On Digital Divides

Poor parenting leads to children wasting time with media according to recent news headlines. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath discusses the digital divide and some of the questions left unanswered by news reports.

I learned from the New York Times that wasting time is new divide in digital era on Twitter.

The crux of the argument is that most Americans now have access to the digital world, which includes computers and Internet. What is different is how these tools are being used by poor and well-off families.

First, parents poor parents are blamed for not better monitoring and not having the knowledge of how to better monitor their children’s use of the computer. In contrast, more well-off parents are portrayed as clearly having it all figured out. It’s not like well-off parents never received surprise phone bills in the hundreds of dollars for smurfberries and lemonade for cartoon giraffes or anything like that. Clearly, the more well-off are better at monitoring their children’s use of computers. My parents did very little monitoring of my computer usage. That could be because it involved using dos to get to exciting games of solitaire and minesweeper and my Internet access while living at home consisted of a dial-up connection that you paid for by the hour.

Second, all uses of social media are lumped together as entertainment. I use the above-mentioned Twitter account for both teaching purposes and to network with other sociologists. I sometimes use this feed purely for entertainment, but I mainly use this account for career-related purposes. Using social media is not the same thing as wasting time. Sometimes they are the same, but not always. I ask my students in class about their use of social media and they use it for entertainment, socializing, and as a source of information. Many follow news organizations of some sort and some are following me to enhance their classroom experience (at least that’s what I tell myself). Others tell me that they like the trending topics on Twitter because it helps them learn about breaking news. This hardly seems like purely wasting time to me. It’s not like they are reading through every post on Academic Coach Taylor, whatweshouldcallgradschool, or Feminist Ryan Gosling. (Go ahead and click thru. This post will be here in a couple of days when you escape the allure of tumblr and remember what you got online for. I’m pretty sure I can rationalize each of the above tumblrs as being career-related rather than conventional time-wasters.)

Third, the author ignores, that a digital divide still exists, despite the newspaper’s previous reporting on the subject. The lack of affordable broadband access is simply appalling. Rural Americans, in particular, are hurt by this particular divide. Even those rural Americans of means, may not have access to high-speed Internet at home simply because it is not available where they live. This limits not only what the people who already live in these locations can do in terms of working from home, going to school online, or managing their existing businesses with online tools, but also reduces the likelihood of new businesses locating in these areas (providing much needed jobs).

How people use technology matters, but a discussion of technology-use must be placed into context.

Dig Deeper:

When answering, please specify what type of media (e.g., social media, computers, television, game systems) in your answers.

  1. What access do you have to media? Is your access limited or expanded due to your geographic location, age, race, gender, social class, or other factors? How?
  2. How do you use media? How much time do you estimate that you use each type of media? How would you classify that time (e.g., wasted, productive, socializing, entertainment, educational, work-related)?
  3. How have your parents monitored your media-usage? If you are a parent, how do you monitor your child’s media-usage?
  4. Can you think of other ways that social class divides how we value parenting styles? That is, are there other examples of how the parenting styles used by the non-poor are praised while the parenting styles used by the poor are shamed?