It used to be our word against yours. It used to be said—correctly—that the patrolman on the beat on any American police force was the last perfect tyranny. Absent a herd of reliable witnesses, there were things he could do to deny you your freedom or kick your ass that were between him, you, and the street. The smartphone with its small, digital camera, is a revolution in civil liberties.
— David Simon, creator/producer/writer of The Wire, in an interview with Vice
The digital divide affects people of different races, genders, and economic backgrounds. For some, the divide can be large and for others it can be small. Throughout the year we have learned in class about the negatives of the digital divide, but is it possible that there are also positives that can come from it as well? As a white middle class citizen, it is hard to believe that the divide is able to affect me as strongly as it has. Since I am a white female, there is a lot that can be understood when observing how the divide affects me personally.
My mom was always a very protective mother growing up, especially when it came to Internet usage. She watched a lot of Dateline shows on the Investigative Discovery Channel and one too many episodes regarding MySpace. Before I even knew what a MySpace was, my mom told me that it was dangerous and made me promise to never get one. Roughly around sixth grade, all of my friends began creating accounts on MySpace. I begged and pleaded to my mom to allow me to have one, but her answer was always no. My friends even tried to convince me to get one behind her back; I was literally the only girl without a MySpace. However, I always stayed true to my promise and said no. This short story speaks to the two large divides that I experienced.
First this speaks to a gender divide. My mom’s primary concern was that a scary man would have bad intentions after speaking with me on MySpace. She was concerned because I was a young girl and she felt that the Internet was an unsafe place for children like me. This still holds true today. It is far too often that we hear horror stories of young females being kidnapped by someone they met through the Internet. Additionally, the Internet is still a dangerous place for women. Often on Facebook we get random friend requests from people we have no mutual friends with. When we post pictures bikinis or tighter clothing, we often know a complete stranger will comment on it or “like” it. Because of all of this, we focus on keeping our accounts private and attempt to keep them as safe and secluded as possible.
Secondly this story speaks to an age divide. My mom did not and does not understand the Internet, especially not MySpace. She looked at it as strictly a place of danger where her daughter should not be; she could not see it as a place where I would be able to express myself and communicate with friends. This age gap affected me because my mother did not actually understand MySpace, and therefore I was never allowed to understand MySpace. Parents are often extremely protective of their young children when it comes to Internet access. Since kindergarten I had a computer, but it did not have Internet access. I did not get a computer with Internet until after I was thirteen. Parents create Internet blockers and things of that nature in the hopes of preventing their children from getting into danger. The divide between parents and children is large on the Internet. Not only are parents trying to protect their children, but also they are simultaneously trying to assimilate them. For example, my mom will often type something and then put the word “smiling” in parenthesis. This proves that the older generation does not quite understand the complexities behind the Internet. Furthermore, neither do we, until we have the chance to dive in on our own and experience it. Once we experience it for ourselves, then we will become much more technologically advanced and have our own sense of understanding.
The digital divide affects all people. Due to these divides, many people have been influenced in different ways. If my mom had not been so protective and cautious, there’s a possibility that I might not have become as responsible online as I currently am. If there had not been an age gap, there’s a possibility I could have had a MySpace. These types of divides have affected me and thus made me the person I am today. We typically view the digital divide as an issue that seems to be unsolvable, however maybe some of these different gaps aren’t actually as bad as we perceive. Maybe these divides are a large part of who we are and, although they make things more challenging, some of them are unchangeable. As a woman I will always be treated differently online and that is something I have come to understand. As a young child I did not understand why my parents were so protective on the Internet, but who is to say that I will not be the same way with my children as technology advances? After reviewing how the digital divide affects me I would say it has impacted me in both positive and negative ways.
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.
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.
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.
Though 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.