Poverty Digital Divide

In the modern digital era, we are more connected than ever before with individuals able to communicate and express ideas to others more easily than in any other time period. The question remains, though, who is the Internet for and how do we interpret and use it? Much like in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, lower income households are limited in their ability to control and see the reality of the world and other cultures and backgrounds across the Internet. The Internet metaphorically being the outside of the cave, many families struck by poverty are not able to experience the same Internet as others because of cultural and accessibility contexts.

As a young child, I was brought up in a primarily low-income neighborhood. I went to school for several years in this low-income school district and then I moved and transferred into a very wealthy district on the other side of town. It was evident even from the beginning that there was a great disparity of resources in and outside of schools most notably when it came to technology. There was even a difference in how teachers approached students and taught them to solve problems, as in the lower-income district the push was more often to learning in a traditional approach with brute memorization of facts and extensive repetition. On the other hand, the wealthier school district which allowed phone and computer usage in class placed more of an emphasis on using the resources around you, such as the Internet, to your advantage and to find creative ways to solve problems. Furthermore, social circles present in the affluent community would consist of people of different ethnic backgrounds. Integration was easy as people learned to be open to new people and developed cultural sensitivity. Even when I visited my old neighborhood several years later, it felt as if I had grown apart from my old friends and had different mindsets.

Within different income strata, there exist different cultures that prescribe behavior in social and economic frames. According to the NCCP (National Center for Children in Poverty), while 44% of US children were living in low-income families in 2014, “children of color are disproportionately likely to be within the ranks,” with 65% of African American children being in poverty and 62% of American Indian and Hispanic children. This means that for the majority of people in low-income neighborhoods, most of the interactions will be among African American or Hispanic people. This causes individuals in poverty to have a lack of social interaction with people of different backgrounds such as White or Asian. This could have significant effects in professional careers where employees are expected to be able to communicate and work with others of different backgrounds effectively.

Not only is the integration of lower-income households inhibited by environmental factors, but also by the economic factors that prevent lower-income families from being able to adopt or connect with new technologies. Monica Anderson highlights that this in turn causes problems with how efficiently families and students are able to use the internet in what is being called “the homework gap” (para 7). The homework gap, or the disparity between school-age children with high-speed Internet and those without, is particularly notable because of how it demonstrates the inability for many parents to emphasize such a monumentally important factor such as their child’s education. The inability to even receive quality education perpetuates the poverty cycle by dissuading lower-income children from furthering their education and to spend money on necessities or “cultural necessities,” or objects that are perceived as having particular importance within a community.

 

Bibliography

Anderson, Monica. “Lower-income Americans Still Lag in Tech Adoption.” Pew Research Center. March 22, 2017. Accessed December 02, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/22/digital-divide-persists-even-as-lower-income-americans-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/.

Katz, Vikki S., Carmen Gonzalez, and Kevin Clark. “Digital Inequality and Developmental Trajectories of Low-income, Immigrant, and Minority Children.” Pediatrics. November 01, 2017. Accessed December 03, 2018. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/Supplement_2/S132.

Reinhard, Katherine, and Jacqueline Palochko. “Report: More than a Third of College Students Don’t Have Enough Food, Money for Rent.” Themorningcall.com. April 04, 2018. Accessed December 01, 2018. https://www.mcall.com/news/education/mc-nws-college-students-hungry-homeless-20180403-story.html.

 

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The Impact of the Internet

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There is no question that technology has become an essential tool in our everyday lives. The rapid growth of technology has changed the way we live, for the better or worse some may say and has ultimately produced the digital divide. The digital divide refers to the difference between people who have easy access to the internet and those who do not. Although this issue may sound insignificant compared to other world matters, it has caused a great distinction socially, economically and educationally between the privileged and underprivileged. In this blog post, I am going to analyze the magnitude of the internet and the role it has played in my life, as well as the digital division it has created among societies.

