Joe Celko on the Digital Divide

Posted 23 Nov 2002 at 07:04 UTC by jbucata Share This

Joe Celko questions both the existence and the importance of the "Digital Divide" in America today. Saith he:

If having a PC is "absolutely essential to preserving civil rights and truly democratic processes in this country," then what were we doing before cheap computing? I thought the Constitution was written on parchment, not a Web site.

Favorite quote: "The problem in IT is quality, not quantity. We are grinding out tons of people who have a certificate of some kind from a vendor but can't program their way out of an infinite loop."

And yes, this is an Advogato article mentioning an electronic magazine piece criticizing a press release praising a report attacking a Presidential statement about the Digital Divide. Just so you keep it straight. (Post a reply to keep the chain going.)

and your point...?, posted 23 Nov 2002 at 07:16 UTC by Ankh » (Master)

The digital divide is also used to refer to the way technology may be widening the gap between developing and "first world" nations.

The problem is not what people were doing before there were home computers, but that some people have them and not others, and computer skills are becoming central to society -- as central as the ability to read was becoming 50 years ago.

Oops..., posted 24 Nov 2002 at 06:03 UTC by jbucata » (Apprentice)

It would help if I actually linked to the article in question, wouldn't it?...

*scratch head*, posted 24 Nov 2002 at 06:59 UTC by tk » (Observer)

I read Celko's essay, but I couldn't determine what he was getting at. My best guess is this: The Clinton and Bush administrations were solving a problem which didn't exist, and were trying to get brownie points for this.

Does the Digital Divide exist? I've been hearing sob stories about individuals who are saving up for that shiny new PC so that they can learn English, success stories from people whose creative powers were amplified by their newly-acquired machines, etc. I guess it's time to put aside all this appeal to emotions, and try to find some hard data about the issue. What are the essential tasks that someone without a PC will find hard to do? And how essential is "essential", how hard is "hard"? How many people are there in the US and the world who really need PCs, but don't have them?

Also, I wonder whether the recent US Presidents actually used computers themselves, or they simply got their aides to help print out their incoming e-mails.

Lots, posted 24 Nov 2002 at 20:28 UTC by ncm » (Master)

Ignoring the distinction between the putatively dual digital divides (between countries and between populations):

What can't you do, as a citizen, without a computer? You can't Google. You can't exchange e-mail. Everything else is buried in the noise level. Is that all? It's enough. Once enough of the political/civic life of the community (whether city, secret society, or nation) is conducted on-line, then anybody who's not can't participate on an even footing.

What about parchment? When civic life was played out in the broadsheets, you needed a subscription, pen and paper, and postage. Nowadays you need a telephone and an e-mail address, because that's how people organize today. Why is this a difficult concept?

That's not to say that government commissions and reports, as constituted, have anything meaningful to say. Does it matter, anyway? Do we even have a participatory democracy any more? Certainly whatever ends up being promoted by a corrupt government will carefully not be designed to help empower anybody to push the crooks out. That's probably why you see these things devolve into gibberish about technician certifications and secretarial skills.

My thoughts, posted 24 Nov 2002 at 21:02 UTC by Mysidia » (Journeyer)

If having a PC is "absolutely essential to preserving civil rights and truly democratic processes in this country," then what were we doing before cheap computing?

Civil rights do not exist in a vacuum, they exist within the context of society.

Before cheap computing, US computers did not have a large role: today, US society for all intents and purposes highly dependent upon them.

I thought the Constitution was written on parchment, not a Web site. And what the heck does "fair and equal access" mean here? What is the unit of measurement? How much computer does a person deserve?

If the US constitution were written today instead of hundreds of years ago, then it would nearly have to have been written on a website, and therefore, the authors would have to have the skills to deliver it over the medium: again, how things are done has a cultural, societal, and technological context.

Parchment itself is a technology, as is the skill to work with and use it as a publications medium -- where would we be if they didn't have access to parchment?

According to figures given on the Web site, the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens already have computer access if they want it.

The digital divide is not just a matter of having access to computers or not having access, in fact that is less important, the more important facet is one of skill: having been educated on or having developed the skills to use computers.

Not everyone who has theoretical access to them (ie: through public access terminals)) knows they have that access or, because of a lack of knowledge would even consider trying to use that access.

The divide is not entirely material, it's also based on knowledge.

In fact, 50 percent of American households have Internet access, which is more than those that subscribe to a local daily newspaper.

What percentage of those households with internet access actually have computers, subscribe, and know how to use their machines?

Does this merely include every household within the range of an ISP or does it include only actual households that have at least 1 active subscription to an ISP?

Is this including people who have wireless/other access (even if they don't necessarily use it) ?

It's not clear that percentage of households with access equates to percentage of users.

More than newspapers? So what?

That I can see, all that we know of the hard copy publications (magazines and newspapers) are being replaced by electronic ones: the recent proliferation of web logs and news sites in the past decade (or so) is an excellent example.

Having the ability to use and the access to computers is becoming more and more important in the US.

Eventually, there may come a point, where you need computers for access to most public information and news: at that point, your civil liberties will be significantly less than those held by people who can use computers, since (1) They have access to more information about what's going on the world, and access to information is a precondition for anything near democracy and the free exercise of the civil rights, and (2) They have the ability to communicate their ideas and views, whereas people without access are stifled.

Not being able to use/have access to a computer is a lot like not being able to use/have access to a good library, but it is even worse.

The article linked to seems oversimplified and dismissive of real issues, and it uses what I perceive as lame, irrelevant analogies.

Postal service, posted 25 Nov 2002 at 19:16 UTC by aero6dof » (Journeyer)

Communications have always been critically important to the United States; the Continental Congress recognized this by implementing a postal system to "bind the new nation together, support the growth of commerce, and ensure a free flow of ideas and information." (from USPS)

Having a PC may not be critical, but the ability to access and communicate digitally is very important for democracy. I think that many of the problems with our congressional representation in the current political system are rooted in the proliferation of mass media and the consolidation of TV and newspaper sources. Mass media has made people less likely to explore and evaluate political issues on their own. As the internet-literate generation grows up, I think that the computer based communication skills will be become a central factor in moving back towards a democracy closer to the one originally envisioned at the founding of America.

just economics, posted 30 Nov 2002 at 13:44 UTC by nixnut » (Journeyer)

Any digital divide nowadays is a direct result from an economical divide. Throwing IT at it won't help a bit. Building an economy has to be done from the ground up. Literally. Civil rights are very important in itself but are of little relevance in this context.

just economics, but ?, posted 7 Dec 2002 at 09:46 UTC by yeupou » (Master)

Nixnut said that "Any digital divide nowadays is a direct result from an economical divide" and so "Civil rights are very important in itself but are of little relevance in this context".

The point is you cannot tell that tomorrow every economics problems will be fixed. You cannot even say that someday they'll be fixed. So you have to deal with.

Giving to everyone the possibility to understand computing surely "help a bit" since education permits understanding what means "civil rights" and using them. It's surely not a "civil right" to have a computer, but it's a civil right to be able to communicate.

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