Being One With the Internet

The development of the internet is undoubtedly the most pivotal invention of the last half century, and also arguably the most momentous creation in the modern world as we know it. While the computer itself had existed prior to the discovery of the world wide web, the technological advancements that have been made since the conception of this fascinating global system of networks are far beyond astounding. Not only has the internet allowed us to discover things we would have never come across without its existence, but it has also stimulated exponential growth and connection as a global society. The internet is used in ways you would never imagine, and has been the foundation of our livelihood since it was created in the 1990s. Although, while a majority of teenagers among my generation see the internet as a somewhat mundane entity mainly used for social networking, shopping, and information gathering, the generations old enough to witness the creation of the internet during their teen years (and perhaps even beyond) have an entirely different view of this “network of networks”, as it is sometimes called.

Being fortunate enough to have been raised in an upper middle to upper class family, similarly to many other students here at the University of Texas, the internet has played a more than significant role in my life. Despite the fact that the internet has propelled my academic education light years ahead of where it would have been without such technology, I believe having access to the internet has also assisted in my development as a socially aware human being. Observing the strides made in regards to the internet over the last two decades, alongside the effects internet use has on our culture, I can say with complete certainty that individuals who lack access will struggle (and more than likely, fail) to achieve such a status. FloppyI recall sitting behind a computer screen in the earlier years of my elementary school education, and although internet/computer technology has experienced tremendous growth since those days, I remember those bulky, multi-colored boxes with a partially eaten apple (Apple Inc.) being there since day one. At such a young age, my use of the computer and the internet was entirely different, as the computer was just used as a tool that simply digitalized our art projects or allowed us to play games. However, even such trivial activities contributed to my development as a child among generation Y, or the millennials, as we are called. My middle school years were when things truly picked up in terms of my technology use, as it was common for 6th graders at my school to have a personal cell phone. Of course I had to fit in with the norm, so I coerced my parents into purchasing my first cell phone well before I truly needed it. I remember making futile phone calls to my parents and older sibling just to feel like I was making proper use of my newly acquired phone. The following year was when I received my first Macbook computer, again, a very common thing among 7th graders at my private day school. At this point in my life, technology was everything. From my cell phone, to my computer, to the incessant amount of television I watched, I was always looking at some sort of screen. Perhaps this hindered my childhood development in some shape or form, but as technology was rapidly advancing, so too was my use of it. Since that time, I have gone through about ten cell phones and two laptops, and I can assure you that it will not stop there. As a college student, and a member of our technologically progressive society, my computer and cell phone are quite literally my life. I would not be able to function properly without them, and this phenomenon frightens me. I have become far beyond just reliant on my technology, as it has become entirely infused with my existence.

This notion brings me to the idea of the digital divide. Although I am riding high atop the wave that has separated our society between those who have internet access and those that do not, my upbringing has blinded me to the problem that we are faced with. The internet, and technology as a whole, has become such a pivotal part of our lives that those who are not “with the times” will continue to fall further and further behind those of us that are technologically progressing each and every day.


The Digital Divide: Separating the Cyborgs from the Measly Humans

There I am—again—on the toilet, bored as hell, reading the back of the fucking shampoo bottle. There I am—again—waiting for the bus, awkwardly staring around at awkward people awkwardly walking by. There I am—again—in class, with nothing better to do than to listen to Jake’s lecture. You’ve been there right? Those dreadfully long, dull moments that would’ve been made less miserable or boring if you had only remembered to bring/charge your phone. These moments could’ve been filled with endless scrolls through the aesthetic fields of Instagram, or the humorously pathetic plights of sorry family members on Facebook. Instead, they’re filled with the teachings of Žižek and Marx or the fact that your ‘moisturizing conditioner’ contains 7 different types of alcohols. Only one word can describe what I/you felt in these situations: deprivation. Through understanding this along with my previous studies regarding the digital divide, I realized that I was born on the technologically privileged side of that divide.

I was public schooled growing up, and the programs I was in were very computer oriented. I remember taking my first typing class when I was in the second grade. The internet was so new to me then: the computer was a magic internet box that I wasn’t allowed to mess with at home until my teachers taught me everything I needed to know to not break it. At around the 5th grade, my parents got my brothers and me our very own computer. Growing up in this way, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like without having the access to internet. I’m attached to it, dependent on it. My case is mild though, and compared to some of the cell phone obsessed tweens out there, my addiction is acute at best. However, the fact still remains that I get uncomfortable when I don’t have the sweet solace of the internet to keep me warm and wholesome.

