Reflecting upon my upbringing, it is hard to imagine it without the internet.
From an early age, the internet was engrained in nearly every facet of my life. When I was younger, computers and the internet were just an educational resource that teachers were hesitant to emphasize, choosing instead to focus on traditional methods of learning like a book, pencil, and paper. However, in my university experience, laptops are seen in every lecture hall I’ve sat in and Google is almost always my first step in starting a project. The internet is so ubiquitous in so many more aspects than just education, and it’s foreign to me that there still exists a sizeable amount of the population that is unable to have regular internet access. Before this class, it was understandable to me that there existed a “digital divide” among those in countries with a lower socioeconomic status. But, to see that the digital divide still affects many Americans, a country in which the internet was created and whose culture essentially defines the internet, it’s disheartening and frustrating 😔. Even with all its negatives, the simple economic and educational benefit, not only on an individual scale but a societal one, of the internet is enough that every American should have access.
Moving towards the middle portion of the class, our focus turned to divides as it exists online. Namely, how what we say and what we do creates the persona that is available for everyone to see online. This persona is unique to each of us and cannot be determined by any preexisting notions. That said, the truth is divisions exist among race, gender, age, and religion offline and those same divisions are emphasized online. The internet itself is Americentric, its “typical” user is America’s most represented individual: a young white man.
However, what this class really exposed me was that this is simply not true, as the experiences held online are different for each person. The fact the we often relegate everyone on the internet to be a young white male diminishes the experience of those who do not follow under those characteristics. I often find myself falling into this stereotype. On places like Twitter or Reddit, where users can be anonymous, it is easy to just believe that every person is just like you, in this case, a man. I recall a reading we did in class that liken the experience of a woman online to the ever-watching eye of companies and government tracking your data and marking your every move. Thus, until this analogy, I had not recognized the misogyny🤬 that women faced because it never affected me. A digital divide that I had experience, however, was that of race. Being an Asian American, whose experiences are rarely emphasized in pop culture, my online experience with race began on YouTube. In the early stages of YouTube, Asian Americans like Ryan Higa, who once had the most subscribed channel at one point, took to the site to express themselves due to a lack of representation and opportunity in Hollywood. As a kid watching these videos, it was welcome to see someone who shared similar experiences as me and create content about thing I could relate to. And now, I am a member of, “subtle asian traits”, a Facebook group of over 800,000 members that post memes and jokes that can only really be understood with a familiarity of Asian culture👲. What this group represents is a solidarity for Asians and Asian Americans to freely express their experiences with those who have similar backgrounds and feelings.
The final portion of the class moved towards a digital divide in personal perspective. Specifically, is what you see online, what you really want to see? Companies have made billions off of catering a personalized experience to you and what they believe you want to see👀. Companies (and the government) mine your data without any real regard of privacy or discretion. Personally, there is an internal conflict with regards to these companies and their practices. As a Computer Science student👨💻, it would be a dream to work at one of these innovative companies. At the same time, it raises many ethical and moral flags🤷♂️ to me about the nature of privacy as it exists online. There is nothing wrong with offering a more personalized experience; however, as technology progresses, I can’t help but to think that this personal experience will no longer be “personal”. Rather, corporations will (maybe they already do) know you better than yourself. Your desires, wants, and needs will all be inputs to a system which already knows which ad it will send you.