I sit in wonder in my mom’s lap, my eyes fixated as fabulous splashes of colors and lights dance around me, overwhelming my small two-year-old brain. I eagerly await the sight of a familiar face, when suddenly, I burst into a euphoric grin. It’s Reader Rabbit. Mom reads aloud as she points to words on the screen, while I scan the monitor to try and recognize some words and letters. I nudge the return key to move Reader Rabbit along on his adventure, just as I had done many times before. While other kids my age are probably buried beneath their coloring books, or passing the time with a VHS of Barney and Friends, I’m only beginning to discover one of the most powerful tools of our generation. And I couldn’t get enough of it.
I remember sitting in the computer lab at the school where my mom worked, playing around on Mac OS 8. Occasionally, another teacher would stroll by and struggle with the printer, all the while looking visibly perplexed. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I, a mere toddler, was able to show her how to save and print her file. “Now where did you learn to do all of that?” she’d say, awestruck, as her eyes shifted back and forth from me to this complicated new device. But I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal—it was all I’d ever known.
It was around 1997 when I was helping my mom’s work colleagues navigate the technological realm. At the time, I definitely found it peculiar (granted, I’m not sure how self-aware a three or four year old toddler can really be), that so many adults, people I viewed as authority figures, could struggle with such a simple task. At the time, personal computers were becoming more and more common in the United States, and many people were just beginning to integrate this new technology into their lives. What I would later realize is that the learning curve that these teachers faced was just the tip of the iceberg of the growing problem of the digital divide.
Because I’ve grown up in the “Internet culture,” I view technology not as an obstacle, but as an intrinsic and necessary part of my life. But even among people my age, I’ve always been ahead of the curve. At first, I recognized my advantage through school. I could type my assignments faster than all my friends. I was always the most adept at using online research databases. My PowerPoints and iMovie projects were always more complex, more polished, and more attractive than anyone else’s in the class. But as I begin to shift my view outside of the classroom, where admittedly, I spent twelve years of my life at a privileged, private school, I realize that this technological gap creates much bigger issues than I had ever previously imagined.
I can’t imagine, and have never experienced, a life in which technology is not readily available to me. However, this is a reality for at least 20% of the American population. Whether it’s from lack of wealth, lack of access, or lack of education, there’s a huge number of people in the world who lead lifestyles that are entirely foreign to me, and most often come at an extreme detriment. I’ve had my own personal website, and known basic web programming skills since the fifth grade. I’ve studied computer science in college—where, again, I have almost unlimited technological resources at my disposal—and I will likely pursue a career in programming, where I will eventually enjoy at least a middle-class salary because of my knowledge and skills. But none of this has happened in isolation. Every moment in my life has been facilitated by technology; from the moment I first sat behind a computer with my mom to the software design class I took my second year of college. While the technical and scientific knowledge I have gained over the course of my life is a vital part of my identity and my future, perhaps just as important is the awareness and understanding of just how fortunate I have been to be in the position that I am today.