Saturday, February 09, 2013

Whatever Happened to The Digital Divide?

If you are old enough to remember when Usenet discussion groups were the height of internet hip and were small enough to house quite erudite and varied discussions then you probably remember the term "digital divide" being bandied about as the next great incipient tragedy.

According to Google Trends the term peaked in popularity in November 2005, which is like a hundred internet years ago. That was before people realized that having high-speed internet access meant for most kids posting inanities on Facebook and sexting pictures to each other.

The actual digital divide might turn out to be the exact opposite as originally thought, with wealthier, more involved, more educated parents putting more controls and oversight on their child's internet, computer and smartphone access. The reality is that kids are still better off learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic these days than being able to watch Korean pop videos on YouTube. And kids growing up in rural areas are better off going outside and climbing trees. Does that make me a reactionary? Then so be it.

I can say in my own case that having full-time high-speed internet has made me a lot less likely to read a book or watch something on Czech TV--which at least improved my passive language skills and vocabulary--although it is really, really annoying to see a great actor with a voice like Jack Nicholson monstrously dubbed by some mediocre Czech actor. Obviously, there's plenty of upside to this explosion of information and the ability to access it, but it hasn't exactly turned out to be the amazing game changer these social engineer types where so worried about.

Of course, that doesn't stop people using the looming digital divide spectre to get subsidies for fibering up terribly deprived rural communities. Like the $100 million of stimulus monies used for that purpose in Colorado. Anyone recall the boondoggle that was the One Laptop per Child project? But what's a few billion wasted dollars when we are talking about the future of the children?

If I had the resources I'd prefer to buy a small farm and retire on the lean side of the digital divide, where my kid could run around, and his parents could also.

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