It’s time to recognize the Internet as a basic human right

“It’s time to recognize the Internet as a basic human right. That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring Internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of Web users regardless of where they live.”

Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web


Far from Lear

Human in this [modern, technological] construction is far from Lear’s “unaccommodated man,” “a poor, bare, forked animal”; rather, human in developed countries now means (for those who have access) cognitive capacities that extend into the environment, tap into virtually limitless memory storage, navigate effortlessly by GPS, and communicate in seconds with anyone anywhere in the world (who also has access).

— N. Katherine Hayles

How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (2012): 96f.


From Pakistan to Posting

An individual person has freedom to create his own identity in this complex world. Personally, I have experienced years of my life with no technology access before I moved to Austin, Texas from an underdeveloped country named Pakistan. It was a life changing moment for me. Austin has become a technopolis city where everything is interconnected with technology. I believe that the world is moving forwards in term of technology but gap of digital divide still exists to certain extent. Author writes in the book digital divide about technology diffusion, “… technology adoption and diffusion could increase traditional structural inequalities such as income and education.” (Straubhaar et al)

The issue of digital divide exists everywhere around the globe. When I was 16 years old, I was studying in an English medium school so I can go to an American university to get top quality education. In my school there was lack of access to technology. We were taught how to use computers and their hardware components but not the virtual world of internet. I had personal access to dial-up connection at my house which was 100 times slower than today’s internet speed. Secondly, there was no internet access on cell phones. There was no means of connecting online socially. The situation is getting better as there are more broadband connections across the country.

I moved to America when I was about to turn 21. I supposed that it was like a dream come true. My friends used to tell me about the adventures of their trip to America. I was back to my school life but the first requirement was access to internet. From my admission to exams everything is dependent on technology. I realized that there are public libraries which are very helpful to those who do not have access to internet. The two countries were completely different economically, socially, politically and technologically. I analyzed that having the knowledge of information and communications technologies (ICT) can also raise the issue of digital divide.

I joined University of Texas, where I met students of different race, culture and religion. In my opinion discrimination still exists. It’s not the same as it used to be in the segregated Austin as mentioned in the book, digital divide. Technology has given a platform to connect and socialize with others around the world. The usage of internet is sharply increasing but there are some who are not aware of the internet. We discussed in class about the articles on neighborhoods in Austin, Texas. We found out that neighborhoods with majority of white residents had a full length description on Wikipedia compared to African American and Latinos neighborhoods. I was amazed how digital divide can take place. I was just wondering that if it matters to me. My belief was that everyone is equal but reading several articles changed my mind.

My stand on issue of digital divide generates more questions in my head. Why only 8% of users on Tumblr are rich? Or why is Instagram female oriented? Or why African Americans use more Twitter than Facebook? Social networking leads to identity construction in this technological society. People use Twitter, Facebook or any other social networking website to portray themselves with the help of status updates, tweets, pictures and videos. Identity constructed online would be completely different in an offline environment.

The new world of technology has completely changed our lives. Everything is done online. Most of the time we browse internet using our cellphones, tablets or computers. It used to take forever to send a letter to someone but now it happens in few seconds via electronic mail. I think the issue of digital divide still exists in the society.. In near future the access to internet would be available to everyone. I believe it will the end the issue of digital divide.

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In this day and age, it may surprise many that there are a large number of people without access to computers or the Internet. I myself was initially shocked to find out that this type of social stratification exists even in the United States. In fact, “As a national social and political issue, the digital divide emerged during the Clinton administration, which initially publicized the divide in terms of connectivity through the National Information Infrastructure (NII). Early analyses by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Pew Foundation, and other organizations stressed the dangers of an increasingly stratified society divided by inequalities in access, situating the divide as an issue requiring active national policy” (Straubhaar 110). This is a great depiction of how large the issue is and how embedded it is in our culture. The most likely explanation for my astonishment is due to the fact that I myself have been privileged with the means to utilize any technological tool necessary for education. Furthermore, I was able to own personal devices, some of which were non-essential. I even took a computer science class in high school that equipped me with many skills needed for the professional world. Certainly it is unjust that individuals with equivalent if not greater potential are subject to suffering in low-income conditions simply because they have not the means to better themselves. Meanwhile, a sardonic trend titled “first world problems” garners much more attention from the public. I have seen for myself through my frequenting of twitter, Facebook, reddit, and other social websites that many feel entitled to Internet access among other things. Hopefully though, some of these social medias can give a voice to those less fortunate.

