Feeling Invisible

As Austin’s population grew 20.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, its African-American population declined 5.4 percent…The reasons for the decline include disparities in public education, a distrust of police and barriers to accessing jobs in the city’s booming technology and construction industries.

Texas Tribune: “Feeling ‘Invisible,’ Black Residents Leave Austin

“It’s My Life. Don’t you understand? It’s my life!” and the Digital Divide’s Place Within

a.k.a. How About We Add In Education, Subtract Greed, Multiply the User Base and Get Rid of This Digital Divide

My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by technology. Never do I remember not having access to a computer, both at home and at school. I learned to type in kindergarten; in second grade, I created my first email address. This ease of access to computers and the Internet I took for granted for many years. I simply assumed, at that young age, that because I could jump on a computer virtually any time of the day, everyone else in my school, the country, the world could as well. How naïve! (But, truly, what kid isn’t?)

As the years passed, I grew more aware of the inequities that existed across the globe both online and offline. The journey I took especially opened my eyes. Culturally, I identify much more strongly with white, middle class, American males than I do any other culture. After living in America for centuries (and in Texas before Texas was American), my family has more than assimilated with American culture. I speak to my grandparents (who are native English speakers) in English, I understand more Spanish than I speak but am far from fluent, and I’d usually much rather have sushi or pizza than Tex-Mex or Mexican cuisine. This has led to interesting comments to me in real life (from acquaintances) and virtually (where anonymity lets people be more blunt than is typically socially acceptable): “You don’t seem very Mexican”, “I don’t think of you as Hispanic”, and even, yes, “You’re the most white-washed Hispanic dude I know” (and, on the opposite side of the spectrum, “Don’t forget where you came from, your culture, your roots” despite “my roots” being much more entrenched in the United States, understandably, than those whose ancestors immigrated more recently). Am I supposed to take these statements as compliments? As insults? Yes, I listen to NPR, grocery shop at a local co-op, own a variety of kitchen gadgets, kiss my dog on the lips, will sing along (poorly, I might add) to Toto’s Africa, read books for fun, unironically use words like “ebullient”, “magnanimous” and other sesquipedalian terms in everyday conversation, have a great love for all things cheese, enjoy musicals, plays, and instrumental music, and have willingly seen more than one Wes Anderson movie, but what good do stereotypes such as these serve? Why is there still a need to excessively categorize people on the basis of race (a purely social construct), ethnicity, or even nationality in an ever-shrinking, increasingly connected world?

On the Internet, I assume every anonymous user interacting with me is a white male unless the text, context, image, or video proves otherwise (especially when taking into account the vast digital divide and resulting access imbalances; viz., this person at the other end of the screen typing in English is highly unlikely to be a Nepalese middle school student); such is an unfortunate bias of my own, a relic of a time past, and one that I am trying hard to correct. Still, to others, this bias remains de rigueur, or, at the very least, usually unobjectionable. I’ll post a picture of myself somewhere on the Internet where it’s germane to the topic, and I’m inundated with “What are you?”s and “Where are you from?”s. Guesses are, quite figuratively, all over the map: I’m apparently Italian, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Filipino, and Arab all at once. Speculation becomes wilder if I throw in a picture of me with my (light-skinned, but ethnically identical) mother, with few believing she is my birth mother, even though I resemble her more than I resemble my father. To satiate the curiosity, I am an American of Mexican descent, with more distant ancestors from Ireland and Spain.

Spanning the years I’ve been alive, my personal, online identity has steadily changed from “I’m a guy browsing the Internet looking for cool things” as a kindergartener to one typified by confusion and occasional frustration with the parochial ways real life manifests itself throughout this media. Instead of being free from the shackles of socioeconomic class, race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender, all of these societal cues by which one is judged in the physical world apply equally, if not more so, online. A visual, judgmental macrocosm (real life) becomes several, anonymous, judgmental microcosms (everywhere on the Internet). Precisely because not everyone has the ability to have their voice heard, ignorance still remains ingrained in humans. The Internet has helped many voices spread further and be louder than they otherwise would, but it’s not yet enough. Filling the canyon that comprises the digital divide will get us closer to a truly peaceful society without ignorance of other cultures, peoples, and lifestyles. I, forever the idealist, believe it can happen if we put forth the (immense) effort.

