Education, Tech & Society
October 10, 2012
Bad Borgs: Inequality
Technology has made remarkable advancements throughout the century. It has changed so much that some do not even consider some of the earlier inventions as technological modifications, for example, indoor plumbing, cutlery, and paper. Computers are considered to be the most widely known and discussed means of technology along with the Internet. There has been dial-up Internet, Routed Internet and now it has gone wireless. Internet is used for a variety of things including research, social networking, entertainment, world news, and shopping. From 2000 to 2009, the number of Internet users globally rose from 394 million to 1.858 billion and by 2010, 22 percent of the world's population had access to computers. Those statistics are very impressive but what about the other 78% of the world? Since the turn of the century and the millions of users with access to the online world there has been a crucial divide between the cyber haves and the cyber have-nots.
Thousands of people are impatiently sitting and awaiting new models and more advanced technology to be developed, while others are left behind with no access at all. Socioeconomic differences can be held accountable for the millions of people worldwide without computer access. There is an enormous sense of inequality in the technological world and Clark as mentioned it and addressed it as one of his bad borgs.
It was estimated that by 2004 an optimistic prediction considered that at most 10% of world’s population would enjoy easy Internet access. It is astonishing to consider that 90% of the world does not have the ability to access the Internet realm. Only a very small fraction is privileged enough to utilize the World Wide Web and it let’s us know that the wired or wireless world is much smaller than we think. Technology is constantly adapting and advancing quickly without giving everyone the ability to “catch up”. New models of Apple products are released annually. Which is followed by a cultural necessity to be first in line for the purchase of the newest items. This leads the more fortunate with the “even better” and leaves those without anything way behind. It is as if there is an endless race where the opponents are not even in miles sight of one another.
Clark writes, “As our best technologies become less fragile, cheaper, and easier-to-master more doors open to more people than ever before” (pg 168). Although this can be true, the issue I have with this statement is that Clark is assuming that those who are less fortunate have the means of obtaining these technologies even if they are of lower costs. Some families struggle with providing adequate meals and shelter for their families and cheaper technology may not be on their radar. In addition it is important to realize even if Internet access is granted to these people or countries then it still does not lead to a reduced technological divide. The divide been the haves and the have-nots will still be there and it is hard to say if the gap can ever or will ever close. Many countries and governments fear the use of technology and even if families are capable of having access to the Internet there are restrictions on what they can utilize it for, which is very limiting.
At my placement I found it really shocking when I discovered that the Elementary School I was assigned to received a grant for thirty brand new iMac computers in the school’s computer lab. Giving the children the ability to serve the web, play educational games and the ability to acquire the knowledge to manage computers is very wonderful. Most of the children who attend this school do not have computers at home so having these new computers really helped to enrich their technological lives. I would have been enthusiastic about the addition of the new computers if the school itself had a better-rounded environment for their children. The school was lacking a proper cafeteria and bathrooms for the students. The cafeteria and student bathrooms were all located in the schools weary ramshackle basement. The school did not even have a gym nor an auditorium for their students to play or hold assemblies. It made me think of whether or not the priorities where in place for this learning environment. It is hard to make that assumption because it is easy to understand the “need” of the school to be on the same technological play field as other more privilege humans. One should also consider that grant money was provided to obtain these computers and that’s where the money is. There aren’t grants offering to build gyms but there are plenty willing to donate new technology.
Issues that stressed the inequality were also brought up in the computer lab while the third, fourth, and fifth graders started utilizing a new website called www.sumdog.com. This website provides the students with the opportunity to create a profile character, play educational games and win points. Monthly contest are also present where schools in Philadelphia district get ranked for their school’s performance by accumulating the most points. The site allows children to learn math by playing short games and racking up points the games can also be played against friends if they are playing the same game and are online simultaneously. One boy in the 5th grade said, “If I had a computer at home I’d be in first place with the most points”. His comment made me realize that it is easy to focus on the global inequalities focused around technology but there are so many prominent issues of inequalities right here in our own neighborhoods. These students do not even have the ability to practice educational games because of their lack of computers in the home. He was not longing for the computer to communicate with friends on social media but to simply win points by playing educational math games. Why not just go to the library you say? Well it was brought to our attention that their local library limits the children to fifteen-minute Internet sessions due to the amount of kids without computers and Internet access at home. If there is no line then they may log on again but are limited to a maximum of three fifteen-minute sessions a day then they are permanently logged off. It was very surprising to hear that even at the library limitations are set on the amount of time they are allowed to browse the web.
In order to address this issue of inequality circling with the advancements of technology I think it is important to reach a common ground between the have-nots and technology. I think realistically speaking the divide will never be fully repaired but it is important to focus on giving access to those who have yet to discover the incredible realm of the Internet. Clark mentions, “Guarantee that human-centered technology really means what it says: that human means all of us and not just a lucky few” (pg 169). I think this is imperative because the technology can do so much good and helps make life and retrieval of information so much easier but can also create a gap if not everyone has the ability to use it. I think with newer models of computers and other machinery that have access to technology advances that it is essential to donate older models to countries, neighborhoods, and people who do not have any type of access. I also think it is vital that the costs of these luxuries continue to decrease and reach a level where the costs do not contribute to the divide but help us come together. On page 169, Clark points out that,
“World Health Organization will give free internet access to a thousand top medical journals to libraries and universities in the world’s sixty-five poorest countries”. I think this is a great first step to making the divide inch closer. I think access needs to be granted even if this requires libraries to ensure more browsing time.