Smartphones, along with action from organizations and governments, have made a marginal influence in closing the gap. For example, “The survey found that 56% of black respondents said they had a smartphone, compared with 53% of white respondents” (Reyes 1). In her study, Reyes found that many young citizens from low-income areas who do not have access to computers do own smartphones. These phones have many of the same functions as a computer such as access to social media sites but lack the capabilities that could help them improve their current standing. As a white male from an affluent family, I have found that I have been placed on the greener side of the pasture, so to speak. Not only do I not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, but also lack even the concern that I will not be able to complete even the simplest task that involves utilizing a computer or the Internet. Furthermore, I am unburdened by the clear and prevalent gender facing the majority of modern industries and businesses. For years, I took this for granted. Such a fortunate disposition with an absence of societal perspective is indicative of my very social construct. Those with money are able to provide for their children while those without cannot, ever perpetuating this stratification. The current condition is a crisis and needs to be corrected.

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Get Computers Outside the Box  

In the first grade, my classmates and I had a daily assignment that we were required to complete on the computer. It was a simple reading comprehensions quiz. We would read a short book, then log into our profile on this certain program on the computer, and then we would take a test. This sounds extremely simple, but the fact that a group of twenty, seven year-olds could log into a computer every day and take a quiz shows the fluency in technology at an early age.

Growing up in the school that I went to kept me from appreciating the digital divide that is ever present in the world. Michael Dell’s four kids attended my school and you could find at least three Dell computers in every classroom on campus. Not only that, but every student was required to own a laptop once you reached the ninth grade. So, it comes to my surprise when I learn of students who do not have access to a computer. When I heard the story about Johnston high school, I had a hard time appreciating the severity of it. Johnston high school was shut down June 2008 to be reopened under a new name and under new supervision. During the time of the shut down, the school was investigated. In their gymnasium, there were many boxes found, all full of computers. These students were never given the chance to become technologically fluent because they couldn’t even find a computer to use. In a world of increasing technologies, it is vital for students to have access to computers. Many students from Johnston high will be put at an immediate disadvantage because of their lack of knowledge with technology.

When it comes to educating people with technology and closing the digital divide, there will have to be a lot of patience involved. This process does not happen over night, and some people may not even be willing to try. We can’t expect people to fall in love with the idea of technology over night when they have never seen anything like it. When students are not given the opportunity to learn technology they become as helpless as the people who choose to ignore the advancements. We take away prospective jobs that they don’t even know are available. When I heard about the problems of Johnston high school, I was glad something was being done to attempt change. What I could not understand was how the teachers and administrators did not understand the way they were hurting the students by removing their chances at learning. It may not always work, but we have to try.

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The Inner Digital Divide

How is it possible that I did not even realize the extent of the digital divide? I was so caught up in my own little digital world, that I did not realize there was even a world outside of it. I say my “own little world”; however, my digital worse is enormous with an array of opportunities and uses I cannot even begin to list. I just as much assumed that everyone in the world had the same access to Facebook and Instagram as I did. Using a variety of technologies in my daily life, I was blinded by the fact that not everyone has the same access as I am privileged to have. Every morning, the first thing I do is pull out my handy iPhone and check Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Scary to think that some people are deprived of having any access to the Internet and makes me wonder what my life could possibly be like without these technologies.

