Like superheroes experiencing their power for the first time, everyone in my generation has an origin story when they first experience the internet. My first experience getting online was when I was six years old and received my first Webkinz toy. On the surface, a Webkinz might seem like a $2 stuffed animal. They are unremarkable plush toys that come in forms from dogs to lizards to chickens. What makes Webkinz unique is their online counterpart that you can access on Webkinz website🐶➡️🖥. Webkinz introduced me to a lot of the aspects that have become extremely relevant to the internet and social media age. They were interactive in that they allowed you to connect with your friends who had Webkinz accounts as well. They also allowed you to create a page, like an Instagram, where you could design your Webkinz world that could be viewed by everyone. Overall, Webkinz were addictive, much in the way that social media has become addictive, as they always left you wanting to be online, updating and adding to your page, and buying more Webkinz. I remember going to great lengths even as a six-year-old to earn money to buy more Webkinz.
The internet has always been a part of my life, whether it be for education, communication or purely entertainment. Being a digital native makes it easy to be oblivious to the population that does not have access to broadband. Growing up in a wealthy, chiefly white neighborhood, it never really crossed my mind that the internet was something that wasn’t available to everyone. Where you live and how much money you have play enormous roles in the digital divide and can dictate whether or not you are able to have internet access in your home. Less wealthy people are many times only able to access internet through resources such as public libraries, and people who live in rural areas may not have access to the broadband at all. It has been brought to my attention that having internet access is a privilege, not a right. Further, I was completely oblivious to the power that the internet has and the extent that not having it could be a disadvantage.
The internet became more prevalent in my life when I started school. From kindergarten through 12th grade, I attended a private school that provided broadband access to all students, along with hundreds of computers spread throughout the campus. Beginning in 2nd grade, we had a weekly class called technology to teach me computer skills. Once we started high school, every student was required to have their own laptop or tablet. Fast-forward to today⏩, I am attending college at a university where computers are as much a part of the experience as Bevo. Whether I’m sitting in a lecture hall, studying in the library, or even just walking around campus, almost everyone around me has their eyes glued to some sort of electronic screen. Going to a diverse school like the University of Texas🤘 has opened my eyes to the inequity behind the internet. Before coming here, it never occurred to me what an advantage it was to have access to computers and the internet my whole life and what a tremendous head start it gave me over my peers with lesser resources.
It is almost impossible for me to imagine a world without internet as it is pervasive in almost every aspect of life today. It is easy to disregard how much the internet has impacted my life and about how there is a percentage of the population that is unable to have access to internet. Although my ability to help bridge the digital divide is limited (or probably non-existent), I will carry my knowledge with me and I will always have a better appreciation for my privilege.