Crumbling Relationships from the Digital Divide

Now Playing 🔈

Facebook, Instagram, Google –– what do they have in common? They are all companies that seem to have become household names in this current generation, Generation Z or Millenials, which includes myself. However, this was not the case 30 years ago in my parent’s generation(baby boomers) or 50 years ago in my grandparents generation(silent generation). Consequently, the adoption of technology has created a stratification leading to a generational digital divide within my family.

My parents moved to America when they were both teenagers, and the only technology that was available was the television; thus, they never grew up having information so readily accessible. They experienced the creation and unimaginable rise of the internet. However, since they were immigrants, they did not have a lot of money to spend and never had the chance to obtain access to such luxuries. Contrastingly, by the time I was born, the internet was already common in most households. My generation grew up as digital natives; therefore, it is not surprising that in Jingjing Jiang’s article, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/02/millennials-stand-out-for-their-technology-use-but-older-generations-also-embrace-digital-life/, “Millennials stand out for their technology use, but older generations also embrace digital life,” it was found that 97% of Millenials use the internet (para. 11). Although we had a PC, my parents always encouraged us to find enjoyment in physical activity rather than artificial things. However, with the unlimited amount of websites to explore, I rarely left the computer and, consequently, they would always scold me. As a digital native, this created a barrier between myself, a digital native, and my parents, who were digital immigrants and did not understand the interest I had with the internet, especially since they rarely used it. It was difficult to find similar interests and connect with them. This seems to be the reality for many families. In Jim Taylor’s article, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201303/is-technology-creating-family-divide, “Is Technology Creating a Family Divide?” he discusses a study that found “when the working parent arrived home after work, his or her children were so immersed in technology that the parent was greeted only 30 percent of the time and was totally ignored 50 percent of the time” (para. 2).

This gap extended to my grandparents, but it was even more severe; my parents have now acclimated to the use of the internet. Even though they do not spend as much time on it as I do, they are aware of the benefits. My parents are part of the 83% of baby boomers that have tried to transition from digital immigrants to digital natives by utilizing the internet (para. 11). They see the internet like reading and writing where some excel at learning it and some have more difficulties, but it is something necessary to learn. Regardless, my grandparents continue to live with neither a computer nor a smart-phone. They encompass the definition of a digital immigrant, which is common for their age group, as only 30% of the Silent Generation have a smart-phone, and just 52% of them use the internet 😲 (para. 2). Ironically, they live in Hong Kong, which has one of the fastest internet speeds and where technology plays a large role in everyday life. However, because of how old they are and how costly it can be, especially paired with the high cost of living, they see no use in integrating it into their lifestyle. As a result, I rarely communicate with them and barely have a relationship with them. My maternal grandparents, whom I was very close to, have already passed away, and because they lived 30 minutes away from me, I was able to establish a strong relationship with them.

Untitled

Contrarily, my paternal grandparents and I hardly know anything about each other, and the only way I can get in touch with them is by calling them, since they only own a landline phone. Nonetheless, this can be very difficult to do because I am a busy college student. There is also a language barrier, as they do not know English, and I am not an expert in Cantonese. It can be very costly to make international calls, thus I refrain from having extended conversations with them. Their inability to access the internet creates a gap in our relationship as we never have face-to-face contact. Sadly, I have only visited them twice in my life 😞, which is aggravating 😡 because I would love to build a relationship with them. Even if they wanted to access the internet, their socioeconomic status hinders them from the ability of doing so. Despite the internet has been beneficial in bringing people together, it has also constructed a generational digital divide, where the generations drift further apart. Although I want to be closer to my paternal grandparents and find common interests with both my parents and grandparents, the internet has created such a strong digital divide between us that it is a difficult task to accomplish.