But to those who suggest that the Internet, in its current state, has solved all of our problems and is a utopia of free thought because they cannot see the problems from their perspective (which is of no automatic fault of their own), I have but one response: how naïve!

This post was written by a student, and has been left unedited by the admin.

Digital Barriers

Most people are surprised by how much I know about technology. They simply don’t expect a girl to know that much about a predominantly male field. I was lucky to be introduced to technology from a very young age and actually build an interest for it.  Living in Mexico made my pastime a lot more difficult to maintain, since we were always almost 2 years behind in technology compared to the U.S.  The Internet speeds were ridiculously lower in comparison to the ones the U.S. had at the time. Even in the classroom, the digital divide was evident. Many of my classmates didn’t know how to use a computer or browse the Internet, and very few had a computer at home.

Even in the United States, there is a growing digital divide among native and foreign-born Latinos. According to Tanzina Vega, writer for The New York Times, more than half of Hispanic Internet users in the U.S. were born in the U.S., and “79 percent of those who said they did not use the Internet were foreign born.” Like Mexico, many countries don’t have access to quality technology, making language and computer literacy the two largest barriers for immigrants to fully integrate to American living. Without computer literacy, the chances of success for immigrants reduce significantly. Immigrants are extremely underrepresented online, causing their opinions to be vulnerable to distortion by anyone online.

Voices with power, money, and resources are louder than the rest.  When we’re online, once we’re wiped clean of the physical nature of our identity, when we’re interacting as a username, reduced to a thumbnail and a bio, each of our voices is equivalent.  Social media has no middleman; we can produce, consume, and exchange ideas with anyone online. It is the responsibility of those with Internet access to assist those who are not connected and act as their voice in a space in which they are underrepresented.

Certainly, social media is not the only area in which minorities and women are underrepresented. The issue of minorities’ lack of involvement online can lead to bigger problems, like misconceptions about their community and lack of political influence. The Internet is an incredible global tool of fairness, as long as we have access and a working understanding of the online world.

This post was written by a student, and has been left unedited by the admin.

Divide and Conquer

I am in a place where I am on the rising part of the divide. Places in the world are less fortunate than us, especially in technology. They don’t have the tools, resources, or funding that we are subject to. If I have ever needed to use technology, it has been there for me in some shape or form. In a lot of other places in the world though that is not the case. I have access to information that they couldn’t imagine. Do I think that is right? No, but hopefully more efforts will be made to eventually bridge that gap, and give access to more and more people. Race even plays a part in this technological divide. If you live in a Hispanic household, you are half as likely as a white household to own a computer because they see it as more of a luxury. I don’t like that statistic very much because in this days society people can not compete in the work force without the use of technology. They need it in order to make a living, and if some Hispanics view having a computer as more of a luxury, then I believe they are missing the point. They need to realize that to achieve success you have to compete with the best, and that cant happen if you are falling behind in technology. I saw this first hand when I went to visit a friend of my cousins in Chicago. Hey grew up in a poorer Hispanic family, and lacked a computer in their home. The kid had a research project due, but was at stalemate because he had nothing to do the assignment on. His mom was out for the day, so he had no way of getting to a library where he could get the work done. This just proves that everyone needs a computer in his home. He wanted to do the paper, but did not have the tools to do so. This divide is hurting our youth because they are being crippled by not having some of the same opportunities as we do. This really stuck out to me because I have always been fortunate enough to have the technology I need, and so have most of the friends I’ve hung out with. This kid had the drive to do the work, and the research for the paper, but not computer to put it all together. This really didn’t affect me until I took this class, and realized that this divide is real. People out there are struggling because they don’t have the access that they need. I know efforts are being made to shorten this gap, but I believe it is not being stressed as much as it should be, especially with the youth. This is the time where they learn skills they will use in the work force, and if there is a lack of technology, they are already starting one step behind.

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