I’m sitting here at this coffee shop and I see a room full of people with their eyes fixated on some sort of glowing screen. These people are connected. They are participants of the digital divide on the side of the line that has the advantage of online access. Children with Macbooks in their laps, people (including myself) with their iPad, laptop, and iPhone all laid out on the table, university students who are likely submitting their final assignments via the Internet on this Sunday evening. Something is happening on every one of these screens. Something that is specific to that person’s needs and desires in life at this moment in time. My screen is different than that person’s, and that person’s screen is different than that other person’s.
As with all of the other users of the Internet, I have had my own unique online path drawn out for me based on the identity I have constructed through my choices on the Web. I have been carefully led and persuaded to use certain websites because of the social categories I manage to fit into. There are opportunities that I have been given for the mere fact that I am a white, middle-class, American citizen who has grown up with access to technologies through my suburban education and in my home. Awareness, and appreciation, of such opportunities allows me to sympathize with those who are digitally divided from these advantages. This awareness has only come about this semester as I have learned to reflect on the injustices that exist in this new Digital Age. For this new perspective, I am thankful.
Through lectures and readings, I have been well informed of the atrocities that are causing the digital divide. I have learned that I participate in the online realm because I have access to the online realm. Furthermore, I have access to the online realm because I am a model for whom the online realm was created. In a perfect world, the Internet would be equally accessible to all and being a white, middle-class, American citizen would not actually mean anything in terms of production and consumption online. But it does. The digital world that we live in targets specific people, and leaves out others, for various reasons. The most terrifying aspect of such a divide is that entire cultures may be lost in the entangled Web where only people with power are in control of what is produced online. How are people in remote underdeveloped countries of the world supposed to communicate to the rest of the planet their unique views if they don’t have physical access to the Internet?
Opportunities I have been given through the Internet: applying for college, connecting with people from all over the world, applying for my job, researching and applying for study abroad, researching and learning in general, shopping, etc., etc., etc. Granted, all of these activities could be done without the use of the Internet, my life has been made significantly easier because I am able to access such opportunities online. I have been able to advance in society with greater ease because of the Internet.
In terms of which specific online sites I personally belong to: social media websites (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), consumer websites (Pinterest, Madewell, Amazon, Free People), blogs, education websites (utexas.edu, Wikipedia, etc.), and many more. Each of these sites reveals something about my character, about who I am in the real world. I am viewed on each of these sites based on my constructed identity online. I have been analyzed and marketed to based on my specific identity markers — female, Digital Native, college student, Caucasian, middle-class, American, etc. Advertisements that subtly show up on the side of my screen indicate that these Internet cookies know what’s up. They may know more about me than I even know about myself.
What I have learned about Internet privacy, or rather the lack thereof, these past few weeks has been shocking. It worries me that it is already too late to win my privacy back; all of my information is stored out there somewhere and there is simply nothing I can do about it now. It’s there. I have agreed (naively) to terms and conditions that have pretty much sold my rights to privacy. Although I am the one that checked the box, it should be noted that companies that do this are manipulating clients into not reading through these terms carefully since it would take a full month’s worth of work per year if we were to actually read through all these terms and conditions (as stated in the documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply”). This, like other issues in our modern-day society, is not a just system and should be changed immediately.
With all this in mind, we can see that the Digital Age is a new era with new problems in which we must find new solutions.