Advertisements

Crashing Waves

Now Playing 🔈

Growing up, I was always fortunate enough to have a computer with internet access. I never had to go through any trouble trying to complete assignments or keeping up with the digital world. Even though I didn’t have to worry about accessing the internet, the same can’t be said for many others. The digital divide is something that goes much deeper than just ‘not having internet access’. People aren’t connected with the rest of the world due to geography, age, wealth, literacy, confidence, and much more. I never really thought about how not having internet access could affect people since I never had that problem. Now-a-days, having access to the internet is a necessity rather than a luxury because of how much people depend on it. I depend on the internet. I depend on the internet much more than one should 😕. For example, I can’t be without my phone for a whole day. I check my phone when I wake up, when I’m sitting bored in class, when I’m awkwardly in the elevator with a stranger, when I’m walking to class, etc. In other words: I’m dependent on my phone for most of my day. But why? Why do I constantly need to look at my phone? Is my existence based on my phone? Is it because I feel most happy when I look at the screen in front of me? 🤔 I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how I play into all of this. I look around and see this to be the case with my peers too. Almost everywhere I look, someone is on their phone or laptop.

UntitledAnd the more that I think about it, the more I realize that we all are playing a part in the digital divide. Even though we don’t know it, we’re still affecting it. I have internet, so I don’t think about the people that don’t, my peers have internet, so they don’t think about the people that don’t, but how are we deepening the divide? I thought about this for a while and I didn’t come to one single conclusion, but I had an idea. By constantly looking at screens, we give the internet the power to divide the people; we don’t think about the less fortunate because most of us on campus are always surrounded by technology, but by using the internet, we’re furthering the divide. We’re keeping ourselves further from the population that doesn’t have internet access, thus creating a deepening of the divide without realizing it. The internet is like the ocean. Being able to connect with millions and millions of other fish, the internet provides an outlet; an outlet to escape reality or an outlet to just wander and surf, to be consumed by. The internet has waves; waves that you can choose to get lost in or swim away from. The deep blue ocean water is there to be mesmerized by or just appreciate from afar 🌊. Just as the ocean seems to be never ending, the same can be said about the internet. Most of us are lost in the vastness of the web and it causes us to ignore the problem of division.

In Between

Now Playing 🔈

It is easy to contemplate on the things that one already believes.

For the entirety of my life, I have had some type of access to the internet. Coming from a wealthy suburban town that was predominantly white, I never questioned why I had access to this type of connectivity or where it actually came from. It was an inherent necessity, like a God-given right. I have always had a base understanding of how to use digital technologies and the web. The community I was raised in encouraged the use of technology and had digital initiatives, such as learning how to type and how to use Google search in elementary school. When a student entered the ninth grade, a Google Chromebook was handed out to them, with the expectation being that this tool would enhance the student’s overall learning experience. The expectation was always to use the Internet to make your life easier.

My upbringing has largely determined my views on the digital world 🌎. I see myself as a digital native, someone who has always been exposed to digital initiatives and technology. I see technology as something that improves lives and enables access to many different areas of information that don’t have any hurdles to jump through. I see the Internet as something that is able to connect people and interests together and help form communities throughout the world. In short, I see the digital world as the future of society.

But on closer inspection, it is only what I have been taught to believe that formulates my preconceived notions of what the web is. This view that I held was fostered through my upbringing, by both my education and my community. What I have been taught is largely untrue for large swathes of the human population. This mentality is found throughout white America and reflects a juxtaposition between the idealist version of what the digital world could be and the unescapable reality of what the digital world is actually. It is this juxtaposition that I possess within myself, a conflict between my American and Asian-American identities .

It is hard to reflect on the fact that your beliefs that you have held for the entirety of your life, the ones that dictate the choices you make and what you do, are not what they seem.

UntitledThe hardest realization that I have had is coming to terms with the fact that I don’t belong in the truly American version of the digital world. What I saw in myself and the digital age that we now live in is one that didn’t include an inescapable identity of myself: my race. I am on the fringe of the digital sphere, still a part of the overall world but not the typical person that our society pictures as the predominant user of the Internet. Even though I’ve grown up in a white community, attended a white school, had white friends, the unavoidable truth that I have found is the snap judgement of people based on a single factor. For however much I felt like I identified with the prototypical user of the internet, a wealthy, young white man, I’ve realized that there is no way that that user could identify with me.

On the other hand, too, the way I view myself as a minority compared to a black or Latino man is completely different and alien to myself, something I cannot comprehend. The type of racism that exists in our society is largely towards those of lower socioeconomic class. It is because of this that some may call into question the validity of the racism that I have faced, discrediting Asians as a “fake” minority. It is at this junction where I lie in the digital world, a limbo like place where either side tries to discredit the validity of why you don’t belong with them.

Yet, where I fall in the digital world is only one aspect of what others experience. Mine only involves race and culture because by chance, I happen to be male and young, with my family securely financed and comfortable. There are many other misfits who blend the lines between gender, age, ideology, and socioeconomic class, and many more who blend the divisions that I fail to recognize.

It is their existence, though, that connect people together and divulge the meaning of the reason we call the digital world a web 🕸.

The Modern Tragedy of Digital Divides

Now Playing 🔈

Many digital divides exist today both around the world and online, the most well-known one being the discrepancy between those who do and do not have access to the internet. However, digital divides exist even among people who have access to the internet. These divides can occur between different ages, races, political views, ideologies, and gender and have a huge impact on the experiences people have online and the divisiveness of online rhetoric😱.

Growing up in a relatively well off, suburban family, I have had access to the internet for virtually my entire life for the purposes of school, entertainment, and communication.  This led me to assume that everyone had access to the internet, and it was not until I became older that I realized this was not true. Around 25 percent of American do not have a subscription to broadband internet, and around five billion people worldwide are digitally excluded (Hulegaard 3).  Socioeconomic status and geographic location play huge roles in determining whether or not people can access the internet. Those who are at an economic disadvantage often do not have access to broadband internet and instead rely upon public libraries and cell phones to access the internet (Horrigan 7). Rural populations sometimes are not serviced by internet companies and might not be able to acquire broadband even if they can afford it (Scott para 2). UntitledThese are issues that I did not have to deal with, and in fact, I was unaware even existed until recently. However, one aspect of the digital divide in terms of access that I have always been aware of was the divide between age groups. Older generations are less likely to access the internet than younger generations (Woyke para 2). As a digital native, I am proficient in using the internet since I grew up with it. I have noticed that it is much harder for my grandparents and even my parents to not only adopt the internet but also learn how to use it effectively. In fact, my grandparents only used the internet for email up until a few years ago. These digital divides in access to the internet based on age, location, and socioeconomic status are not new. However, being a digital native, it is easy to be oblivious to the problems that other people have in access and using the internet.

Just as troubling is that the internet, which has the power to bring people together, seems to be a tool for further separating us. I personally encounter divides on the internet that are based on my perceived and invented online identity. As a college-age, white, Texan male, certain ads, newspaper articles, and videos are targeted towards me based on what tech companies think a college-age, white, Texan male would like. These targeted experiences use this perceived identity of a person to help personalize the experiences of users on the internet and create more interest. However, they can also limit the scope of what people see on the internet and cut them off from other online communities. For example, I sometimes get ads for things that I have absolutely no interest in, such as UT baseball, because of my perceived online identity. In addition, I will get suggestions for ultra-conservative news outlets despite preferring to read more central-leaning, unbiased news. My invented online identity does follow some of the digital divides that exist online. As a male, I prefer to use Reddit as a social media platform😎. This is in line with the trend of more women using Pinterest and more men using Reddit (Vermeren para 9). In addition, like most young people, I use social media sites like Snapchat while older people use Facebook. These digital divides amongst social media cites based on age and gender can lead to separated groups and a more segregated society😢. I have always been aware of the confirmation bias and group polarization that exists online in terms of where people choose to get their news, but I was not aware that these can still occur among social media sites and through involuntary targeting based on perceived identities and internet activity.

Bibliography

Horrigan, John B. “Recent Tech Adoption Trends and Implications for the Digital Divide.” SSRN Electronic Journal, Aug. 2012, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2031755.

Hulegaard, David. “The Digital Divide: What Works and What Doesn’t.” Academia.

