How much of your life do you think is based on luck? How often do we stumble into inevitably advantageous circumstances, thus changing life as we know it? Seriously, on a scale of one to ten, is it a three? Nine? I think it’s pretty high up there. Multiple aspects of my life, of my identity, are based on chance. I happened to be born in the United States, into a caucasian family, into an upper-middle class socioeconomic status. I happened to be born at the start of the .com era, when smart phones and smart wear would launch, eventually transforming the technology industry and every day life. The one glaring “disadvantage” I will face throughout my life is that I have two X chromosomes instead of one X and one Y chromosome. I was listening to a podcast recently called “How I Built This” on NPR radio. The episode featured the founder and C.E.O. of Glossier (a beauty brand), Emily Weiss. Weiss specifically mentions that one of the most influential career experiences that she had as an adolescent was interning for Ralph Lauren. How did she get this coveted opportunity? She babysat for her neighbor who worked at Ralph Lauren; one day, he put in a good word for her, and ba-da-bing-ba-da-boom 👏🏻, she was in. Instead of lauding her own grit, perseverance, or natural born creativity, Weiss said the offer was purely luck. Being “woke” nowadays requires one to recognize his/her privilege in life, and that’s exactly what I’ve been born into: a hefty amount of privilege.
So… what does this look like in context of my daily digital life? Let’s begin by quickly reviewing what I think the digital divide is: the global, systematic unequal distribution of internet connectivity, affordability, and fluid cultural inclusion. The digital divide extends beyond our hard drives and processors – rather, it can be seen as a representation of larger, deeply-rooted, inequality and inequity in our world. This I now know to be true.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Sweet Home Alabama, you’ve gotten a glimpse of what my hometown was like. Kidding, but not. I spent my most formative years in Small Town, a city of less than 3,000 people. While we mirrored the quintessential, rural Southern town in many ways, there were many aspects of growing up that far more resembled suburban America. I always had access to fast, at home internet and a home computer (as far back as I can remember), an important distinction between myself and those that belong to the digitally-excluded population. To my knowledge, location did not inhibit providers from providing internet access to my area. As a matter of fact, nor did income; there were (presumably) multiple providers for my parents to choose from that fit their budget and internet capability needs. I remember sitting on the computer for hours (yes, hours) in elementary school even, playing Webkinz or on barbie.com. When I entered middle school and high school, grades typically requiring research projects/papers, I was able to complete all of my assignments at home without an inkling of worry or inconvenience. Had I been born into an inner-city neighborhood, or even a more rural area in the South, it’s likely I would not have had the same access.
Another important distinction about me is that I’m a Millennial 💃🏻. Ah yes, a part of the generation of selfies and short attention spans! One pro, at least, is that I’m also almost immediately dubbed a tech-savvy digital “native.” I’ve pretty much grown up online, as compared with my parents or older peers that adopted the internet later on in life. But, who is to say this means that I’m any more knowledgeable than my 83-year-old grandmother who frequents Words with Friends? It comes down to practice and exposure; sure, I’ve had more experiences with technology as an adolescent compared with others, but a straight-shot trajectory towards superiority in the technological realm is not guaranteed. This is one trick the digital divide plays on us; it creates these false divides in society based on your existence as explained by few characteristics: age, gender, education level, income, location, etc. This does not have to be true.
I think we can all agree that certain circumstances we are born into or come into in life give us advantages or disadvantages over each other. The difference here, the task at hand when it comes to digital divisions, is realizing that the divisions are a product of stereotypical social constructs (age, gender) and lack of regulation against gross exclusion (rural, low income) and inequity. It requires immediate attention by individuals, companies, and governments. How we conquer this issue, I am not sure, but I can guess that it’ll take a little more than luck 😏