My access to the Internet has led me to numerous opportunities that might not be available to others, and has structured who I am. I grew up with an exceptional education that then led me to apply online to the University of Texas at Austin. Also, I acquired skills in Adobe InDesign and Excel, which have so far helped me in my Public Relations major. Obviously, I feel very lucky to have been raised with the Internet and to be what people refer to as a digital native.
In the second unit of our discussion of the digital divide, we talked about whether or not being online can construct social change. In Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Small Change”, he talked about how the social Internet sites create weak ties that don’t compare to the sit-ins and protests of the olden days. Also, we discussed how the Internet constructs certain identity markers for its users including class, race, ethics, etc. When I am online, I construct identities on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. For example, on Facebook, I construct a certain identity for myself. First off, research has shown that more white people are on Facebook than any other ethnicity. Also, on my Facebook I post pictures of my friends and I at the University of Texas at Austin having a good time at sorority events, social events downtown and vacations with my family. These pictures show how I have chosen to experience college, which is through involvement in my sorority. For many people, the financial dues for Greek life are unreachable, so the fact that I am posting pictures at sorority events and with my sorority sisters constructs a certain identity about myself and my socio-economic class. Also, on Pinterest, I construct the identity of a well-off white girl who is interested in inspirational Bible verses, clothes from stores like J. Crew and Anthropology, and ideas on how to cutely decorate an apartment. I realize that I am constructing a certain identity that shows my race and class, and that the Internet is a common means for people to do this.
In the third unit of our discussion of the digital divide we discussed consumption and production online. We addressed issues such as what sites we go on and how we can protect our privacy online. We discussed the “Filter Bubble” and how so much of what we see online is targeted specifically to us. For example, when I go online, I don’t know if I am getting biased news information that the Internet thinks I would be interested in. It was fascinating because we participated in an assignment where we went on different social media sites we visit frequently and analyzed what advertisements were posted. I was surprised to see that when I was on Facebook, there was an advertisement for a dress on Nordstrom I had been looking at just the day before. So, the question is, how can we protect our privacy? How can we participate on the Internet without getting sucked into the target advertisements and news?
Also, in the third unit, we discussed Dean’s article titled Blog Theory and whether people’s voices were still being heard online. Do you need an audience in order to be heard? I follow fashion blogs and workout blogs in order to get tips on the latest trends. I believe that blogs allow people to express themselves through a creative medium, and that these blogs can be helpful and interesting to others. I also write my own blog on New York City because I hope to live there one day. I write about the numerous activities to take part in, all the sites to see, and restaurants and shops to go to. For me, writing a blog is a way for me to practice my writing and express myself creatively. And if someone happens to stumble across it and read it, then that just adds a little bit of joy to my day.
Obviously, our semester of study has been very streamlined in the way we went about studying the digital divide. We first addressed the digital divide itself and people’s differing access and knowledge. Then we talked about whether the Internet is strong enough to create social change, and then on a more personal level, we talked about how our presence on the Internet constructs certain identity markers for ourselves. Last, we discussed consumption and participation online and how we are often targeted by certain advertisements. We also analyzed blogs and discussed whether or not they are still relevant today.
Clearly, I am fortunate to have access to the Internet and the Internet has provided me with many of the opportunities I have today. However, I have to remain careful about the identity I am constructing for myself on the Internet, and have to remain conscientious about the bias news and advertisements I may be getting.