Before this class, I never really understood the significance of the internet and how much influence it has on our lives on a daily basis. My phone and my computer have become such a huge necessity in my daily routine that without it I feel totally lost and disconnected with the world 🌎. The first and last thing I do to start or end my day always consists of using my phone. This device not only allows me to expand my knowledge base and stay up-to-date with current events, but it also serves as a way for me to communicate with people 🗣️. I never realized how much I depended on the internet until one night out I lost my phone. The following days without a phone made me more aware of what it was like for those who cannot or are not able to access the internet, and let me tell you, it was very difficult to function without it.

Personally, I have been fortunate to grow up with the access of the internet at home as well as schools I have attended. Starting from elementary school to now, technology such as TVs 📺, computers 💻, iPads and iPhones 📱 have always been provided for assignments as well as leisure. In fact, learning new material through online sources is very encouraged in and outside of school. With information constantly at our finger-tips, we are capable of knowing and learning just about anything. However, people in underprivileged areas that lack these luxuries are not able to reach their full potential educationally or socially. Not only does this hinder their capacity of knowledge, but it also inhibits their ability to receive a well-paid job. The internet provides several professional websites, such as LinkedIn, that refer people to successful jobs that would be of interest to them. Without access to the internet, people are unaware of the abundant amount of resources and opportunities that could greatly impact their lives for the better. As the future moves more digital, I fear it may be detrimental for the underprivileged and further the division even more.

UntitledAlthough having access to the internet is not necessarily imperative to our lives, it does have several benefits. One of which is that the power of the internet allows us to not only connect with one another 24/7 ⏰but also allows us to create an identity for one’s self via social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. These platforms are a way for us to express our own personalities through images, tweets and posts and connect with people with similar interests. People are able to create a bond with other users through social media without even meeting them face-to face. From here, advertisers place us in what is known as our own “filter bubble,” which has ultimately changed the game of marketing. This strategy helps companies personalize what ads we see on our news feed based off our interests, likes, posts etc. In effect, personalization can facilitate attention to resources that could ultimately advance our intelligence and well-being 😄.

All in all, the advancement of technology has created opportunities that we never once thought we could have. From educational resources, to job opportunities, to networking and socializing, the internet has empowered me to accomplish anything my heart desires. The digital divide has resulted in inequality and prevents those who aren’t able to afford or access the internet at crucial disadvantage educationally, economically and socially. Being so, I believe that it is vital for the digital gap between the privileged and underprivileged to be closed.

My Digital Head Start

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Like superheroes experiencing their power for the first time, everyone in my generation has an origin story when they first experience the internet. My first experience getting online was when I was six years old and received my first Webkinz toy. On the surface, a Webkinz might seem like a $2 stuffed animal. They are unremarkable plush toys that come in forms from dogs to lizards to chickens. What makes Webkinz unique is their online counterpart that you can access on Webkinz website🐶➡️🖥. Webkinz introduced me to a lot of the aspects that have become extremely relevant to the internet and social media age. They were interactive in that they allowed you to connect with your friends who had Webkinz accounts as well. They also allowed you to create a page, like an Instagram, where you could design your Webkinz world that could be viewed by everyone. Overall, Webkinz were addictive, much in the way that social media has become addictive, as they always left you wanting to be online, updating and adding to your page, and buying more Webkinz. I remember going to great lengths even as a six-year-old to earn money to buy more Webkinz.

The internet has always been a part of my life, whether it be for education, communication or purely entertainment. Being a digital native makes it easy to be oblivious to the population that does not have access to broadband. Growing up in a wealthy, chiefly white neighborhood, it never really crossed my mind that the internet was something that wasn’t available to everyone. Where you live and how much money you have play enormous roles in the digital divide and can dictate whether or not you are able to have internet access in your home. Less wealthy people are many times only able to access internet through resources such as public libraries, and people who live in rural areas may not have access to the broadband at all. It has been brought to my attention that having internet access is a privilege, not a right. Further, I was completely oblivious to the power that the internet has and the extent that not having it could be a disadvantage.