I know the facts of the digital divide, the statistics, the ratios; however, studying it more in depth actually just makes it far more confusing. There are so many aspects to the digital world that have yet to be explored and as they continue to be discovered, it seems as though the gap between the digital and non-digital world is growing, not being bridged. As Danah Boyd says in her book, “It’s Complicated”, “over the past decade, social media has evolved from being an esoteric jumble of technologies to a set of sites and services that are at the heart of contemporary culture” (Boyd, 6).  Social media has grown to be much more than chatting online, for us at least. But what about those people who have not even been on the Internet once in their lives? Their opportunities to be expanding horizons online, even to just a sardonic Buzzfeed article, is really just dwindling into a dream they may not even be aware of. Now, they are missing out on the knowledge and entertainment the Internet is continuously providing to those with Internet access.

Although I make my argument that the digital divide is worsening, I realize the only people who will even be able to have access to this argument, are those who are online. I am referring to this non-digital world, when realistically I am only speaking to a digital one. If I could have one day without technology, I doubt I could make it through the painfully boring 24 hours; however, then I look at my Facebook page and realize people looking at that have a different perspective of me than who I actually am. Maybe those without access are, in a way, lucky that they are not hiding behind a screen that could create a warped perception of them.

This post was written by a student, and has been left unedited by the admin, with the exception of any hyperlinks.

Inside the Divide

After reading and researching about the digital divide, I have to say I don’t have it that bad. I got a new laptop I bought about a month ago and I have a smartphone. If my laptop and phone were to break, I could walk down to my university’s library and user their computers. Being a student has its perks. I’m usually eligible for student discounts and I (allegedly) get “free” Wi-Fi whenever I’m on campus. I’m taking a programming class and am therefore required that I have a computer to my disposal. Even in this class, I must have access to the internet to complete my tweet assignments and research papers. Education is adapting technology into its methods and as a result students have been given the responsibility to get access to a computer. I have the internet at my disposal any day of the week whether it be at home or at school. Accessibility is not an issue for me, especially living in Austin, a technology adapting city. My only complaint is that I’m forced to get service from Time Warner.

Even though I have all this technological access, I’ve always been a lurker online. The idea of making my personal life visible to others online has always made me anxious. However, I’m perfectly fine looking through the personal lives of others. My issue with combining my personal life and the internet is that I feel the pressure to be somebody else, somebody exciting, spontaneous, and full of life. Nobody on Facebook wants to know that I ate a bowl of lucky charms today. Nonetheless, the pressure of having online personas has always seemed a bit self-deprecating. Additionally, it makes it way too easy for people to creep on your life. Why are people so quick to put details of their intimate life online? However, I do often reddit against my own good will. Reddit can be horrible and sexist place. I’ll admit that sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed by the dominating male presence and annoyed by the plethora of boob comments on reddit. That’s not to say that reddit is strictly a misogynist place, although it is much more prevalent; there are also subreddits belittling males.  There is an obvious gender divide demonstrated by subreddits such as r/TheBluePill and r/TheRedPill, which both promote gender focused hatred. Why do I still keep going back to reddit if it’s so awful? It’s not all bad. Some subreddits are very welcoming and the diversity of reddit makes it impossible to not find a subreddit you like. There are still some places on the internet where I feel comfortable.

As far as my technological proficiency…well, I’m not great with computers, but I’m also not completely hopeless. Despite being part of the “Net Generation”, I often find myself just not getting technology. My six-year old nephew can use a tablet much more easily than I do. These past few years I’ve been growing alongside with technology, but I wasn’t born into all this great technological innovation like my nephew. I remember the first dinosaur-sized computer I had at home and dial-up internet. My mom would limit my internet usage because she was afraid we’d miss any important phone calls. Nonetheless, I feel as though I’m expected to be tech savvy because I was born into this generation, but technology overwhelms me. It’s not rare that I often find myself in front of my computer utterly bored when I have admission to various resources. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with all this access technology gives us. I have the access to technology and a decent amount of knowledge to use it, but even I sometimes feel like I’m falling behind these rapid technological advancements.

This post was written by a student, and has been left unedited by the admin, with the exception of any hyperlinks.