A Tale of Disparity

Sometimes it is hard to imagine a world without Internet. A startling statistic came across my desk recently, and it has caused me to reflect on my own life.

20% of rural America is offline.

I was born in the 1990s, but I lived in a rural area, so the latest advancements didn't getto me while they were fresh. This means that my formative years were spent without Internet. I did, however, own a computer. It was a clunky thing, and I remember playing with WordArt and writing stories on it. We didn't have Internet, but I was given CD-ROMS with games on them, and they were amazing.

Whenever I did get dial-up Internet, I was totally thrown by the ability to connect with others. I lived in a mountainous area, and most of my friends lived 30+ minutes away, so I looked forward to connecting with them. I would log into AIM, but it was after a week of waiting that I realized that very few of my friends were able to use the Internet. Some of them didn't even have a computer.

This was my first realization of the digital divide applying to my life. My fellow low-income peers were subject to the same hardships that I was. The issue was that some of them were poorer or were products of generations of a hard-knock culture. Their families relied on the coal mines to make a living, and more often than not, their fathers were laid off and their mothers didn't work. Their backgrounds were not shaped by degrees or prestigious awards. Their lives were built on the hardships of mountain life.

Whenever I kept track of my own digital media usage, I realized that I was constantly using it. From checking my Facebook first thing in the morning to sending a last-minute e-mail before bed to having my heart rate and sleep assessed by my Fitbit whileI sleep. It's everywhere! So what is the quality of life for those living in offline communities?

Just to put it in perspective, one of the most basic adult tasks I could think of was getting a job. We all have to do it at some point; it's a pain in the ass. Well, it turns out that it's also pretty damn hard to do without access to media.

Getting a job:

  • Must have e-mail address

  • Must have phone/cell-phone

  • Most applications are online-- even for the most menial positions

 Factors by the Numbers

Of course, I have mostly been focusing on income. There are other factors at work that fall into the different overarching categories of Global and Social, which I'm sure most of us are aware of.  Global factors include wealth, inadequate telecommunications language, and inadequate literacy/education. Social factors include demographic information, such as income, race, etc.

Here is a breakdown of some of them from the Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center

"Who's Not Online"

Age

44% of 65+ don’t go online

50-64 - 17%

30-49- 8%

18-29- 2%

Income

$75,000- 4% don't go online

< $30,000- 24%

Education

College degree 4%

No HS degree- 41%

Communities

Rural- 20%

Urban/suburban- 14%

Disability

46% of disabled people are offline

Ethnicity

Hispanic- 24%

Black- 15%

White- 14%

Given these facts, how can we say that the Internet is truly democratic? While we have a level of self-governance unheard of in our individual lives, how do we truly open the Web up to all of the world's stakeholders?

Solutions for a more democratic Internet

Increased access
Training and education to train others to use
Make people understand the benefits of the Internet
Assist individuals with disabilities