Scott, Mark. “How a British Telecoms Startup Is Bridging UK’s Rural Digital Divide.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 14 Feb. 2018, www.politico.eu/article/truespeed-digital-divide-europe-broadband-fiber-telecom-rural/.

Vermeren, Iris. “Men vs. Women: Who Is More Active on Social Media?” Brandwatch, Brandwatch, http://www.brandwatch.com/blog/men-vs-women-active-social-media/.

Woyke, Elizabeth. “Korea Bridges Digital Divide.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 June 2013, www.forbes.com/2009/04/02/internet-broadband-korea-technology-korea-09-broadband.html#329f1cf8187c.

A Divide as Clear as Mud

Now Playing 🔈

My experience growing up in Friendswood, Texas, a somewhat small town with one of the highest median incomes per household in the state, was far different than what one would have assumed. If it were not for the love and assistance of my dear grandparents, we would not have had the basic necessities, including internet access should you so consider it to be in that category. Growing up, I did not feel as if I was in a different class from my peers despite the large wealth disparity. I did not think it was so bad that I would have to go to my grandparents’ or friends’ houses to access the internet. 95% of my school assignments were to be submitted in person on paper, so that remaining 5% was not a huge deal 🤷‍. My family finally gained access when I was about 10 years old, back in 2007, after being a minority in the community in terms of internet access for so many years. I saw no divide even though I was the one without access.

However, 2007 in technological terms was millennia ago. My experience would have been drastically different if I did not have internet access today. The exponential dissolve of paper and transition to a mostly online information system has altered the experience of the civilian. The earlier breakdown of a 95% to 5% ratio of paper to online assignments has become the opposite of what it once was. However, the ability to access the internet is now so much more than online submission 💻. Nearly all the information necessary to complete said assignments is found on the internet. As technology exponentially progresses and paper advancingly becomes an aging artifact, the divide widens. I, disadvantaged in the 2000s, did not suffer in the slightest compared to those who live without internet access today in late 2018. In America, a place hailed for its “equality of opportunity,” despite race, religion, or economic status, is still a place where access to the internet is not considered a necessity, at least to politicians who have the power to close the divide. To maintain this false ideal that America provides equal opportunity to all when everyone does not have access to the same information is ignorant and naive. Those who have that view are privileged, and their foolish dialogue🗨 demeans those who yearn for that equal footing.

I am privileged because I am a straight white male with internet access. I was still privileged as a young kid with no internet access in the past. I have not witnessed the divide because I was in the infamous “Friendswood bubble,” where diversity in appearance, politics, status, and creed rarely existed. My experience would have differed had I grown up with no access today. I am fortunate to not have experienced that, but just because I have not suffered from a digital divide that creates disparities in our society today does not mean that I can not recognize it. It would be a disservice to myself if I were so arrogant and selfish as to say that I suffered too. As to what I can do to help bridge the digital divide as a 21-year-old American citizen with a minute amount of disposable money, I truly do not know. However, that does not excuse me from stopping my exploration of the divide and my standing within it.

Intersections of Many Divides

Now Playing 🔈

As a 20-year-old white girl, my online presence could be stereotyped as an Instagram-like-obsessed, 300-day-snapchat-streaked, online-shopper. But that stereotype does not really have any merit. I won’t lie, I love my VSCO filtered Instagram✨ and always have a Nordstrom’s tab open on my safari browser, but that doesn’t define me by any means. The online world is full of digital divides and preconceived notions of what people are and are not, just like the real world. These differences are often times magnified online due to the level of anonymity and lack personal social interaction.

I grew up with internet in my home. I am a child of the web, and have always had access to it. It gave me a leg-up on many people because I have a native tongue for online language. In many ways, this has given me lots of situated ethos in my role online. I am seen as tech savvy, and know my keyboard shortcuts. People my age are assumed to just know how to operate online because everyone else our age does. For some, this can be a disheartening notion, because if they cannot operate online, they are expected to be able to. For me, I’m pretty lucky to know what I’m doing (for the most part). 👌

Another divide I constantly see for myself online is gender. I use many websites typically coded male. As a regular Reddit user for 5 years now, I personally use it as a channel of information. Girls are typically viewed online to like pictures, not text. I am on many subreddits that are filled with pictures of puppies🐶 and cool architecture, but I subscribe to more text-based ones. I really enjoy reading articles linked to posts and then reading the comments about the articles. This is typically thought of male actions, despite me browsing from my sorority house.

