a happy oblivion


The Internet has never been something I’ve thought much about, and I certainly haven’t spent enough time thinking about the digital divide among all human beings. My Internet use is so fluent and frequent that now it’s more a part of me rather than it is an external activity. If I don’t have a connection I feel as if a piece of me is stuck in this external void that I have no access to. The Internet might as well be embedded in my veins.

I was lucky enough to grow up comfortable. I never worried about whether or not there was going to be food for me, let alone not have Internet on any given day. I’ve had a computer in my household since I was 2. I’ve never known anything else. I cannot even begin to comprehend the struggles people with no connection to the Internet face. Which is personally really frustrating because it’s really hard to relate to the sufferers of the digital divide, especially since society does such a great job at concealing it’s true destruction. This class has opened my eyes exponentially to the dangers involved with the web and how prevalent the digital divide has always been, and probably always will be. I lived in a happy oblivion, not knowing how much of the US, let alone the world, still to this day have very restricted access to the internet.

I remember using the computer as a kid like it was yesterday. Trying to figure out how to use the internet web browser, using the computers calculator to help with math homework, researching science fair ideas, and so much more. I had the entire set of kiddie games that helped you learn to type and read. It wasn’t until I was in 7th grade that I had my first personal laptop, because my middle school logic told me that since all of my friends had their own computers it was only fair that I had one. Almost instantly my world became social media with AIM, MySpace, and YouTube. I have grown up knowing that the Internet was the future, and that its importance is hard to match.

Nowadays, I have my laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone so that I’m connected almost everywhere I go. My daily routine includes waking up and checking instagram and my email, checking reddit in the afternoon, and using the Internet to do homework. It is so intertwined in my life that there would be no life without it. I use it for my art, my learning, and my communication. I also don’t put too much thought into my privacy online. By saying that I mean that I’ve accepted that this is an Internet age and everyone’s information is more or less out there for grabs. I try to stay smart in what I post online but, as we’ve discussed in class, it’s nearly impossible to hide.

Learning about the disparities among our country in regards to the digital divide has opened my eyes as to how lucky I have been to have a computer and Internet for practically my entire life. It has also helped by realize that the digital divide needs to start closing before we become a purely Internet based society.


Target Practice

My life exists on three levels. The most intimate lies in my own head and is centered on my relationship with myself. The second occupies the space between my skin and the world around me, governed by immediate actions, appearances, and perceptions. The last extends from this room to as far as my name can travel, carried by the 1s and 0s that tie us all together. Within each stage, I have a different mask, subtly bending to the pressures of expectations, but the way each one interacts with the others and works to develop me is a fascinating process that is usually only visible after the fact.

At the furthest reaches of my influence, the internet knows me as a face and a collection of thoughts. Because I am not a digital native and only became a part of the internet after I had already done some growing up (thank god), this aspect of my personality is the youngest, despite its visibility. Though I generally don’t share much through things like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, I do spend a fair amount of time browsing (lurking is the right term, I think) and cannot pretend that this exposure has no effect on my socialization. I watched the rise and fall of #Kony2012 and the enigma that is Gangnam Style and thought myself to be above that hype, but I can’t deny the selfies I have taken, the memes I’ve quoted, or the old opinions I held that faded in the light of new ideas.

On the grand scale, my impact on the global community has been negligible at best, but my contributions to the digital world lie in my physical actions. Like most, I would say, the experiences I have gained (vicarious or otherwise) through interaction with today’s communication systems have influenced my personal relationships and independent thought. In this way, concepts from the digital world propagate into person-to-person interactions and cause a more lasting impact on our society, even for those who have less dealings with the internet.

I don’t pretend to have a vast understanding of the internet as a whole, but through these personal interactions it can still influence me. Because my roommate regularly shares news and ideas with me that he finds on Reddit, the website found its way into my life. The socialization he receives diffuses into me so that I have to admit it plays a role in my personal development. In this way, I can’t say the Filter Bubble truly limits our growth. Though its immediate effects restrict our direct socialization, it, like the firemen of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, cannot control our entire society. Ideas find their way in, around, and through boundaries, despite the burning of books or the filtering of searches.

My universe is a bull’s eye with me at the center; ideas are the darts on the board. The closer to my center that each idea falls, the greater an effect it bears on me as a person. In fairness, my interaction with digital communities draws these darts toward me like a metaphorical whirlpool. I can’t escape the eye, but I can control its size.

Is Division Good or Bad?

