Cookies for the Cable Guy Pt. 2
Of all the talk about the “digital divide” in this country, the divide most people think of is the one separating the broadband “haves” and “have nots”—in other words, the issue of people’s access to the hardware, wires, broadcast frequencies, and ISPs for high-speed broadband service.
What I’ve yet to see generally discussed is the difference in mindset between the “haves” and “have nots” about the Internet. The folks in Silicon Valley have done an incredible job of marketing the idea that technology—and, especially, the Internet—can solve all of humanity’s problems. As a result, the Internet (and its highly contagious “Internet of things”) has managed to seep into every aspect of what we think of as modern life.
For the most part, the broadband “haves” are on board with the concept of ubiquitous—and sometimes mandatory—high-speed Internet access. But those of us slumming in the “have not” digital dustbowl don’t care if our garbage can has a voice-controlled lid and a built-in scanner that indicates whether a piece of trash is recyclable or not. We couldn’t care less about cutting the cord and using one of the plethora of streaming video services.
But it’s a different story when something as important as education assumes the student has access to fast Internet.
My daughter’s high school issues laptops to every student, and has replaced the pounds of printed textbooks with access to virtual ones. It makes the students’ backpacks much lighter—but for kids who have irregular Internet access at home, it piles on significant amounts of stress when they try to finish homework or study for an upcoming test using an obstinate (and sometimes hostile) Internet connection.
TV shows, movies, and commercials often portray modern life as mostly homogenous with the built-in assumption that everyone has the basics—such as running water, electricity, TV, some form of transportation, a cellphone, and Internet—and we tend to create our real-world expectations accordingly. The educators who decided to rely on virtual textbooks are no exception. But—NEWSFLASH—high-speed broadband Internet isn’t ubiquitous yet. Until it is, we all need to be careful not to be deluded by a mindset that naively assumes it is.
All of which brings us back to chocolate chip cookies and the irrepressible excitement I described in Part One. After 10 years of suffering in the neglected digital backwoods of America, we were going to be brought up to speed—literally—with the rest of the 21st century.
The installers were coming to finish connecting a fiber-optic line to a new modem that would give us near-gigabit download speeds. Whereas our previous fussy Internet access caused homework and studying to take much longer than it should have, now the only thing holding back my daughter is her typing speed—well, that and the ability of her mind to absorb and comprehend the information. (As a bonus, she’s also now able to binge-watch old episodes of The Office.)
Although my family has finally made it out of the digital ghetto, there are still millions of good people struggling to keep up. Proposing a hardware/infrastructure solution to bringing broadband Internet to the underserved areas is beyond the scope of this piece. On the other hand, until the underserved-access issue is taken care of, I strongly suggest that the majority of the population that does have reliable, fast Internet avoid being lulled into a false sense of digital equality.
Once the digital divide has been bridged, the gaming and streaming-video services will have access to a market that’s currently untapped. More importantly, who knows what kind of discoveries, inventions, businesses, stories, and visions of the future might come about from those additional eyes and ears having unhindered access to what is, at the moment, the ultimate tool in our technological tool chest? I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, it’ll be even better than homemade chocolate-chip cookies.
During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday