Uncommon Sense: Multiplying the Digital Divide

Apparently, we’re no longer concerned about access as the primary measure of the digital divide in this country.  Now, according to a recent article in The New York Times, wasting time is the new digital divide.

Seems that the same disadvantaged kids who hung out in the parking lot at MacDonald’s while their wealthier counterparts pursued more structured and disciplined pursuits in pre-digital days still hang out in the parking lot at MacDonald’s, immersing themselves in games, texting and Facebook on their smartphones -- exactly like the rich kids.

Seems the one thing none of them do -- regardless of socioeconomic status -- is use digital technology to satisfy the single most persistent and neglected promise of those who sell digital technology to parents: education. Young people prefer to use all this digital firepower for entertainment instead -- just like mom and dad. Go figure.

Of course, education  has always been used as a foil to sell media, especially new media -- dating all the way back to the early days of the Encyclopedia Britannica. (My parents, bless their hearts, fell for that one.)  Radio, TV, the personal computer, and now all the digital device makers have sold the exact same sorry-ass promise to parents for generations.

"Captain Kangaroo," the Children’s Television Workshop and "Sesame Street" taught generations of kids their 2+2s and ABCs, but what they really did was teach them how to watch TV and set the stage for Jerry Springer.



Apple Computer’s early strategy to target parents and educators with the promise of digitally enhanced education via a computer in every classroom was sheer brilliance -- and nothing but snake oil. Apple sales went up, while test scores plummeted like a rock nationwide.

Now the FCC wants to dispatch hundreds of digital literacy squads across the country, ostensibly to teach underprivileged kids how not to waste time on their digital devices -- so the government can add a new metric to the War Against the Digital Divide.  The well of white guilt is bottomless, and the well water within is toxic.

The Great Lie told over and over by those who wage the War Against the Digital Divide is that access (however defined) to more media somehow makes people smarter, freer and better, more productive citizens. But shouldn’t we already be smart enough, free enough and better, more productive enough when -- according to the Kaiser Family Foundation reports -- the average young person (regardless of circumstance) already consumes more than 10 hours of media each and every day?

The truth is that our media has already begun to turn against us, per the sage warnings of early media ecologists.  Tampering with the supply by increasing the amount of media we consume or dictating which media we consume will only make us stupider and fatter (assuming that’s even remotely possible),. It will further enslave us to insidious corporatist narrators, all of whom champion the wonders, efficiencies and other empty promises of digital education.

And all of whom sell access.

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