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.)
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
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
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
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
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 www.digitalempowerment.org 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
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.