The point I’m driving at is that I, along with most all of my friends, acquaintances, and people I just generally know, I treat my cell phone as an extension of me—almost as if it’s another wondrous limb. There is a digital divide happening all around me as well as those I hold dear in the pretty little privileged bubble I live in. The very sanctity of technology is so deeply rooted in and woven into my personal history and upbringing that I almost can’t fathom not having it. It’s like air: I was born into it, was raised needing it, and would die (metaphorically) without it. Technology is so rooted in my culture that I can’t actually observe a large technological divide in my everyday life apart from seeing all the vagrants wandering the streets of Austin. I know it exists by studying it and reading studies and being taught about it, but my physical understanding of it doesn’t go further than the bum observations I made. This shows me a very essential idea for understanding the digital divide: the divide is a vicious circle, wherein those born on one side of it would find it vastly (or even impossibly) difficult to fully understand and integrate into the ways of the other side.

In the recent years, and especially in my recent studies, I contemplated the impact of governmental surveillance on my personal life and affairs. I scroll through my Facebook everyday and other random websites, and I always see advertisements that are eerily related to research I had conducted recently. I read stories often about government surveillance and malpractice by the NSA. Though these kinds of things I find very shitty, I ultimately come to the conclusion every time I think about it of, “Do I really give a fuck?” I have put a lot of thought into the question, and my conclusion is complex. I believe the practices of the government regarding surveillance are immoral and invade my privacy. I don’t feel comfortable having every little thing I research reflected and conveyed back to me through ads on Facebook. I don’t like receiving coupons in the mail specifically designated for me based on my research history. The solution to this is simple: give up the internet. Therein lies the problem: I am incapable of living in a world without internet access, and many people just like me are as well. In the society we live, the one I was born and raised in, technology and communication through the internet have become vital elements of every day life. The bottom line is, my connection with the internet is so strong and compelling that it causes me to cast aside my beliefs so that I can maintain this ‘connected’ lifestyle.
The fucking internet man…it’s everything. The way I grew up, knowledge of computer usage was essential, and without the ability to utilize and navigate the internet, one would be useless and hopeless. That’s how it is, I’ve noticed, for more and more people—for everyone really. Technology is essential for fitting in and being culturally adjusted. In my culture—which consists of the vast amount born on the privileged side of the divide—technology and internet access are key ingredients to life and connection. Just as cyborgs really on technology to survive and thrive, so do we. With this poignant dependence we as a society possess on technology, who’s to say we aren’t a bunch of cyborgs after all?


(Digital) Space: The Final Frontier

The engine starts to hum. The screen turns on and emits an ominous glow. Various lights blink here and there. You take your place in the swivel chair and press a couple button. Once everything is online you prepare yourself. You place the cursor over the Chrome symbol, poised to click. Cue dramatic orchestral music with swelling strings. “Mr. Sulu, put us in hyperdrive”, and with a click of the mouse you’re transported from Earth to a place far away.

USS Enterprise

The internet is a fascinating place, along with the technology that allows us to access the web. Like many of my peers, I consider myself a digital native, a captain kirk of the digital world. I click here and there, navigating to my desired destination with ease. Whatever I wanted to see, whatever I wanted to learn, all at my fingertips. Learning to traverse the digital world isn’t easy, but for my generations and those capable of having access; it’s just like riding a bike. But not everyone is fortunate enough to be their own captain kirk in this world. Just as with any frontier exploration, it is always the young people at the helm, while the old are left behind. With technology booming at an exponential rate (thanks to Mr. Moore’s Law) it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up. Most of our elders are stuck on “Earth” as they are reluctant to leave their old-world technology and ways. Additionally, those with lack of access and resources are also left behind, destined to never be their own Captain Kirk.

I was fortunate enough to be technologically literate given my family history. With the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, my parents came over to America with nothing in hand beside their survival instinct and work ethics. They didn’t care about the latest technology or the latest movie that had just came out, their only concern was to put food on the table. So growing up, I never had the newest game console; I never had the chance to learn how to use the computer early on. Hell, I didn’t even get a cell phone until I was in the junior year of my high school. When playing Halo or Madden with your peers, owning a Razor cell phone, or having a computer to AIM chat was pivotal to connecting with your classmates, it was one heck of a gap to leap to make those connections. Fortunately enough when I was 8 or 9, my father found his way into the digital world through his job as a software engineer. He was then able to teach me a thing or two about technology and provide me with access to the web. With the work ethics my parents instilled in me, I pushed myself and played around with the computer and was able to become tech literate. It took some years, but I was able to catch up to my peers in becoming tech-savvy.

I’m lucky to be where I am now, although many aren’t.

