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Richard Rider

The “digital divide” is a fiction

Remember the “digital divide”?  Supposedly poor folks were getting left behind in the electronic age, as they couldn’t afford a computer, etc., etc.

Well, some folks ARE getting “left behind,” but it’s not from a lack of hardware or software.  Or even Internet access.

Maybe eight years ago I wrote a column about this canard.  At the time, there were numerous options:
1.  Used, “outdated” computers sold for a pittance.
2.  Free computer/Internet access at libraries, schools and work.
3.  Charities that gave free used computers to needy folks.
4.  Quality free software — such as the excellent “OpenOffice” clone of Office Windows (which I use today).

I asserted that a time was soon coming when one could buy a rudimentary computer for $100.  I was ridiculed by critics. Turns out, I was too pessimistic.  Recently I saw a new computer “on sale”  (there’s always one of these sales items) at Fry’s for $54 — and free shipping.

Yeah, yeah, it’s not much of computer compared to the beasts some of us own.  It’s basically an inexpensive 8″ tablet, a Bluetooth keyboard and a case that combines the two.  But make no mistake — it IS a computer.  It’s many times superior (by any standard) to the Apple II+ that I first ran my little business with — doing database management, word processing, “Visicalc” spreadsheets, etc.

Besides, what today constitutes a “computer”?  Most smartphones are computers.  Modern game devices (Game Boy, X-Box, etc.) are computers.  When you include such items, it’s pretty clear that damn near everyone above the age of 8 has a computer of some sort.  Usually SEVERAL such “computers” are readily available to most Americans.  Indeed, a new study finds that 98% of kids ages eight and UNDER now have access to one or more mobile devices at home!

So all that’s left to bitch about is Internet access.  Yes, the poor don’t usually have high speed Internet in their homes (though more do than one would assume — depending on how you define “high speed”).

Most people have a portable device, so going to a fast food outlet, library, or many, many other locations will allow one to “go online” at zero cost — usually at a pretty good speed.  So unless you live miles from nowhere in a log cabin, it’s fair to say you have high speed free Internet access.

Do people make the effort to become “computer savvy” using these options?  Sadly, not often enough. Most are experts on Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, but lack the more useful computer skills — including coding.  But you can’t blame a lack of opportunity on some mythical “digital divide.”

You can lead a horse to servers, but you can’t make ’em THINK.