I’m embarking on a new unit this study period, Sociology and Media at Macquarie. Media and inequality have been hot topics even in Week One. It’s got me thinking about the digital divide, and how we tend to think of it as a bit of a third world issue. I’m going to argue here that it’s a mobility and class issue.
I live and work in a semi rural area. The employment market is fairly depressed, and there are a lot of unaddressed (because they’re expensive and inaccessible) mental health issues in the area. I work with kids whose parents have to decide between getting broadband and registering the family car. They naturally choose the car. There are no internet cafes and the nearest McDonald’s is about 13km away, so free Wi-Fi out of school hours is out of the question. Broadband may actually be cheaper than the petrol to get to the Wi-Fi.
Most of the kids I work with didn’t grow up with a computer in the house, let alone an iPad. The only techno-rectangle in the house was the flat-screen. It’s an entertainment device. Give one of these kids a new portable rectangle after a lifetime of entertainment-as-furniture and what do they do? They entertain! Work isn’t on computers; Work is something you do in a fluro vest – and you’ll need a shower afterwards. So the unreality of working on or with a rectangle is the mindset they bring to all interactions with their new free device.
By the time the kids hit their teens, the opportunity to condition them to see the internet as a tool is missed.
To give this opinion post some balance, I want to tell you about my carpenter. He is around my age, doesn’t have an email address, barely knows how to send a text, doesn’t use a calculator, but can re-clad a house, fence a yard, turn up on time, and quote to within a dollar’s accuracy. If he had a laptop at school, would he be as numerate? I honestly don’t think so – technology bears no relevance to his chosen (highly successful) path and would only have been a distraction from the nuts and bolts of core learning. My students have free BER laptops, are functionally illiterate, and can’t tell a plus sign from a multiplication sign.
I love technology. But I see something wrong here and am not sure how we fix it. Thoughts?
Image from Decals for Macbook on Etsy