I believe that there are many factors that keep people far away from the digital world. A lack of access is a great example. Through years of direct and indirect racism, the technological infrastructures that are in place today are the results. The wealthier were provided with better access, better infrastructures, while the poor and the minorities, segregated through years of racism, were provided with poorer quality of access. Additionally the cost of technology and access were quite substantial. The government believed the trickledown effect and competitive market forces were capable to bridge the digital gap. They were wrong. Years of racism and resulting poverty couldn’t simply be overcome like that. With a lack of access and technology education, older people and poorer minorities couldn’t learn how to build their resume, search and apply for jobs online, or find nearby financial services. Additionally students without access wouldn’t be able to have the same resources and advantages as their more technologically advanced peers. It is a vicious cycle that few can get out of, and it’s one that is all too familiar.

While we are all cruising around the web as captain of our own Starship Enterprise, there are many out there who are stuck down on Earth, far away from the web. Like the crew members on the Enterprise, they help the ship run but they will never navigate nor pick the places they want to go. They can only hope to one day sit in the captain’s seat unless we do something about it. Because shouldn’t we all have the right to traverse the web, shouldn’t the digital space belong to all of us?

basic digital literacy and then some

My family structure has offered me a distinct experience in observing differences in generations that most people may not have on such a personal level. My parents are probably not a part of the same generation as yours, and my sister is probably not in the same generations as your siblings either. My parents had me at age 15 in 1979, and then my baby sister was born 16 years after they had me. Essentially, I’m about 15 years apart from both my parents and my sister, which is something you don’t see every day. Even though 15 years doesn’t seem like an extensive amount of years, the technological advancements that have been made in the past 30 years are clearly shown in my family through our different upbringings in close, but drastically different time periods.

copy, right?My parents both come from poor Hispanic families and neither of them had any college, but my dad managed to pull off a very successful career as an electrical engineer. He was always interested in technology and now he is that go-to tech savvy friend that everybody wants. From the time I was little he wanted to share with me all of the new things he learned and always made sure we had the latest and greatest computers, phones, televisions, etc. He was fascinated by technology, and I became fascinated too. My mother on the other hand still has to ask me how to open up Firefox (we had to tell her she couldn’t use Internet Explorer anymore). My little sister who is now 4 years old has been using her own iPad and iPod touch (don’t even get me started on that) since she was 2. She can navigate iOS like a pro and is on her “phone” (iPod) more than I am. It’s almost embarrassing when she asks my mom in public if she can have her phone! Certainly I know she is not alone as kids younger and younger these days use digital devices very regularly.

From the beginning he instilled the importance of knowing how to use computer (and then some) because he understood the necessity of digital literacy because it was something he had not had growing up. Although my dad had a huge part in my digital literacy, it also helped that I was a total nerd when I was younger (I’m super cool now don’t worry). When I was going to “Kids College” the summer after my 4th grade year I asked my parents if I could take a typing class, and I became the fastest typer in school. I thrived in the computer lab and would light up when the other kids would ask me for help. When I was in the 5th grade my parents wouldn’t let me have a Myspace, but they let me have my own website instead (I still don’t understand their logic to this day). My dad helped me get started but I ended up coding almost the entire HTML for my website and I was much more advanced than most people my age. In middle school I took as many elective computer classes as I could and also enjoyed helping my fellow classmates who always seemed to struggle more than I would. In high school I took AP Computer Science classes (that’s when it got hard), and in college I decided to part ways with computer science but digital literacy in general is still a huge part of my life and now I still feel like I do have a slight technological advantage over the average person.

In my daily life now, computers have become mainly a source for writing papers, researching, and social media. I no longer spend time genuinely learning about technology; I only use it. What I mean by that is I am not spending time learning new programs, or manipulations, or just general use of computers. I have basic digital literacy and then some, but I haven’t done anything for a while to expand it. I use it for the most basic and surface level functions from searching on Google, to liking a post on Instagram. A part of me wishes I were creating websites and programs for other people to learn and use. I still can’t imagine my life without this digital literacy I have, but I will always feel like there is more to learn about our existing technology.

I am basically useless

While growing up, being a part of a digital divide was never something that I could even fathom. As I gain awareness and knowledge of this divide, it becomes more apparent that it is a cycle that seems to govern how our population utilizes technology for success. To my fortune, I was born into a financially stable family who always had access to technology, including computers with Internet access, phones, television, and basically anything that was relevant at the time.

I got my first cell phone when I was in 6th grade, which from what I remember, was pretty late compared to when most of my friends got cell phones. That’s just one example of how, throughout my childhood, I could never possibly perceive any such digital divide. Further on in my adolescent life, it became a social norm to receive an Apple MacBook (or some other laptop, if you weren’t cool) by the time you were in 7th grade.

