This week’s class was, fittingly, split into two very obvious portions. For the first half of the session, we talked about our digital consumption diaries. Across the board, my classmates admitted to spending a majority of their day connected to digital technology. Many of us work in front of computers all day, and most of us found that when we weren’t in front of a computer, we were on our smartphones or watching television.
Personally, I crunched the numbers, and digital technology use made up for an alarming 15.41 hours of my day – that’s 64.20%. I am dependent on my technology for virtually every moment that I am awake. In fact, on a typical work day, from the moment I wake up until I break for lunch, there is not a single moment that I am not connected to digital technology in some way. My dependence on my smart devices can sometimes make me forget that there are people in the world who aren’t connected, which was why I was so surprised to find that 15% of Americans are actually not online at all.
Of course, that number is substantially higher when expanded outside of America. As we discussed in class, about 5 billion people worldwide still do not have internet access. As someone who relies on the internet and her digital devices pretty much around the clock, I was completely surprised to learn this. Many non-internet users cite reasons such as irrelevance or difficulty when asked why they are not online, but there are also larger reasons why many people globally cannot connect. Things like income level, access to education, physical disabilities, and language barriers can all get in the way of someone who wants to get online. These various global and social factors all contribute to the widening digital divide we have begun to see – also known as the huge gap between those who have internet access and those who don’t.
During this week’s class, we split into groups to try and brainstorm solutions to narrow the digital divide, via a mock conference topic agenda. The topic that I found most interesting was providing access to physically disabled users, as only 38% of disabled Americans report using the internet. In class, my group brainstormed ways to make the internet more disabled-friendly. Since there seem to be tools to help people with limited mobility eat, get dressed, and otherwise function autonomously, why is there such a discrepancy when it comes to tools that might make computers and digital technology easier for them to handle?
There is a very serious lack of disabled-friendly technology. Given how helpful digital technology has proven to be, and, how all the benefits we’ve discussed in class might positively impact so many non-internet users, creating this technology seems – at least to me – a priority. Additionally, I was shocked to learn that many Americans who are not online are offline by choice.
34% of non-internet users think the internet is just not relevant to them, saying they are not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it. This seems particularly crazy to me, as I can name dozens of benefits of being connected, and, during the live sessions, my classmates repeatedly point out even more benefits I may have overlooked. The fact of the matter is that the world couldn’t function without digital technology – America especially. Everything, from hospitals to libraries, now functions online. Smartphones are capable of more now than ever before, and digital technology is well on its way to ruling even the longest holdouts – like parking meters and small businesses.
So when we talk about the digital divide, it’s important to discuss more than the glaringly obvious. Yes, there are parts of the world where the internet is not affordable, and yes, there are people whose education levels or income hinder them from getting online. But there are also the aspects that most people (or at least me) forget to consider: things like disability and a lack of interest. Solving these problems are a little harder. There’s not much that can be done aside from creating a dialogue and getting people talking about these issues. The internet and digital technology have allowed for all of us to become connected, so why not use these tools to help further the connection? Let’s start an open dialogue on the benefits of the internet, both so we can educate those who don’t see the appeal, and quiet some people who feel the internet is more of a hinderance than a blessing.
I guess what I really liked about this week was the sharp contrast I observed between our discussion of our consumption diaries and the digital divide. For someone like me, who is always connected, it was jarring to switch gears and focus on so many who aren’t connected. If nothing else, it’s always important to check your privilege and remember that there are some people who don’t have access to the same things you do for any number of reasons. Additionally, brainstorming potential solutions was fun, and a cool way to think of how we might one day get involved in a real, global communications issue.
In the coming weeks, I look forward to exploring this topic more in-depth. Outside of the digital divide, I am curious to learn other global implications and changes that have come about as a result of our growing obsession with digital technology and the internet.