This is a question that I have been asking myself for a while now. Everywhere you look there is division, and by division, I mean difference. Whether it be racial or sexual, cultural or economical, we are all physically and circumstantially different from one another. We all come from different backgrounds and upbringings, shaping our characters in uniquely different ways. There exists inequality everywhere, but why does inequality carry with it such a negative connotation? Inequality is a part of life, and it is something that I have been aware of from when I was very young. I firmly believe that inequality in and of itself is neither good nor bad. Being a second-generation college student, I was raised to value hard work and remain determined, understanding that nothing is just given to me, and that I will get out of life what I put into it. My dad, being first generation college, worked many jobs to put himself through school, and studied very hard. His father stressed education as the key to success, and in valuing his education, my dad was able to put himself through college and then eventually medical school. Both my father and grandfather have fervently stressed that the world doesn’t owe me anything, and that I must work for what I want. Much of what I have I have worked very hard for, for the reason that my dad wanted to instill a sense of appreciation and gratification in me. I have seen my father, first hand, through hard work and determination, break out of poverty and create a rather comfortable lifestyle for himself and his family. If there was something that I wanted, I worked for it. In holding this attitude and way of thinking as a critical component in my approach to most everything in life, this leaves me with a view of society different from most, both politically and socially. With regard to societal divides, specifically an economic divide, I viewed as being the product and result of one’s work and determination. If my dad, along with many other people, were able to permeate the economic divide, then anyone who wants to should be able to, right? It is with this attitude that I initially approached the digital divide, but before I knew it, I would be sorely mistaken.

I hate to admit it, but when first introduced to the digital divide, I was very narrow minded and ignorant. When the digital divide was explained initially in a very general sense as being the divide between those with internet access and those without, my mindset was very simplistic, and almost unsympathetic. I thought to myself, “Well, if you want internet and don’t have it, then get a job and pay for it, like everyone else.” I now cringe at the ignorance in that thought. This class has been very informative, but more importantly, transformative, in how I view the gaps and divides that stratify society on all levels.

One of the most critical aspects concerning the digital divide is something that I, along with most others in this class and across this university have not given much thought to. That being the ability to access internet. Our generation is a very unique one in that we grew up on the cusp of the tech bubble, meaning that as technology advanced, we were as well. It was as if we were equally paced with the progress being made in the digital world. As I grew older, and the Internet more prevalent, my visits to libraries rapidly declined. I think that I can speak for many of us in this class, on a general level, when I say that we are very privileged in that we literally have the internet at our fingertips. There is a seemingly infinite amount of information accessible to us, and we can be reading about any subject in a matter of seconds.

Grand CanyonThough we have studied the digital divide on three different levels in the three different units, what really hit me hard was our focus and study on the digital divide in America. It is not surprising that there exists a global digital divide given that the countries around the world vary greatly in advancement; but when looking closely at the digital divide right here in America, a country most of us consider to be greatly advanced, it was rather shocking and eye-opening when realizing the devastating impacts that the digital divide has on those who do not have access to internet. Being privileged enough to have continuous access to the internet, I have been living in a digital bubble, with no perspective on life outside of this technological bubble. This did not become more apparent to me until I realized that my educational experience would be impossible without the Internet. Everything is on the internet now. College applications, job applications, news and media outlets, etc. Because the internet has literally created its own digital and technological world, those without access are left out and live at a huge disadvantage when trying to keep up in the wake of societal advancement and progress.

This class is one of the few classes that I have taken at the University of Texas that has had a meaningful and lasting impact on my view of the world. It has opened my mind and introduced me to a problem that otherwise, I would have most likely never seen. I have, along with others, been so consumed and caught up in this digital bubble, that I have never, until taking this class, given any consideration to the impact and quality of life for those without access to Internet. I can confidently say, that division, when regarding the digital and technological world, is definitely not a good thing. This class has been most transformative to my current view of the world and social divisions, and has opened my mind in a way that wouldn’t have been opened any other way.

Being One With the Internet

The development of the internet is undoubtedly the most pivotal invention of the last half century, and also arguably the most momentous creation in the modern world as we know it. While the computer itself had existed prior to the discovery of the world wide web, the technological advancements that have been made since the conception of this fascinating global system of networks are far beyond astounding. Not only has the internet allowed us to discover things we would have never come across without its existence, but it has also stimulated exponential growth and connection as a global society. The internet is used in ways you would never imagine, and has been the foundation of our livelihood since it was created in the 1990s. Although, while a majority of teenagers among my generation see the internet as a somewhat mundane entity mainly used for social networking, shopping, and information gathering, the generations old enough to witness the creation of the internet during their teen years (and perhaps even beyond) have an entirely different view of this “network of networks”, as it is sometimes called.

Being fortunate enough to have been raised in an upper middle to upper class family, similarly to many other students here at the University of Texas, the internet has played a more than significant role in my life. Despite the fact that the internet has propelled my academic education light years ahead of where it would have been without such technology, I believe having access to the internet has also assisted in my development as a socially aware human being. Observing the strides made in regards to the internet over the last two decades, alongside the effects internet use has on our culture, I can say with complete certainty that individuals who lack access will struggle (and more than likely, fail) to achieve such a status. FloppyI recall sitting behind a computer screen in the earlier years of my elementary school education, and although internet/computer technology has experienced tremendous growth since those days, I remember those bulky, multi-colored boxes with a partially eaten apple (Apple Inc.) being there since day one. At such a young age, my use of the computer and the internet was entirely different, as the computer was just used as a tool that simply digitalized our art projects or allowed us to play games. However, even such trivial activities contributed to my development as a child among generation Y, or the millennials, as we are called. My middle school years were when things truly picked up in terms of my technology use, as it was common for 6th graders at my school to have a personal cell phone. Of course I had to fit in with the norm, so I coerced my parents into purchasing my first cell phone well before I truly needed it. I remember making futile phone calls to my parents and older sibling just to feel like I was making proper use of my newly acquired phone. The following year was when I received my first Macbook computer, again, a very common thing among 7th graders at my private day school. At this point in my life, technology was everything. From my cell phone, to my computer, to the incessant amount of television I watched, I was always looking at some sort of screen. Perhaps this hindered my childhood development in some shape or form, but as technology was rapidly advancing, so too was my use of it. Since that time, I have gone through about ten cell phones and two laptops, and I can assure you that it will not stop there. As a college student, and a member of our technologically progressive society, my computer and cell phone are quite literally my life. I would not be able to function properly without them, and this phenomenon frightens me. I have become far beyond just reliant on my technology, as it has become entirely infused with my existence.