UntitledThe internet became more prevalent in my life when I started school. From kindergarten through 12th grade, I attended a private school that provided broadband access to all students, along with hundreds of computers spread throughout the campus. Beginning in 2nd grade, we had a weekly class called technology to teach me computer skills. Once we started high school, every student was required to have their own laptop or tablet. Fast-forward to today⏩, I am attending college at a university where computers are as much a part of the experience as Bevo. Whether I’m sitting in a lecture hall, studying in the library, or even just walking around campus, almost everyone around me has their eyes glued to some sort of electronic screen. Going to a diverse school like the University of Texas🤘 has opened my eyes to the inequity behind the internet. Before coming here, it never occurred to me what an advantage it was to have access to computers and the internet my whole life and what a tremendous head start it gave me over my peers with lesser resources.

It is almost impossible for me to imagine a world without internet as it is pervasive in almost every aspect of life today. It is easy to disregard how much the internet has impacted my life and about how there is a percentage of the population that is unable to have access to internet. Although my ability to help bridge the digital divide is limited (or probably non-existent), I will carry my knowledge with me and I will always have a better appreciation for my privilege.

Heads? Tails? Both?

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It’s been nearly three years since I touched down here at The University of Texas at Austin and not once prior to my Fall 2018 semester did I think about how much schools and education in general were shifting toward solely relying on technology.

Growing up in a South Eastern area in Houston the schools and neighborhoods I was surrounded by and attended weren’t so well off financially. Schools supplies were often scarce, textbooks were nearly a decade old, the campuses resembled prisons you would commonly see used on a movie set and overall technology didn’t really play a huge part in the day to day curriculum. Yet, I was 🍀 enough to see both sides of the coin in a sense.

From a young age I was fortunate enough to have access to some of the “lastest” technology that happened to be out at the time. This being said I had vast amounts of information at my fingertips about as early as I could 🚶🏻‍♂️. Given that I had such easy access to a computer, phone, video games and this absolutely astounding network of connections we call the Internet. All throughout the time I spent in public schools I found myself only using technology at home as a hobby and very little was it incorporated into learning or something “practical.” Surely, I knew how to navigate the internet and use basic programs like Word and PowerPoint, but when it came to interacting with some of my peers I noticed a gap present.

As previously stated, I didn’t really put too much deep thought into the gap or “Digital Divide” I was witnessing at home. After arriving at The University of Texas and realizing such a huge push toward using Canvas and integrating all sorts of technology in the classroom. Being that I had grown so accustomed to learning how to work a new 🖥 program or piece of hardware all of these things came quite naturally to me. Yet, in recent times it has been made clear just how present the Digital Divide is. I feel as though the learning curve that is thrown the way of underprivileged students who come from low income households and neighborhoods than someone who has been easily access a computer their whole lives. I’m a prime example of this because there have been many instances upon going home for a weekend and catching up with other friends from high school and hearing their struggles in classes that seem to be “redefining” what a traditional classroom looks like in the 21st century.

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At times I would find myself becoming somewhat frustrated when a professor had to explain what I thought to believe something that was straight forward, but when put into perspective, depending on someone’s upbringing, maybe knowing how to hyperlink a word or sentence may seem like more than a few clicks and shortcuts.

The way I see it, instead of complaining I should use that energy to help others learn and pass on the mass amounts of (at times what I believe to be) “basic” knowledge and teach others ways to be more efficient digitally.

Since Very Early In My Life…

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Since very early in my life, I have been surrounded and affected by technology and its innovations. For me, growing up in suburban Houston with a tech savvy father, I had many more opportunities to familiarize and understand these new and crazy technologies than the normal adolescent. My father was what you could say a geek , being that his job involved working with computers and creating technology and programs for a living; our house would always have some of the fastest and newest technology in order to stay in touch with the world and be on top of the oncoming age of information.

