Disparity in the Digital Age

Jill Garvey • Feb 24, 2009

I’m no techie. If that wasn’t clear to me before, it certainly was by the end of a technology conference I attended last week. The keynote speaker for the event whipped out an iphone at one point and showed the crowd his favorite features, shazam and ibeer. As a looked down at my new blackberry curve I felt like a dinosaur and only partly because I don’t know how to use it (blackberries are to iphones as PCs are to Macs by the way).

The speaker then continued to scare me half to death with his sobering survival rates for non-profits that do not invest in technology. Inevitably I started to think about the survival rates for human beings who do not, or I should say, cannot invest in technology. If someone like me who has all the access and opportunity right at her fingertips feels like she is hanging on by her fingernails, what of the billions who have nothing?

Then the speaker said something that struck to the heart of the matter; “Technology isn’t difficult, people are.” I understood his context of course – people are resistant to change, but I couldn’t help interpreting it another way. People are difficult because we’re instinctual hoarders. We take our resources, what we deem necessary for survival, and make them inaccessible to our competitors. Or in the case of google, just cut our competitors out completely. I think all of us non-techies have looked at our IT consultants/computer geeks and wondered if they really wanted us to get it.

I was reminded of a conversation with my boss who has severe technophobia. We debated the fate of newspapers. He respected newspapers as a tradition and vehicle; I respected their evolution and eventual obsolescence. I argued that while I didn’t think that newspapers were going to disappear altogether, I did believe that access to information on the internet was so varied, so vast and so instantaneous, why would we bother mourning the death of the newspaper? What I should have conceded was that when the internet and the machines necessary to access it can be had for 75 cents per day or left in a diner booth, then we can truly put newspapers to rest.

Technology may be moving at lightning speed, but accessibility is not. Repressive governments, underdeveloped infrastructure and general disparity stand in the way. And while it is certainly important to protect freedom of expression and the internet from censorship, we should be equally committed to promoting the access necessary to express oneself in the digital age.

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