Even now, as a college student at the University of Texas, technology plays a huge roll in my life, both in my lifestyle and in my success. Without my personal technological devices, I would have very few ways to communicate, and I simply cannot imagine life without these resources. I would have to utilize a paper map, which in my life, I have never had to use for my own reference. I would also have to attend a library to check my emails, the weather, news, sports news, and basically anything else relevant to my life now. Without my cell phone and laptop I am basically useless, because I would have no way to access educational resources or recreational sources on my own. I utilize resources such as Canvas, Blackboard, UT mail every day for classes. I am fortunate enough to always have Internet access where I live, and I do not have to utilize the library for technological reasons. I also utilize technology for my own personal reasons, such as using social media, reading about current events, catching up on my favorite television show, and for many other recreational endeavors.

Around the world, and even at the University of Texas, there are surely students, who have far fewer technological privileges than I do. There are even young adults my age who are less fortunate and do not have access to a proper education, and much less these technologies that we today, take for granted. I am grateful for my position in today’s digital divide, and I truly admire and sympathize for those who are less privileged than my peers and I are.

Hopefully, as a student and a subject of a fortunate upbringing, I will pass along these technological and social privileges to my children, my children’s children, and so on. This is not to say that I do not wish to rid the world of the digital divide that today, is an issue that is far larger than many people of my socioeconomic class can even imagine; it simply means that through my resources, my education, and my use of technology, I hope to ensure a future where my descendants can have access to these sources of personal satisfaction, knowledge, and success. In a broader scope, I wish for a future where no such digital divide exists. While this is incredibly lofty and unrealistic for any time in which I may still be alive, I can at least start by explaining these major discrepancies in technological access between social classes to those who are less informed about today’s digital structure. Now if everyone with these aforementioned privileges were willing to make an effort, we would be able to make a dent into the wall that stands between the low-income, low socioeconomic status families and the technology they need to succeed today.

Toddlers and Technology

iTiaraI 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.

Technologies as a Privilege

world mapIn today’s society, it almost seems absurd to say that some people do not have the privilege of owning their own computers, smart phones, or having any access to the Internet for that matter. I have been fortunate enough to grow up with access to these technologies, and I rarely considered not having these opportunities until taking this course. Very few times when I sit down on my computer, or phone, or television, do I think that I am lucky to be able to utilize these devices. Even in classrooms, if you were to take a look around the room, at least half the class is generally fixated on some sort of screen, whether it is a note taking device or a distraction, it is uncommon to have everyone fully in the moment. While thinking about these technologies as a privilege, I also have to take a moment to realize what my life would be like without them.

stable and ableWith access to the Internet, I have been able apply to colleges, keep in touch with people thousands of miles away from me, access school assignments, look for jobs and internships, and simply browse the web. Without a computer, phone, or Internet access, I would not have been able to apply to as many colleges as I did, or maybe even apply at all. Yes, I may have been able to go to a public library and use their computers for a fixed amount of time, but I would not have had the luxury to perfect my essays, bring my computer to meet with my college counselor, research each school, and submit my applications, all on my own time. It is hard to think about certain people around the world that are smart and driven enough to go to a 4-year university, yet have to go through leaps and bounds simply to apply. Additionally, without the Internet or these devices, I would have lost so many connections while being at school. Some friendships don’t need to be in constant communication, but having the ability to communicate with my friends at home while I’m a 3-hour plane ride away is pretty amazing. I also talk to my parents and siblings on a daily basis and it is so hard to think that not everyone can Facetime while walking to class, or just check in whenever need be. UT and many other schools use websites like Canvas to assign or submit assignments constantly, and without the Internet this would not be possible. Also, when I search for summer internships, I need to submit my resume, which I created on my computer. I then have either a phone or skype interview, which I need a smart phone or Internet access to complete. After that, I keep in contact with them via email or phone call. All of these steps would not be possible without the technology I am able to use. Lastly, I spend a great deal of my free time online. Whether it may be shopping, watching Netflix, on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pintrest, or BuzzFeed, I am almost always consumed by a screen.

grannyNowadays people constantly talk about utilizing networks or creating networks in college that will be important all throughout life. Well, these networks would not be possible if we did not have Internet access. Although there are many aspects of the Internet that seem to be a constant worry that continues to grow, people need to take a moment to think about the opposite end of the spectrum. While these scary security thoughts are very important and should constantly be on the top of everyone’s mind, imagine a world in which we did not have to worry about Internet surveillance because we did not have any Internet. That seems like a whole other world that we rarely consider. After taking this course I have come to realize that these communication devices are something I truly take for granted and really should appreciate.