Untitled

Logically, it does not make sense why these gender divides are online because enjoying current affairs is a gender-neutral action. My situated ethos this time around is expected to stay off the site and look at Pintrest posts of hairstyles. But, I created an emergent ethos for myself in being well informed and able to critically think about what I read online.

There are many more divides I can explain my place in, but I now would like to draw attention to the way in which these divides characterize me. These divides place people into boxes and make them feel as if they are expected to act a certain way online because they are a certain race or gender or age. But, all of this is fleeting. These boxes don’t have lids; you don’t have to be in them if we all work to get out of them. At times I feel like I am expected to be this snapchat crazed puppet because if I am not then I am somehow less of a girl. But if I try my best to respect myself online and respect others of their backgrounds, then maybe we can get somewhere. If we work towards breaking down and bridging these divides online, we can begin to use the internet like the highway it was intended to be. Right now, these divides are road blocks and street lights stuck on red. My place online is like someone stuck in traffic, not really going anywhere. But with time I hope to get to that exit lane to be able to get where I want, without anything stopping me.

An Evaluation of Digital Privilege

Now Playing 🔈

The first memory I have of using the internet was to play games. I would log on to my desktop PC and wait for the CPU and dial-up to turn on. In the Philippines, such access was a privilege so early on, and especially to have internet for mere tasks like games and watching silly videos online. I remember creating my first Hotmail account and the first time I logged in to MSN only to realize none of my other friends used it yet 😎. Soon enough, a majority of my time was spent online—watching videos and playing games, downloading new music on LimeWire, and chatting with friends on MSN and Yahoo! Messenger. Between now and then, a lot on the internet has changed, and the role it plays in our lives has evolved significantly.

As I reflect on how the internet shaped my upbringing, from digital journaling on Xanga to posting every semi-significant achievement and occurrence of my life on Facebook in the form of statuses and photo albums, to now—where nearly everything I do in a day involves the internet or technology in some form or another. When the internet went down in my apartment for a few hours last month, I panicked, but quickly resorted to using a digital hotspot from my smartphone to keep me connected, because when Wi-Fi fails, I still have LTE data. In each of these reflections, I see with more clarity now where I have been privileged to have access and the ability to learn and grow on the internet, and even more privileged to have had the people around me to teach me how to mindfully navigate new technology and the growing access I came to understand on the internet. The latter, I understand now, is a privilege that has helped me most in recent years, as I decide what kinds of things are important to me and going through life thinking critically, always.

When I began studying the digital divide, it was easy to see its prevalence was due to issues like cost and access, but as our class as progressed, so has my understanding of the deeper underlying issues of not just the digital divide, but all sorts of different divides that have shaped our society and culture as we exist in it today. When I emigrated to the US in 2015, I saw these divisions of party, class, and politics through the lens of television and movies 🎞, but like a spectator, I never fully understood the implications of what having the access and ability to do things actually means. I quickly learned what it meant, and even more so since recent elections. Looking back now, I think a lot of how I navigated those decisions about how I value myself and those around me have been shaped by the opportunities and privileges I have had in my life to be mindful, discerning, and open to discourse.

With access comes privilege, and with privilege comes a responsibility to not only acknowledge its existence, but to extend such benefits to those around me. Growing up, the class disparity I lived in was obvious and clear, and I have always known that the notion of “giving back” was an important one, but now I understand more that it isn’t about material objects so much as it is about providing opportunities and resources to those without it. Supplying computers and routers won’t do much for a disparaged community without the ability or knowledge to navigate through it, but given the chance, opportunities grow and from there, the possibilities are not only endless, but within reach. 🤝

Untitled.png