Thursday, January 29, 2004

Here, belatedly, are my discussion questions for tomorrow. Also, I have a separate blog at this address:

Not much activity there thusfar, but it will grow for sure.

Without further ado...

1. To what extent is a/the digital divide its own thing as opposed to a manifestation of a pre-existing divide in society? For instance, wealthy people already conducted more banking and did more trading of stocks, bonds, etc., and now they do it more online; men already read the sports page more, and now they do that more online; etc. In general, those with more economic resources have used, and likely will continue to use, those resources to perpetuate their comparative advantages. With computers, the economically advantaged not only own them more, but the quality of their machines is superior and they have more and greater programs installed (and really, your computer is nothing without the programs you can buy and put on it; MS Word is just scratching the surface).

2. Among kids whose primary access to computers is at school, what is their “staying power,” i.e., when they leave school do they continue to use computers? At the library? Or do they buy their own? Are data available that would allow us to answer this? I think this question is especially relevant w/r/t socio-economic classes whose numbers are way behind until their access at school is taken into account. I suspect that allows the authors of this report to cast a more optimistic spin on the decreasing inequality shown by their data. (I don't buy the unbridled optimism expressed, for instance, in the intro blurb by the Commerce Secretary, Donald Evans.)

3. This is an extension of question #2: Does chapter 5 make too much of the claim that schools close the gap between kids with and kids without computers in their homes? For instance, figure 5-6 shows that among kids age 10-17 in the lowest income range, 80.7% have access to computers in schools, while kids in the highest income range are a comparable 88.7%. But I can’t help thinking about the quality of the machines in schools in wealthy communities vs. those in poorer schools. (There may be computers in Beverly Hills High School and Compton High School, but it’s far more likely that the ones in Beverly Hills are fast and have Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, Dreamweaver, Autocad-lite, etc.) As I mentioned in #1, other than connection speed, I think this report glosses over the variation among technologies. A pencil is always a pencil, but an Apple IIe is not a G4.
I am also skeptical that having access to computers at school is comparable to having a computer in the home. The report distorts the difference by repeatedly adding numbers for school-access and home-access and claiming that the resulting number reflects a similar level of experience with computers even though one group may have 50% access through school alone while another has 90% access to computers in their home. These considerations may dampen the reports claim (p. 87) of a trend toward lower inequality.

See you all tomorrow, or, uh, later today.


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