My first introduction to technology and the internet was through my dad teaching me how to play video games. From very young my father and I would play these games that mimicked his favorite TV shows and were categorized as Real Time Strategy games. They were great introductions for me to the Internet. We would use our own home set up where my dad had many computers with the game installed, and we would use LAN connection through our house network where he would explain to me how the computers were able to communicate and able to play the games together. From there on, I constantly continued to grow my gaming habits that my father had introduced me to. This in turn allowed me to become very familiar with computers and how to use them. Essentially, having my life from early on revolve around computers.

My next big digital jump was when I reached middle school. Phones were starting to become a social and safety necessity. I personally wasn’t much of a phone fan; until they started coming out with touch screen mobile devices, which were a lot more accessible and friendlier to the inexperienced users. My parents had gifted me a small Samsung touch screen phone for Christmas as my first phone. My parents quickly emphasized to me the phones capabilities of quick communication and how that should be used, especially with them. Memorizing all their numbers was a crucial, and now that I had a phone, I had to communicate with them much more often on what I was doing or what my plans were. I loved the phone, I quickly was able to learn the ins and outs of it and soon had to be helping my mother and sister with any of their technology questions, yet my father was still the master.Untitled Unfortunately, this didn’t last long, I somehow, within a span of 2 years, had to cycle through 3 different phones due to me short circuiting each phone by jumping in to a pool with them in my pocket. Going from my first touch screen phone, I slowly degraded in to a blackberry, then into the pink Motorola Razr . Which at that point, I would say I didn’t even own a phone when my friends asked, too embarrassed to show them my bright pink flip phone.

From there I had learned my lesson, my attention and care for technology became a number one priority. I was able to get my first laptop in high school, in order to do most of my school work, something my parents knew would be essential to the school experience. In high school, I also received my first gaming console, the Xbox 360 (https://www.xbox.com/en-US/xbox-one?xr=shellnav). Playing that non-stop in my free time.

Being from the middle class, and having a tech savvy father, I was able to be introduced to a lot of the new technologies on demand. Having this introduction to technology I believe has set me on the path I am, being a Computer Science major, always being surrounded and constantly learning about technology, eventually it had to become interesting .

My (Almost Correct) Presence Online

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As a young, white male I am labeled as the stereotypical individual online in today’s society. Very involved online with social media, connected to various different means of information, and utilizing the Internet for academic and occupational uses, I am what most people think of when they picture who is sitting on the other end of things tapping away at a keyboard ⌨.

There are different divides that exist throughout the internet and I fall on the stereotypical side of each of them for the most part, but there are some differences. Some of the history behind the digital divide in terms of access, I haven’t always been on the fully immersed side of things. Growing up, I didn’t have my own laptop until I was entering high school and my parents felt as if I needed it for educational purposes. This doesn’t line up with many of my friends growing up, as they were always playing games and browsing social media and I always felt as if I wasn’t connected and missing out on a lot of potential things available on the internet. In addition, I didn’t get a smartphone until I was 15 years old.

This made me much less connected as I lacked the instant communication possibilities with data on a cell phone and also having unlimited information with the tap of a finger on a screen. Now, I am very connected in terms of the technology I have access to, but this wasn’t always the case for me as I was growing up and being on the other side of this divide really makes me more empathetic towards the lower socioeconomic groups that do not have home internet access 💗.

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The gender divide online is one in which I fall so deep into the stereotype that I can’t get out. Every day my phone is filled with notifications from ESPN and Bleacher Report giving me the latest sports updates, I frequently read Reddit, and stay away from sites like Pinterest that are dominated by females 👩‍🦰. These things were never my intention as they are my interests offline as well, but after learning more about the digital divides that exist I feel as straight as an arrow when it comes to my presence online and see the strong divide between the digital print of men and women when it comes to the Internet.

A third divide that I can see myself not falling into the complete stereotype is that of race through what social media websites I utilize. I am on Twitter more than any other form of social media and this website is dominated by African Americans and other minorities. I tend to only get on Facebook when I am tagged in a photo by a friend or family member and spend most of my time on Twitter browsing the very diverse group of people I follow. I very rarely post on Twitter, and can see the dominant minority group on Twitter posting far more frequently compared to white friends I follow.

Overall, after learning about the digital divides that exist online throughout society I am able to see where I fall in. My interests mainly fall in line with the stereotypical white male, but I have some history in my childhood of being disconnected and gained empathy for the side of the divide is not connected.

New Divide

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Reflecting upon my upbringing, it is hard to imagine it without the internet.

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From an early age, the internet was engrained in nearly every facet of my life. When I was younger, computers and the internet were just an educational resource that teachers were hesitant to emphasize, choosing instead to focus on traditional methods of learning like a book, pencil, and paper. However, in my university experience, laptops are seen in every lecture hall I’ve sat in and Google is almost always my first step in starting a project. The internet is so ubiquitous in so many more aspects than just education, and it’s foreign to me that there still exists a sizeable amount of the population that is unable to have regular internet access. Before this class, it was understandable to me that there existed a “digital divide” among those in countries with a lower socioeconomic status. But, to see that the digital divide still affects many Americans, a country in which the internet was created and whose culture essentially defines the internet, it’s disheartening and frustrating 😔. Even with all its negatives, the simple economic and educational benefit, not only on an individual scale but a societal one, of the internet is enough that every American should have access.

Moving towards the middle portion of the class, our focus turned to divides as it exists online. Namely, how what we say and what we do creates the persona that is available for everyone to see online. This persona is unique to each of us and cannot be determined by any preexisting notions. That said, the truth is divisions exist among race, gender, age, and religion offline and those same divisions are emphasized online. The internet itself is Americentric, its “typical” user is America’s most represented individual: a young white man.

However, what this class really exposed me was that this is simply not true, as the experiences held online are different for each person. The fact the we often relegate everyone on the internet to be a young white male diminishes the experience of those who do not follow under those characteristics. I often find myself falling into this stereotype. On places like Twitter or Reddit, 2where users can be anonymous, it is easy to just believe that every person is just like you, in this case, a man. I recall a reading we did in class that liken the experience of a woman online to the ever-watching eye of companies and government tracking your data and marking your every move. Thus, until this analogy, I had not recognized the misogyny🤬 that women faced because it never affected me. A digital divide that I had experience, however, was that of race. Being an Asian American, whose experiences are rarely emphasized in pop culture, my online experience with race began on YouTube. In the early stages of YouTube, Asian Americans like Ryan Higa, who once had the most subscribed channel at one point, took to the site to express themselves due to a lack of representation and opportunity in Hollywood. As a kid watching these videos, it was welcome to see someone who shared similar experiences as me and create content about thing I could relate to. And now, I am a member of, “subtle asian traits”, a Facebook group of over 800,000 members that post memes and jokes that can only really be understood with a familiarity of Asian culture👲. What this group represents is a solidarity for Asians and Asian Americans to freely express their experiences with those who have similar backgrounds and feelings.

The final portion of the class moved towards a digital divide in personal perspective. Specifically, is what you see online, what you really want to see? Companies have made billions off of catering a personalized experience to you and what they believe you want to see👀. Companies (and the government) mine your data without any real regard of privacy or discretion. Personally, there is an internal conflict with regards to these companies and their practices. As a Computer Science student👨‍💻, it would be a dream to work at one of these innovative companies. At the same time, it raises many ethical and moral flags🤷‍♂️ to me about the nature of privacy as it exists online. There is nothing wrong with offering a more personalized experience; however, as technology progresses, I can’t help but to think that this personal experience will no longer be “personal”. Rather, corporations will (maybe they already do) know you better than yourself. Your desires, wants, and needs will all be inputs to a system which already knows which ad it will send you.