This notion brings me to the idea of the digital divide. Although I am riding high atop the wave that has separated our society between those who have internet access and those that do not, my upbringing has blinded me to the problem that we are faced with. The internet, and technology as a whole, has become such a pivotal part of our lives that those who are not “with the times” will continue to fall further and further behind those of us that are technologically progressing each and every day.

The Digital Divide: Separating the Cyborgs from the Measly Humans

There I am—again—on the toilet, bored as hell, reading the back of the fucking shampoo bottle. There I am—again—waiting for the bus, awkwardly staring around at awkward people awkwardly walking by. There I am—again—in class, with nothing better to do than to listen to Jake’s lecture. You’ve been there right? Those dreadfully long, dull moments that would’ve been made less miserable or boring if you had only remembered to bring/charge your phone. These moments could’ve been filled with endless scrolls through the aesthetic fields of Instagram, or the humorously pathetic plights of sorry family members on Facebook. Instead, they’re filled with the teachings of Žižek and Marx or the fact that your ‘moisturizing conditioner’ contains 7 different types of alcohols. Only one word can describe what I/you felt in these situations: deprivation. Through understanding this along with my previous studies regarding the digital divide, I realized that I was born on the technologically privileged side of that divide.

I was public schooled growing up, and the programs I was in were very computer oriented. I remember taking my first typing class when I was in the second grade. The internet was so new to me then: the computer was a magic internet box that I wasn’t allowed to mess with at home until my teachers taught me everything I needed to know to not break it. At around the 5th grade, my parents got my brothers and me our very own computer. Growing up in this way, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like without having the access to internet. I’m attached to it, dependent on it. My case is mild though, and compared to some of the cell phone obsessed tweens out there, my addiction is acute at best. However, the fact still remains that I get uncomfortable when I don’t have the sweet solace of the internet to keep me warm and wholesome.

The point I’m driving at is that I, along with most all of my friends, acquaintances, and people I just generally know, I treat my cell phone as an extension of me—almost as if it’s another wondrous limb. There is a digital divide happening all around me as well as those I hold dear in the pretty little privileged bubble I live in. The very sanctity of technology is so deeply rooted in and woven into my personal history and upbringing that I almost can’t fathom not having it. It’s like air: I was born into it, was raised needing it, and would die (metaphorically) without it. Technology is so rooted in my culture that I can’t actually observe a large technological divide in my everyday life apart from seeing all the vagrants wandering the streets of Austin. I know it exists by studying it and reading studies and being taught about it, but my physical understanding of it doesn’t go further than the bum observations I made. This shows me a very essential idea for understanding the digital divide: the divide is a vicious circle, wherein those born on one side of it would find it vastly (or even impossibly) difficult to fully understand and integrate into the ways of the other side.

In the recent years, and especially in my recent studies, I contemplated the impact of governmental surveillance on my personal life and affairs. I scroll through my Facebook everyday and other random websites, and I always see advertisements that are eerily related to research I had conducted recently. I read stories often about government surveillance and malpractice by the NSA. Though these kinds of things I find very shitty, I ultimately come to the conclusion every time I think about it of, “Do I really give a fuck?” I have put a lot of thought into the question, and my conclusion is complex. I believe the practices of the government regarding surveillance are immoral and invade my privacy. I don’t feel comfortable having every little thing I research reflected and conveyed back to me through ads on Facebook. I don’t like receiving coupons in the mail specifically designated for me based on my research history. The solution to this is simple: give up the internet. Therein lies the problem: I am incapable of living in a world without internet access, and many people just like me are as well. In the society we live, the one I was born and raised in, technology and communication through the internet have become vital elements of every day life. The bottom line is, my connection with the internet is so strong and compelling that it causes me to cast aside my beliefs so that I can maintain this ‘connected’ lifestyle.
The fucking internet man…it’s everything. The way I grew up, knowledge of computer usage was essential, and without the ability to utilize and navigate the internet, one would be useless and hopeless. That’s how it is, I’ve noticed, for more and more people—for everyone really. Technology is essential for fitting in and being culturally adjusted. In my culture—which consists of the vast amount born on the privileged side of the divide—technology and internet access are key ingredients to life and connection. Just as cyborgs really on technology to survive and thrive, so do we. With this poignant dependence we as a society possess on technology, who’s to say we aren’t a bunch of cyborgs after all?